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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A late season surge helped Chad Pendleton win his first NASCAR track and state championships.
Pendleton, 31, of Hilliard, Ohio, won the NASCAR Late Model track championship at the .333-mile Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway. At season’s end he pulled away from two veteran drivers in the state point race.
Pendleton claimed the Columbus track championship by just 13 points over Bobby Justus, and the state title by 51 points over Dick Dunlevy Jr. Dunlevy won the NASCAR Late Model track championship at Kil-Kare Raceway in Xenia. Pendleton’s state championship record includes four wins, 16 top fives and 20 top 10s in 20 starts.
“Bobby came out of the box fast this year and Dick won so many races at Kil-Kare that winning a state championship wasn’t something we thought about,” Pendleton said. “We just focused on each individual race night and not worry about points. We took the track point lead with four weeks to go.”
Justus, 54, of Columbus has been a contender for the state title in recent years, and has won at least one feature a year at Kil-Kare for 15 consecutive years. Meanwhile, Dunlevy, 64, has numerous track championships and 532 career feature wins – including 16 this year at Kil-Kare – over a 45-year racing career.
The trio jockeyed for position in collecting state points down the stretch. Justus raced full-time at Columbus and started 11 of 22 events at Kil-Kare. Pendleton, too, raced full-time at Columbus and made three Kil-Kare starts. Kil-Kare’s Dunlevy made three late-season starts at Columbus.
“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in racing,” Pendleton said. “Until now our best finish in track points was third. This year our team effort showed what we could do.”
Since joining the Late Model ranks in 2006 with Garmac Racing, Pendleton has driven a mid-1990s Lefthander chassis.
Garmac principals are Gary and Connie Busch and Mack Long. Gary Busch is crew chief and team members include Chad Webb and Nick Brown. Pendleton also drives a Modified part-time at Columbus for owner-crew chief Steve Scott. He won three races at Columbus and finished seventh in track points starting 15 of 19 scheduled events. Modified crew members include Tim Long and Gary Franks.
“The level of competition is up and we had to keep our car at that level,” Pendleton said, adding credit to Columbus-based St. Amant Racing for technical support.
Part of the strategy Pendleton and his Garmac Racing team employed was to conserve their only Late Model.
“When you have one car and you’re racing for points at Columbus on Saturday nights, racing it on Friday night is a bit of a risk,” Pendleton said.
One of the Kil-Kare dates circled on Pendleton’s calendar was the Aug. 3 Robbie Dean Memorial, a 94-lap feature. Dean, who passed away in 2008, was one of the Buckeye State’s all-time greatest asphalt Late Model drivers.
“It was important to us to support that event because Robbie was such a great competitor,” Pendleton said of the 10-time Columbus Late Model champion. “I’ve been around Columbus Motor Speedway since I was old enough to walk, and I’ve seen a lot of great drivers. Robbie Dean, Donnie Hill, Tim Ice and Gary St. Amant were the guys I always looked up to.”
Pendleton maintained his consistency through that rare two-day race weekend, finishing third at Kil-Kare and fifth at Columbus.
The point races changed shape on Aug. 11 when Pendleton went to Victory Lane at Columbus while Justus placed 13th. The win gave Pendleton a two-point track point lead that grew to 13 points by the time the track season ended on Sept. 8.
Pendleton began his racing career at age four in Quarter Midgets, worked his way through Dwarf cars. At age 16 he got his first NASCAR license to compete in the Sportsman division at Columbus and was the division’s top rookie. He competed in Modified and Late Model events around the state before settling back in at Columbus in 2006.
Pendleton will be honored for his track and state championships at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards event. The ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, Dec. 7 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sept. 16 counted toward their states and national point totals, and
the champions are decided on overall point total. Once a driver reaches 18 starts, their total would increase incrementally as they replace some poorer runs with better results.
Under the point structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner receives two points for every car in the event up to 20 cars. Second place receives two fewer points and so on through the field. Race winners receive an additional five points. For example, if 20 cars are in the field, the winner receives 45 points, second place 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 35 points, second 28 and third, 26.