June 20, 2014 4:19:11 AM
Drivers have started to separate themselves from the rest of the pack nearing the midway point of the Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series.
Rick Rickman, of New Hope, is in first place with a five-point lead over David Breazeale. Rickman's brother, Brian, is 55 points behind in third, while Neil Bagget and Chase Washington are fourth and fifth, just 95 and 120 points out of first.
While Bagget and Washington face a tough climb to challenge Rick Rickman and Breazeale for the estimated $10,000 prize, it isn't out of the realm of possibility.
MSCCS coordinator Charles Thrash said previous points chases have gone down to the final race.
"We've only had one year (since the creation of the series in 2001) that the points race was just a runaway," Thrash said. "We've had it as close as five points before."
Thrash said previous winners of the MSCCS title, including Breazeale, typically win 25 percent of the 15-20 races run annually, though there have been seasons where a points champion has won 50 percent of the races and none of the races.
The key to remaining in the hunt is consistency and finishing each race, said Rickman, who finished third last year and has finished as high as second.
"There's really not a strategy; you just have to make sure your maintenance program is good," Rickman said. "Don't have any DNFs, because one or two will knock you out. You have to keep your equipment as good as possible, that way, you can make sure you finish the races consistently. You don't have to win all of them, but be consistent.
"And knock on wood, we haven't run outside the top five this year."
The series heads to Whynot Motorsports Park this weekend, where Rick edged younger brother, Brian, for the win in the MSCCS opener on March 29. The race featured a clean 1-2-3 finish for Rickman Racing, as team member Bagget, who joined the team earlier this season, took third.
Breazeale enters the weekend with series wins at Columbus, Greenville, and St. Tammany Raceway Park in Lacombe, La.
"With the weekly shows, we just go more for a test and tune," Rickman said. "But when we show up at a state series race, you have to be on your A game. Any one of the 10 ... out of 24 drivers, those 10 can win the race. You can never let your guard down. You get behind the 8-ball one time qualifying, sets you back the whole night."
Chase Washington is participating in the series for the first time, though he's performing like a veteran. He leads the rookie points standings and is in fifth place. He's coming off a solid showing at Magnolia Speedway, where he was running in the top five of the Lucas Oil Clash at The Mag before a flat tire knocked him out of the race.
"That race gave us a lot of confidence," Washington said. "To run with that class of drivers, especially after having a rough start to the season, it makes you feel like your program is on top of everything."
Washington is anxious for the MSCCS' return trips to Columbus Speedway on June 28 and Aug. 23. He feels the track has prepared him for tracks throughout the state.
"The Bullring ... there's tons of history, so many excellent drivers who've run there," Washington said. "Another reason I like it is that's one of the hardest to get around. If you can run well there, you can run well anywhere."
NOTES: Columbus Speedway will play host to a weekly racing event Saturday that will feature Limited Late Models, 602 Stock Late Models, Street Stocks, and Mini Stocks. Grandstand admission is $10; Children 10 and under and active duty military receive free admission.