Local drivers put NASCAR racers in their place in Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Challenge

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Score one – actually, score a lot – for the local guys over the big NASCAR stars, as Matt Bowling, of Ridgeway, Va., won Denny Hamlin’s Short Track Challenge Thursday night at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.

In fact, local drivers who are weekend racers around Virginia dominated the seventh annual event, which is held to raise funds for Hamlin’s Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Bowling rallied to grab the lead five laps from the finish on the .20-mile track and held on to defeat Whelen All-American Series and Virginia driver Matt Waltz, who finished second, followed by another Virginia racer, Nick Smith, in third.

Waltz had led all of the first 195 laps, according to Adam Hainsfurther of the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee, until Bowling slid in front of him and held on for the remainder of the race.

That local drivers did so well in the late-model race wasn’t surprising, according to Camping World Trucks Series Timothy Peters, who finished 27th after a late wreck with fellow truck driver Jeb Burton, who finished 25th.

“It’s hard for the guys in the upper three (NASCAR) series to come back and run one of these cars and be competitive,” Peters told the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee. “It’s just that much more difficult to drive than a truck or a Nationwide [Series] car or a Cup car.

“You’ve got the best of the best here in my opinion. To come in here and mix it up with these guys — you’ve done something. Any of these guys’ credentials could put them in the top three series. It’s just all about that big break.”

The highest-finishing NASCAR driver was Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch, who wound up fourth, falling short of defending his win in the event last year.

Busch has won four of the first seven races in the event’s history, which was held for the first time at South Boston on Thursday.

Matt Kenseth was fifth, Hamlin finished eighth and David Ragan was 20th.

“We’ve had more presale tickets this year — about triple what we’ve ever had — so South Boston’s really done a great job of hosting this event,” Hamlin told the Register & Bee. “It’s a venue that we’re looking to stay at for at least a few years and continue to grow it.

“Every year we’re able to give more and more money to these children’s charities that benefit from it. … It’s definitely been really good to get this program running and every year to just keep growing it.”

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Danica says goodbye: ‘Definitely not a great ending’ but ‘I’m for sure grateful’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s final racing news conference didn’t go quite as planned, but at least she didn’t lose her sense of humor about it.

“Is that like the Oscars when they close the show out?” Patrick joked when her opening address was drowned out by the midrace broadcast of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 in the media center. “Take my mic away. I’ll leave. I promise. I don’t really want to be here because I’m pretty sad, but all right. I guess I’ll stop there.”

That was about as lighthearted as it got, though, for the most accomplished female driver in racing history after the final start of her career. That naturally made for some reflection, too.

“I will say that I’m for sure very grateful for everybody,” she said. “It still was a lot of great moments this month. A lot of great moments this year.”

Patrick was the first woman to lead both the Indianapolis 500 (in her 2005 debut) and the Daytona 500 (in 2013 when she also was the first female to qualify on pole position in NACAR history).

But she couldn’t bookend that with similarly memorable finishes. After crashing out of her final two Cup races in the November 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the 2018 Daytona 500, Indy concluded the same way.

“Definitely not a great ending,” she said. “But I kind of said before I came here that it could be a complete disaster, as in not in the ballpark at all. And look silly, then people may remember that. And if I win, people will remember that.

“Probably anything in between might just be a little part of the big story. So I kind of feel like that’s how it is. I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing, for IndyCar. Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was OK. A lot of it was just a typical drive.”

Beforehand, Patrick seemed relaxed while smiling and laughing outside her car with a tight circle of close friends and family that included her parents and boyfriend Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

“For sure, I was definitely nervous,” she said about her first Indy 500 start in seven years. “I found myself most of the time on the grid being confused what part of prerace we were in. I was like, ‘I remember this,’ and ‘Where are the Taps?’ and ‘When is the anthem?’ but I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”

And with that, she bid adieu.

“Thank you guys,” she said. “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you. Most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”