It was all about tire strategy in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series race at Watkins Glen International. Brent Crews in the No. 70 Franklin Road/Mobil 1/Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang and his team gambled on slicks and it paid off as the track dried, allowing the 15-year-old to score his fourth win of the season and extend his lead in the championship standings.
Saturday’s qualifying session was canceled due to rain and fog, so the grid was set by practice speeds, putting Connor Zilisch in the No. 7 Silver Hare Racing Chevrolet Camaro and Crews on the front row. With rain falling prior to the race, teams were forced to choose whether to start on rain tires or slicks. Zilisch and Crews opted for slicks, and with rain still falling, the two were passed by their competitors on rain tires as soon as the green flag waved. After Zilisch dropped to fifth and Crews to sixth, Thomas Annunziata took control of the race in his No. 90 Nitro Motorsports Ford Mustang until lap three, then Rafa Matos in the No. 88 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang took over the point position until a full-course caution on lap six.
By then, the rain had stopped falling and the track was drying quickly, so several competitors on rain tires took the opportunity to visit pit road to change to slicks, including Matos and Annunziata. When green-flag racing resumed, it was once again Zilisch and Crews leading the pack to the start/finish line. This time, Zilisch would remain in control, pulling ahead of the field. Shortly after the restart, Thomas Merrill in the No. 26 Bennett/HP Tuners/Cope Race Cars Ford Mustang made contact with another competitor, causing the 2022 champion to spin and take damage that would force his early retirement from the race. Zilisch and Crews paced the field, leading Austin Green in the No. 89 3-Dimensional Services Group Ford Mustang and Nathan Herne in the No. 29 CUBE 3/Berryman Ford Mustang.
By lap 17, Zilisch pulled out to a nearly 10s lead before the double yellow waved and erased his large gap. The field was shown the green on lap 22, but the cars were once again brought under caution later that same lap for a multi-car crash that required a red flag for an extensive cleanup. Racing finally resumed on lap 27 with limited time on the clock, and Zilisch’s strong restart allowed him to protect his lead, leaving Crews, Green, Herne and Dillon Machavern in the No. 17 Heritage AG/UniFirst/SLR-M1 Ford Mustang behind him. Herne was able to pass Green on the restart, securing the third spot before the checkered flag waved on lap 29 of the timed event.
Zilisch crossed the finish line first, however, both he and Herne were disqualified after the event due to a technical infraction, making Crews the Watkins Glen winner. Green was credited with his second runner-up finish of the year, and Machavern earned a third-place result. Matos finished fourth, and Thad Moffitt in the No. 43 Safety-Kleen/SLR-M1 Race Cars Chevrolet Camaro rounded out the top five after an impressive run from 33rd to fifth, which earned him the Bassett Hard Charger Award.
“We had a great No. 70 Franklin Road/Mobil 1/Nitro Motorsports race car today,” said Crews. “I just wanted to get through the whole race, that was the number-one goal to start. Having it rain and then starting on slicks was pretty much a gamble for us. I think we changed [between slicks and rain tires] about three or four times [before the race]; we couldn’t make up our minds, but we made the right decision. I just want to thank everyone at Nitro Motorsports, Nick Tucker and my whole family.”
The re-broadcast of Sunday’s race will air on MAVTV on Thursday, September 14 at 8 p.m. ET.
The Big Machine Vodka SPIKED Coolers TA2 Series returns to the track in two weeks for the series’ first visit to World Wide Technology Raceway September 23 and 24.