Early leaders have history on their side in title chases

Early leaders have history on their side in title chases

Corona, CA (May 30, 2017) – It’s too early to pay much attention to them. Chances are that’s the response you’d get if you ask Rob MacCachren, Jeremy McGrath, Kyle LeDuc, Brock Heger and Eliott Watson how it feels to be leading their class point standings a third of the way through the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series season.

That’s where we’re at following the recent Rockstar Energy Drink Battle South of the Border. The two rounds of racing at the Estero Beach Resort in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, May 20-21 were the third and fourth of the 13 races that will determine the various class titles and the results left LeDuc, Heger and Watson on top in Pro 4, Pro Lite and Pro Buggy, respectively, and MacCachren and McGrath tied for the Pro 2 lead.

The next stop on the schedule is the Toyota Utah Off Road Nationals presented by Lund June 24-25 at the Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly Miller Motorsports Park) in Tooele, Utah.

This will be the series’ eighth visit to the .9-mile track about 35 miles west of the Salt Lake City airport and it’s doubtful anyone is looking forward to it more than MacCachren, a Las Vegas native who has won 8 of the 14 Pro 2 races run there since 2010 and is the reigning class champion.

MacCachren and McGrath shared the Pro 2 wins last year, as did LeDuc and Bryce Menzies in Pro 4 and Kevin McCullough and Mike Valentine in Pro Buggy. Eventual Pro Lite champion Jerett Brooks was the only driver able to sweep the weekend, but he’ll be looking for his initial Pro Lite win of this year on this visit.

MacCachren and McGrath have a 1 point lead over Menzies in Pro 2; LeDuc is 4 points ahead of Menzies in Pro 4; Heger has an 11 point advantage on Brooks in Pro Lite; Watson is 4 up on reigning champion Darren Hardesty in Pro Buggy; and Heger also leads Myles Cheek by 7 points and Brandon Arthur by 10 in the new Production 1000 UTV class.

Of course, if they all follow the time-worn pattern they’ll say that leading the points is nice but doesn’t mean much right now.

“It’s too early” or some variation of that is a standard answer when people start talking about the point standings during the first half of a season, and it’s usually followed by “I just go out and do my best and let the points take care of themselves” or something equally trite.

The truth, however, is that it’s never too early to start keeping track of the point totals. At least that’s been the case in the eight seasons of Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series competition. There have been 32 championships awarded in Pro 2, Pro 4, Pro Lite and Pro Buggy since 2009. Of those, 21 have been won by drivers who led the standings at some time during the first two weekends and 10 have gone to the winners of the opening race of the season.

Last season, MacCachren and Jerett Brooks used fast starts to fuel their successful title fights. MacCachren took the Pro 2 lead with a pair of second-place finishes on opening weekend and led for the rest of the 15-race season. Brooks took the Pro Lite lead from Brandon Arthur with a 52-point win in round four on the second weekend and never trailed again.

On the other hand, the title races in Pro 4 and Pro Buggy were good arguments for the “points will take care of themselves” advocates.

Eventual Pro 4 champion LeDuc was eighth after the first weekend and ninth after the second but won seven of the final eight races to pull even with Carl Renezeder and get his third straight title in a tie-breaker, eight wins to two.

It was the same in Pro Buggy. Darren Hardesty was 12th after the first two races and ninth after four but from there on had four wins and nine podium finishes to catch 2015 champion Garrett George on the final day and win the tiebreaker, four wins to two.

The only similar finish in series history came in 2009, when Brian Deegan took his only points lead of the year and the Pro Lite title with a runner-up finish in the final race of that inaugural season.

Then again, several of Deegan’s six title-winning seasons have been interesting. In 2011, he led Pro Lite after the first race but not again until the next-to-last event in the 15-race season; in 2012, he led only after the final three races in Pro 2; and in 2013 Pro Lite and 2014 Pro 2 he led all but one round.

Only two drivers ever have led every round on their way to championships –  Renezeder in Pro 4 in 2009 and 2013 and LeDuc in Pro 4 in 2012. The only ones with a chance to do that this season are good friends Heger in Pro Lite and Watson in Pro Buggy. Both took the lead with opening day victories and have stayed on top since.

It’s too early in the season to matter, though.

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