(Oxford ME) “Short track racing is alive and well here at Oxford Plains Speedway,” declared 3rd place Oxford 250 finisher DJ Shaw.
“What a crowd,” he added……and who could argue!
The seats were filled, and the crowd was into it for the 46th edition of the OPS 250, held on Sunday.
Travis Benjamin won the Oxford 250 for the third time. The last time was five years ago.
“I can’t believe it,” said Travis to a gathering on Victory Lane that may have included everyone from his hometown of Morrill (ME), “to have our name on the trophy again.”
There was no mention of Travis on Media Day on Wednesday of this week. Why? His best run this year had been a 4th in Vermont.
And Travis didn’t show much in the first half of the race to make you think that he would be holding the checkered flag later. But he has been racing for a while and there had been some changes to the car and in the makeup of the crew.
“We concentrated on the car that I liked, and we got the crew back together that keyed the other two Oxford 250 wins,” explained Travis.
Travis admitted that for the first half of the race he would have been willing to “settle for a top five finish.”
There were seven cautions, however, and things turned Travis’ way during the one on lap 179. He added four tires and thereafter was in contention, taking the lead for good with forty laps left.
Two cautions, however, in the last twelve laps made things exciting for the crowd and nerve-wracking for Travis, who had gained separation from Derek Griffith and TJ Shaw. “I was nervous on those last restarts,” said Travis. “DJ has won a lot of races and Derek is as hungry as anyone, but I was confident in our car at that point.”
Travis broke away quickly on each of the restarts, regained some breathing room, and won his third title.
“Those last two restarts really helped us,” said second-place finisher Derek Griffith post-race. “I had a better restart run on most of the people around me. He (Travis) was just a little bit better than we were today.”
DJ Shaw crossed third and didn’t think that the restarts did him any favors. “We had a long-run car and we got short runs at the end,” explained DJ.
“To be the best car on a one-stop strategy says a lot for our program,” said DJ. “It was our best race of the year. We led a lot of laps and they knew we were here. It’s never a bad day to get a top three in the 250.
DJ was 6th in 2018. “This is our second 3rd-place finish. We’ll look to move up next year.”
Mike Hopkins (Hermon ME) got 5th but wasn’t happy about it. Mike, however, was quick to praise his crew (“They killed it on pit stops”) but was sure that he personally could have done better.
“Right before we came in to take four tires, I dropped down too early and Tom penalized me and put me in the rear,” Mike told me. “We would have been fifth with four new tires. I don’t think anyone had anything against us, but it would have made a difference, I think. We drove from the back to the front twice. We rode the corners so well and passed a lot of cars.”
Mike had a win in Richmond (VA) in March. “We killed it in Richmond but haven’t put it together since. I cost us a chance tonight to win the Oxford 250.”
Travis Benjamin explained that the track was hard to read. “Part of the race I was good outside and other times I wasn’t. The bottom was like that too. You just kind of had to go all over the place.” This was certainly where the years of racing, including many at Oxford, paid off. Travis had the skills to adjust successfully to the changing conditions.
Travis had nothing but kind words for the racing in the Northeast. “When someone like Bubba Pollard (last year’s winner) comes up here and we’re lapping him that tells you who’s racing up here. That’s nothing against the guys down South. It’s just that the racing up here is the best in the country, hands down.”
Forty-four cars started and eighteen of them finished on the lead lap.
Travis started in 11th place.
The estimated winning total for Travis from the race was $29,000.
Johnny Clark came in fourth.
Former owner Bob Bahre was the grand marshall.
I have to admit the degree to which I was taken in by the talk at Media Day on Wednesday. I heard there plenty of good words about Curt Geary’s chances of winning the 250………and there were lots of them deserved for the 2017 winner. When I saw that “7” flashing by in the limited lights of the track later in the race last night I thought it was Curt Geary (also #7). The PA announcer eventually straightened me out. My bad and I do wear glasses!
Also full disclosure: I did not sit in on the post-race interview with Travis Benjamin in the press box. However, I did see the Sun-Journal’s video of that interview. I had actual conversations with Derek, DJ, and Mike after the race.
The crowd was certainly amazing. The two cautions in the closing laps gave everyone a clear look at the defining moments of the race.
OPS humor? I heard a seated lady ask a 10-year-old (?) boy, who was walking by, if he had a hole in his sock. The kid naturally said that he didn’t. The woman asked, “How did you get your foot into it?”
Nice weather but did it ever cool off when the sun went down!
Thanks to the OPS staff, especially Mary Mayberry, for letting me in to witness the race.
(All of the pictures above and below will enlarge considerably if you click on them.)