Ronnie Sanders Racing put in the work over the past year and it’s starting to pay off in dividends for Hunter Robbins following a victory in the Allen Turner Pro Late Model opener on Saturday afternoon at Five Flags Speedway.
That’s win No. 2 on the year for the iconic No. 18 team with a victory in the Alabama 200 at Montgomery Motor Speedway in March and again at Pensacola.
"We've really hit our stride since last summer with both cars and we're pretty happy with our speed and getting what we need to be better each time out," Robbins told Racing America. "Getting all the parts and pieces is one thing but putting them together on race day is another. The car was really good today.
"I don't know if we would have been as good last night, but we had good race pace in practice yesterday. Winning one race is huge, and not everyone can say that these days so winning another one so early is a really big deal to us. I really want to get a win in our Super. That's next."
Robbins started on the outside pole next to Casey Roderick, but both quickly conceded to rookie Giovanni Ruggiero in the Anthony Campi Racing No. 81. Ruggiero and Robbins traded the lead on a pair of restarts until the ACR No. 81 was shown the black flag for jumping the restart on Lap 20.
Ultimately, that decided the race was as Robbins led the rest of the way, albeit with a steady challenge from Jake Garcia behind him.
"I thought (Ruggiero) gave it back a little bit and let up enough, so I'm surprised he got black flagged," Robbins said. "But a rule is a rule. Restarts are tough here because you feel like you're going so slow and the restart zone is all the way around the corner ... The corner is so slow and sweeping that you get trigger happy before the zone."
Ruggiero declined comment when asked about the restart. He parked his car after the penalty was assessed. Generally speaking, Campi and company felt like race director Nicholas Rogers didn’t give enough flexibility for a 15-year-old making his first start at Five Flags Speedway while also not applying the rule equally against veterans.
Rogers said there were actually three restart issues from Ruggiero over the course of the race when he was the leader. Rogers said Ruggiero brought the field down too slow and that the young driver was twice warned to clean up his restarts.
The veteran official and race director also said the rule book doesn’t require warnings, nor does it allow giving back the position or calling back the restarts, as that risks crashes or the front row taking advantage of the rules.
All told, it was just a case of a young driver leaving one of the toughest tracks for restarts with a lesson learned and items to work on for next time.
Garcia finished second and said he just needed more raw speed.
"It's tough to pass someone when they don't make any mistakes and Hunter did a really good job," Garcia said. "He was on point and hopefully we can work on some things and catch up to them next time."
The race was scheduled for Friday night, but a post-qualifying thunderstorm pushed the 100-lapper to Saturday afternoon.
Roderick posted the fastest time and drew a '1' on the invert, meaning that the field started straight-up. He fell back to fifth early in the race and saved tires and charged strong at the end.
"I just need a little bit more raw speed through the center of the corner and if you're the slightest bit tight, it kills you out of the corner," Roderick said. "I started getting free in also, so next race, we need to get that fixed so I can hustle it.
"Overall, a good run and a third-place finish. I found something at the end by moving around and that helped. So, we learned a lot and we'll come back better."
The only major incident of the race came on Lap 17 when John Bolen connected with Derrick Griffin outside of the top-15 in Turn 2. Bolen’s No. 2 climbed up the left side of the DG Performance No. 95. The right front tire actually connected with Griffin’s helmet.
"The 95 was pretty loose, fading back and I kept getting under him and I started leaning on him and leaned on him too hard and got him loose," Bolen said.
Bolen stopped in Griffin’s pit stall before taking his car to his own pit area, where Griffin explained he was about to get out of his way within two laps, as soon as he could clear Christopher Tullis in front of him.
Griffin says there were three hits to his rear bumper before the crash.
"There was no need to fight or anything but I wanted him to know I didn’t appreciate it," Griffin said. "He doesn’t get an inch from here on out because he has a history of stuff like that. He has no excuses, has too much experience that if he can’t control his race car, he needs to find a new hobby.
"I would feel the same way if it were Augie Grill. Maybe if you were a kid making his first start, okay, don’t do it again, but it’s happened too many times with him."
Bolen was remorseful and just chalked it up to a byproduct of crate racing and needing to get every position you can on a restart.
Allen Turner Pro Late Models #1
Five Flags Speedway
May 14 2022
- Hunter Robbins
- Jake Garcia
- Casey Roderick
- Justin Bonnett
- Chris Davidson
- Dylan Fetcho
- Timothy Watson
- Hudson Halder
- Christopher Tullis
- Colin Allman
- Hunter Wright
- Jojo Wilkinson
- Chase Spradlin
- Chase Mclemore
- William Sawalich
- Graham Campbell
- Giovanni Ruggiero
- John Bolen
- Derrick Griffin