Dramatic finish looms for Street Stock rivals
By LOGAN NEILL
The Street Stock class has produced some of the most tightly contested championship battles at Citrus County Speedway.
Three years ago, Wes Wilson ended up on the final night a mere 22 points ahead of Ernie Reed Jr. Last season, Travis Nichols clung to a 20-point margin over Brooksville's Mike Bell, claiming his first division crown.
So, it will be no surprise to see Nichols and Bell again scrapping for glory in the final 20-lap race. For the fans, Saturday night will be the ultimate short-track drama. The two most dominant drivers in the class -- one defending his title, the other hungry for his first -- separated by just 38 points.
But talk to Nichols and Bell and you get the feeling they will be happy to see the last checkered flag, no matter the outcome. "Right now, I'm ready to put an end to the madness," Nichols said. "The whole thing just takes so much out of you. "You feel completely drained when it's done."
Bell agrees, saying that if the tension weren't so heightened, the finale would be fun.
"It's easy to get hooked by the excitement of it," Bell said.
"The problem is when people tend to make too much out of it. It's racing, so I say, "Let's get out there and race and see who's better,' " Bell said.
Neither can deny that it has been a fruitful year in a division that's seen a considerable drop-off in participants. The last few events have fielded no more than 12 cars, leading some to speculate that major rules changes are in the offing.
Despite starting three weeks later than his competitors, Nichols quickly became one of the most consistent Street Stock drivers. While others, including Bell, suffered from mechanical woes, Nichols soldiered on to win five features and nine heat races. It staked him to the lead in the points standings until three weeks ago when Bell passed him.
But to top Bell Saturday, Nichols figures he needs some extra good fortune.
"It's going to be tough," he said.
"I need to win my heat and finish at least two spots ahead to do it. And that's not easy when you consider how fast Mike's been lately."
Since introducing a version of his familiar blue No. 17 car two months back, Bell has been unstoppable.
Three of his six feature victories have come in his last seven races. He hasn't finished outside the top five since August.
"We worked really hard at getting the new car set up to run Citrus, and it's paid off," Bell said. "I've also had my luck too, but that's one of those things that goes both ways.
"Travis has run strong all season, so I'm not counting on him breaking down on the last night," Bell said.
Despite their rivalry, neither competitor thinks the final event is a grudge match. "We're not enemies," Bell said. "We've had our share of disagreements, but in the end we're both good sports about it.
"To make that big a deal of it wouldn't make any sense."
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