Dennis Rock Jr. enjoyed a much better Night of Fire at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway than he did a few years ago.
The Henderson, Nev., driver survived a heated battle and held off all-time track win leader Scott Gafforini to claim his first career "Spirit of '76" 76-lap NASCAR Super Late Models feature in front of a boisterous crowd at the 3/8-mile track. His 2015 result was a welcomed change after one experience in particular.
"A few years back, my car was on the billboard (for this race) because it caught on fire on the Night of Fire," Rock Jr. said. "This is a much better finish."
Dustin Ash, a 55-time winner at The Bullring, and Las Vegas veteran Stan Mullis had good runs going before experiencing car trouble. Gafforini - who has a track-best 61 victories under his belt - will have to wait another year to perhaps win his first Night of Fire race.
The special evening kicked off the Fourth of July weekend in style, featuring a trio of Vegas Drift cars performing exhibitions, the introduction of skid-plate racing, waterless boat races and post-race fireworks. Robert Rice won the skid plate race in his No. 7 car, while Dylin Smotherman was voted by fans as the winner of the waterless boat races.
Matt Larsen picked a great night to claim his first career Bullring victory in the race of the night, banging and screeching across the line just a nose (.017 of a second) ahead of Ryan Vargas in the NASCAR Super Stocks class. Vargas led most of the race before Larsen, of St. George, Utah, caught him on the second-to-last lap, and the two traded paint as they surged for the checkered flag.
"I was a little rough on Vargas, and I apologize for that," Larsen said. "I've raced on this night a few different times, but have never gotten this close. It was awesome"
Shane Skaggs of Albuquerque used a great late-race re-start to earn his first NASCAR Grand American Modifieds win of 2015, holding off Jim Mardis by .293 of a second to secure his first career victory at The Bullring. Mardis led a good bit of the race before Skaggs was able to capitalize on the re-start.
"The car felt really good, and the biggest obstacle was saving the tires," Skaggs said.
In the always competitive NASCAR Bombers division, Court Connell of Las Vegas held off a charging Aaron McMorran to claim his first win since opening night by just .082 of a second. Michael Greve was .443 behind, with Martin Sullins and Nick Nuccitelli finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, less than one second off the pace.
The Bombers' feature was a special 25-lap "Breakout race," where any leader would be assessed a stop-and-go penalty if they broke the 20-second barrier on any lap. None of the leaders made that mistake, and Connell was thrilled to pick up the win despite a wardrobe malfunction of sorts.
"The other drivers made it easy on me, and I just stayed in front of them and blocked a little bit and they pushed me," Connell said of staying under the 20-second barrier. "I think I ripped my britches getting out of the car, so no peeking."
Peyton Saxton of Las Vegas won for the sixth time this season in the USLCI Legends division, surviving a big field to finish .675 of a second ahead of Jordan Dean of Henderson, Nev.
"I'd like to thank the fans for coming out and putting up with the heat," Saxton said. "It was really hot in that race car. I'd just like to thank everyone who helped me get into victory lane in this race car."
R.J. Smotherman of Pahrump, Nev., kept his winning ways going in the USLCI O'Hanley's Bandolero Bandits division, crossing the line first in the night's opening race to earn his seventh victory of the season. Las Vegas' Kyle Jacks followed with his third win at The Bullring in 2015 after finishing 1.678 seconds ahead of Philip Root.
NEXT RACE - Saturday, Aug. 22 - The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series continues with a full night of racing. In addition to a complete race schedule, fans can come to the Bullring early for the inaugural LVMS Show & Shine car show benefiting the Las Vegas Chapter of Speedway Children's Charities.
A number of car clubs from Las Vegas and surrounding areas will bring their prized cars to display and compete for prizes. The show will run from noon to 4 p.m. Pacific Time, and fans can also enjoy food trucks, table games, a balloon artist and cooling stations at the track.
The Bullring's concession stand offers $2 hot dogs, $2 Coca-Cola products and $3 Budweiser beer on each NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race night. For more information on all events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, please visit www.LVMS.com and follow LVMS on Facebook and Twitter.
Night of Fire
USLCI O'Hanley's Bandolero Bandits 12-lap feature
USLCI O'Hanley's Bandolero Outlaws 12-lap feature
1.Kyle Jacks; 2. Philip Root (-1.678 seconds); 3. Mason Sargent (-2.065); 4. Christian Warren (-2 laps).
NASCAR Super Stocks 25-lap feature
NASCAR Grand American Modifieds 30-lap feature
NASCAR Bombers "Breakout race" 25-lap feature
USLCI Legends 25-lap feature
NASCAR Super Late Models "Spirit of '76" 76-lap feature
Skid plate cars 15-lap feature