Joey Clanton's American Speed Association (ASA) finishes this season always seem to offer just two avenues. It's either the checkered or the wrecker.
Yesterday at Toledo Speedway and live on TNN, the Stockbridge, Ga., native towed away a check for $17,500 and a large trophy as the winner of the Metro Toledo-Northwest Ohio Ford Dealers 300.
The alternative was never an option for the 29-year-old, who was the ASA rookie of the year in 2000. He led the final 122 laps of the 300-lap event on the smooth, high-banked, half-mile oval to register his eighth victory in the first 14 races.
Butch Miller of Coopersville, Mich., was a distant second, over two seconds behind, with Kevin Cywinski of Wausau, Wis., third.
Clanton, who won the first five races this season, also reclaimed the points lead from Gary St. Amant of Columbus, who finished 12th.
Clanton has led over 1,100 laps more this season than any other competitor on the ASA circuit, but he has had only one other top-three podium finish, a second at Kukauna, Wis.
He's been given the hook, for the most part, in his other races, his car dragged back to the pits in bits and pieces.
Clanton wasn't very interested in talking about his first or worst finishes, just how close he came to other podium appearances only to catch a bad break.
Yesterday, before a crowd of 5,974, all he wanted to catch was a few laps strung together without a caution. On the long runs, his car was stimulated. On the short runs it was objectionable.
``On the long runs the car just rolled through the corners on the low side, which is where you needed to be and I just needed a couple of long runs to get away from everyone else,'' Clanton explained. “But about every five laps there was a caution and I just couldn't get the momentum I needed through the corners. We had the car set up for long runs.
“We were just 20 points out of the lead and the game plan was to come in here and gain at least four positions on Gary and that would give us the points lead again.”
There was a total of 14 cautions for 83 laps created by minor incidents among the 33 starters. The longest green period came at the end of the race - 48 laps - and Clanton was gone.
“On the long runs we were able to stretch it out, our car was great, and no one could touch us,” Clanton said. “I knew we had the car to beat after the first long run in the race (35 laps without a caution) and I hoped we would have a long run at the end.”
Miller had what he said was a perfect car, a car he couldn't even fathom changing even a smidgen, but Clanton's car was perfect plus.
“I was really pleased and I would say it's our best effort of the season,” said Miller, 50, who has three victories in just seven appearances on the ASA circuit this season. “We could run about equal with Joey. We got bottled up in traffic near the end of the race and he got away from us.
“The best we could have done was just be equal with him. I couldn't pass him.”
Cywinski might have been able to make a pass on Clanton, but his engine had a mind of its own and quit running twice during the race. Each time Cywinski had to shut everything down and than restart the engine while cars were flashing past him. Once fired up, he could catch back up.
“It was like someone just reached over and turned off the switch,” the 1997 ASA champion said. “It happened when I was running second (on lap 174). I got inside Joey a couple of times and it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if I could have kept the engine running.
“With about 30 laps to go it shut down again, I had lost too much ground and I just hoped it would run to the finish.”
Clanton easily ran to the finish and when that happens he gets the checkered flag and the wrecker goes home empty.