Entering Season 4, there was a sense of dread throughout the Short Track Simulation Circuit (STSC). Rick James won the Season 3 title in dominant fashion, winning nine of 15 races and only missing the top-ten once. When his team unloaded at historic Martinsville Speedway to start Season 4, the coronation of a back-to-back champion was already prepared.
Instead, we’ve seen the best championship battle since the series’ inaugural campaign, when the likes of Danny Vandoorne, Kevin Keselowski, Joe Trickle, and Kurt Gunnabee battled for the title before Vandoorne’s eventual triumph.
More shockingly, James is not in the title fight at all. After missing out on the top ten in his first three races (including a 35th at the opener in Martinsville), James has been on a recovery effort all season. He recently won back-to-back races at Evergreen Speedway and Indianapolis Raceway Park to move up to seventh in points but fell back to eighth after a 17th-place effort at Salem Speedway.
Ahead of him, four drivers are within 30 points of each other at the top of the standings, with six races remaining in the season.
Currently, Steven O’Sullivan leads the series points standings. O’Sullivan has two wins this season (Martinsville and Bristol) and has finished in the top-five in four consecutive races. The Austrian driver took the points lead with a runner-up finish at Salem.
The previous points leader, Maxeem Caron Bouchard, dropped to third in points after a rough go at Salem, finishing 35th. Before that, Bouchard had five top-fives in the six previous races, a model of consistency despite being winless on the season.
Holding steady in second was Greek driver Loukas Alexandros. Like O’Sullivan, Alexandros is a two-time winner in the STSC this season, with wins at North Wilkesboro Speedway and Southern National Motorsports Park. A pair of DNFs have hurt Alexandros’ standing, but he now sits just 12 points behind O’Sullivan and 15 ahead of Bouchard after Salem, where Alexandros finished 16th.
Just behind Bouchard is Slim Dawg, the series’ winner at South Alabama Speedway. Dawg leads the series with a remarkable seven top-five finishes, two more than any other competitor. He added to that collection with a fifth-place run at Salem.
While he isn’t in the lead group, lurking just behind the top four is Paolo di Rossi, 95 points behind O’Sullivan. Like O’Sullivan, Bouchard, and Dawg, di Rossi holds seven top-ten finishes this season. However, he has lacked the runs at the very front of the field, with no wins and four top-five finishes. If he can improve on that (and with a fifth-place finish at IRP before a podium finish at Salem, it looks like he might be), di Rossi could insert himself into the title race.
Ultimately, this season has not gone as anyone would have predicted when we arrived at Martinsville. Instead, it promises to be one of the most exciting championship chases we’ve seen in SCOR, with fans on the edge of their seats all the way to the finish line.