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A racer with his hands full; Herta gets a sponsor

Posted: March 27, 2009 1:30 a.m.
Updated: March 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Rich DeLong III of Santa Clarita is going to be a busy driver at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale this year.

His plan is to race in the NASCAR Super Stocks and the Super Trucks divisions, plus, budget-willing, mix in a couple Late Model races.

He started his stock-car racing campaign on Saturday night at the track in Irwindale in the Super Trucks season opener. He finished 14th, but said he felt like his team is making progress and was happy with the result.

“It was a big improvement from last year where we were with the truck,” DeLong said. “Last year we were a second off the pace. Now we’re two-tenths, three-tenths off where we should be. We’re not in the way anymore. We’re getting where we can be competitive.”

The Super Stocks season opens Saturday night.

Last year, DeLong finished second in the Super Stocks standings at the track. He wants to run for a championship this year and he has a car to do it. DeLong is driving the same car that Jimmy Sloan won the Super Stocks championship with in 2005.

“It’s a good car,” DeLong said. “We’re getting it figured out pretty good. Last year, we came up a little short.”

It was not a great opening night at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale for drivers from the Santa Clarita Valley,

Newhall’s Travis Thirkettle struggled in qualifying for the NASCAR Super Late Model race and finished 12th. Canyon Country’s R.J. Johnson had engine trouble and finished 13th in the NASCAR Super Trucks race after running in the top three for the first part of the race.

Both drivers were expected to have better season debuts.

Thirkettle was the runner-up in the Super Late Model standings at the track last year. He won the Super Late Model portion of the Toyota All-Star Showdown in January, although it was a rain-shortened, curfew-shortened race that had about three green-flag laps.

Johnson won the last two Super Truck races of the 2008 season and did not finish worse than second in the last five races.

Thirkettle never challenged in his race. He cracked the top 10 for a couple laps, but settled back and ended up 12th. Nick Joanides of Woodland Hills, the reigning Super Late Model champion, won the season opener.

Rookie Dennis Furden of Santa Clarita was 23rd in the Super Late Model race.

Johnson battled with leaders Todd Cameron and Pat 0’Mintey Jr. early in the Super Trucks race, but fell off the pace with ignition problems about the midway point.

“I was about 90 percent sure I had the truck to win,” Johnson said. “I’m disappointed, but excited for next week.”

Mintey, a driver from Quartz Hill and the reigning Super Trucks champion at the track, won the season opener.

Cameron was second.

The NASCAR Late Models, Classic Stocks, demolition derby and Super Stocks are scheduled to race Saturday night at Irwindale. Gates open at 4 p.m. Races start at 7 p.m.

Santa Clarita’s Logan Henson finished 18th in the Late Model standings at the track last year.

Bryan Herta Autosport lands sponsor

The newly formed Bryan Herta Autosport has landed a primary sponsor for its Firestone Indy Lights team.

Le Bleu water has signed on to fund the team, owned by Herta, a Valencia resident and Hart High graduate, as it prepares for its debut on April 4 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“We at Bryan Herta Autosport are very proud to have Le Bleu join us as primary sponsor for Daniel Herrington and the No. 28 car for the full 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season,” Herta said. “The car looks fantastic in Le Bleu’s corporate colors, and we can’t wait to make our public debut at St. Pete in two weeks. We will be hosting almost 70 guests from Le Bleu at the race and look forward to kicking off this partnership in style with some great results on the track and off.”

Herrington, a driver from Winston-Salem, N.C., is the driver for Bryan Herta Autosport. The Indy Lights will be racing in the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19, their only visit to Southern California.

Ron Hornaday Jr. 0-for-13 at Martinsville

Ron Hornaday Jr. is the career leader in NASCAR Camping World Series wins, but he has yet to post a win at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, site of Saturday’s race.

He has four top-five finishes and one pole position at the track, but the closest he has come to winning is third place. He’s done that three times, the last coming in 2007.

“I have been racing at Martinsville for a long time and it is one of those races that I really want to win,” said Hornaday, a former Saugus Speedway champ and driver of the No. 33 Cheverolet Silverado for Kevin Harvick Inc. “We have come close several times running third and last fall we dominated the race but ran out of gas. I’m not sure what it will take but I really want one of those darn grandfather clocks.”

Tim Haddock’s First Gear runs every other Friday. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. He can be reached at tim@haddockinthepaddock.com. Go to www.haddockinthepaddock.com for video interviews of R.J. Johnson, Rich DeLong III, Pat Mintey Jr. and Nick Joanides from opening night at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, NHRA Funny Car driver Jack Beckman’s outlook on racing in Houston and Sacramento and reports on Kevin Harvick’s recording setting weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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