After blowing an engine in practice before the season even started and not running any laps on the track since, Don Ronca made a huge comeback Friday night to win the 35-lap 358-modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
In recording his 11th career win at the Malta track, Ronca made his way to victory lane for the first time since May 6, 1997.
“I am really lucky to even be racing again this year, after blowing my engine in practice earlier this year,” he said. “I really can’t believe it, and I am just thrilled to death.”
The win wasn’t an easy one for the Clifton Park driver, as he had to hold off the challenges of Ronnie Johnson and Brett Hearn.
Ronca started the feature from the outside of the front row, and took the lead at the drop of the green flag.
Under caution on lap two, Ronca was put back one position for jumping the original start, giving Don Mattison the lead. Dave Camara brought out the second caution one lap later, and on the subsequent restart, Ronca was able to retake the lead.
Tony Kawalchuk went from fifth to second on the restart, with Johnson, who had started 12th, now up to third. On lap seven, Johnson took over the second position, and set his sights on the leader.
Ronca was running right along the cushion in the turns while Johnson was trying to gain ground running down low.
The next caution came out on lap 12, and on the restart Hearn, who started 15th, moved into third, while Ronca and Johnson were dueling side-by-side for the lead. Johnson led lap 13, but by the time the lap counter clicked off lap 14, Ronca had taken the top spot back.
On lap 22, Johnson tried to duck under Ronca for the lead, but coming out of turn four, Johnson had to slide up the track to hold off Hearn. On the next lap, however, Hearn charged past Johnson for the
No. 2 position.
When Ronca had to deal with a lapped car on lap 33, Hearn pulled alongside the leader, but Ronca held on for the win.
Hearn finished second, followed by Johnson, Kenny Tremont Jr., A.J. Romano, Jack Johnson, Marc Johnson, Todd Stone, Keith Flach and Kawalchuk. In the post-race inspection, Ronnie Johnson was found to be three pounds light at the scales and was disqualified.
“It has been so long since he has won, and you work so hard at it realizing that he may never win again,” said Ronca’s father, Nick, after the race. “I am so happy for him.”
Rob Langevin was the winner of the sportsman feature. He was followed by Ken Anatriello, Matt Depew, Chris Busta, Kory Sandstedt, Josh Hohenforst, Rich Ronca, Mike Tholin, Mark Kislowski and Joe Santoro.
Alex Bell was the budget sportsman feature winner, and Kim Duell was the winner of the pro-street stock feature.
GLEN — Craig Hanson outran Tim Mayne and Jamike Sowle to win the modified feature at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
Joe Ketchum took the checkered flag in the budget sportsman feature, holding off Jeremiah Munson and Angela Hoard.
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