GAFFNEY, S.C. — This time, Chris Madden’s trip to Blue-Gray 100 victory lane didn’t require a midrace pit stop or any theatrics linked to a midrace pit stop because of tires that couldn’t go the distance.
On Sunday, the Gray Court, S.C., veteran remarkably made his original tires go the 100-lap duration to capture his ninth event title in a 1.206-second victory over Ben Watkins, who pitted on lap 66 and pressured Madden with his fresh rubber down the stretch. Madden led every lap from start to finish for the $20,000 victory, his third-richest win of the season.
“My crew gave me a phenomenal car,” Madden said. “They did their job today for me. It was just my job to set a pace where we could keep up with the tires on here to make it 100 laps. We really hadn’t ran here these tires here on a 100-lap feature. We were concerned about tire wear.
“I’d like to thank all the help behind us this year. We’ve made the switch to Longhorn, and it’s been great for us. … Overall, we’ve had an up-and-down year, but we’ve definitely been on the upside of it the last part of the season.
“We had a lot of people come out to watch us race. It’s just great to be at home and win at home.”
Madden’s victory, while dominant on paper, wasn’t a complete runaway throughout the century-long grind. He never led by more than 1.484 seconds — on lap 35 over Zack Mitchell before the race’s first of eight cautions — and for much of the latter half of the race nursed a lead less than a second.
For 81 laps, it was Enoree, S.C.’s Mitchell that gave Madden a run for his money. Mitchell’s best shot at perhaps snatching the lead from Madden went down on lap 44. Madden had slipped up just enough rounding the frontstretch to allow Mitchell to close within two car lengths. Nothing, of course, would come from the apparent misstep.
Mitchell’s shot at a would-be first Blue-Gray 100 went by the wayside on lap 81 when a flat tire relegated him from second to 12th. He did salvage a podium finish in third. Mitchell, much like everyone else looking upon Sunday’s 33rd running of the Blue-Gray 100, couldn’t believe Madden went the distance on one set of tires.
“I would’ve never thought in a million years he would’ve made it all 100 laps on all four tires,” Mitchell said. “I knew if anyone could do it, it was him. I was just trying to push him there the first (part) of the race, make him run harder than he wants to. Heck, man, congrats to Chris. Congrats to Ben.”
Once Watkins made his way from eighth into the runner-up spot following a lap-89 caution for sixth-running Donald McIntosh, it looked as if Madden wouldn’t stand much of a chance versus Watkins’s new rubber. Watkins even close to less than two car lengths with six laps remaining, but just couldn’t size up a move to overthrow the smooth-riding Madden from the point.
Last year, Watkins finished as the lone driver to go the distance on his original tires in a third-place finish at the Blue-Gray 100.
“(Madden) had a phenomenal car there,” Watkins said. “But man, we’re tickled to death. I felt like we had a pretty good car. I think it’s one spot up from last year. We’ll keep digging. Maybe next year will be the year. Congratulations to (Madden). I just want to say a big thanks to all the guys that work on this car, all the guys behind the scenes.
“We can’t hold our heads down. We’re still tickled with this run. Thank you to the Carolina Clash and the supporters of the Clash for this whole season and everything. It’s been a blast.”
Notes: Madden’s 13th career Carolina Clash Series win ties him for sixth all-time with Mitchell. … Madden and Mitchell each led six laps to win heat races to share the front row of the main event. ... Ethan Dotson of Bakersfield, Calif., had a vicious crash on the opening lap of the first heat, where his car nosed into the turn-two wall and rolled over down the backstretch. Dotson escaped unharmed but scratched for the night. … Nick Yandle scratched and Caleb Fulp were among other drivers to scratch from the evening after the heats. … Eight cautions slowed the race: lap 35 for Nick Yandle (flat tire and hard contact into turn-four wall), lap 66 for Tanner English, and lap 74 for sixth-running David McCoy (flat tire), lap 81 for second-running Zack Mitchell (flat right-rear tire). … lap 83 for ninth-running Josh Henry (flat tire) … lap 84 for Christian Thomas. … lap 89 for sixth-running Donald McIntosh (flat right-rear tire). … lap 96 for fourth-running Trent Ivey. … Eleven cars finished on the lead lap in the feature that lasted 55 minutes.