PHOTO: Ben Ashline enters this weekend’s TD Bank 250 as one of the local underdog favorites after two impressive performance earlier in the year. (Eric LaFleche/ photo)

–by T.J. Ingerson

OXFORD, Maine — Ben Ashline may be entering the TD Bank 250 as this year’s Jeff White.

White, last season, turned in an out-of-nowhere dominant winning performance in the preceding American-Canadian Tour race and immediately jumped into the spotlight as a TD Bank 250 favorite.

The 21-year-old Pittston, Maine racer Ashline did the same this season and proved he belonged with the American-Canadian Tour. Ashline, in a TD Bank 250 tune-up, cemented his stock as a favorite with an impressive back-to-front winning performance two weeks ago.

But the 2011 TD Bank 250 polesitter isn’t looking at those past performance as guarantees, and knows the hardest task has yet to come.

“To me, you can throw the ACT race and the Oxford race we won right out the window because the entire field continues to get faster,” Ashline explained. “They do not stop working on their stuff. Just because we’ve won doesn’t mean we can’t be satisfied. If you don’t continue to work on your game, you’ll look foolish the next race.

“You go into the weekend and the first objective is going to be to qualify. You have to make the show because the competition is so stiff. You never know what is going to happen in qualifying. I have seen some cars that are really good that had little bugs and it bit them all day. There’s nothing you can do to really stop it other than prepare your car the best you can. It’s tough. These guys, the other competitors, they don’t take it lightly”

Being part of the TD Bank 250 weekend has been a mainstay for the Ashline family. That, along with this year’s performances for Ashline, has the young racer comfortable.

“I feel good. I’m excited,” Ashline said. “I always get excited for this week because we’ve been a part of this 250 tradition for years. We always go over there for the week and camp, our whole family. The whole thing, the environment of the 250, seeing how hyped up everyone else gets, it’s a big deal. I am personally extremely excited.”

Ashline, who’s low-dollar operation sometimes makes it difficult for the No. 15 DS Norton Construction/Levesque Electric Chevrolet to buy tires to go to the next race, has had a difficult season thus far. An impressive opening day run on the American-Canadian Tour at Lee USA Speedway was followed by a wreck at Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl that left Ashline’s car destroyed. A week of late nights saw Ashline make the series’ next race on week later at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, only to suffer a mechanical failure and end up wrecked, again. But Ashline then won at Oxford and proved that the lack of money won’t immediately put you at a disadvantage with the Late Model stock cars.

“[The bigger teams] have the funding to get different shocks so they can have setup ready to go to be able to utilize the whole practice day,” Ashline explained. “One thing we may have over those guys is that we raced there for four years. We have a pretty good baseline setup to go with. Our biggest issue is trying to scrounge up money to buy eight tires. We won’t have great practice like some of these guys can bolt on Saturday and Sunday. It would make it easier. It’s difficult but we’re working hard at it.”

That hard work could lead Ashline to a TD Bank 250 win. What would it mean for the local racer?

“If the stars align, and things worked out great, it’s would be almost impossible to describe that feeling knowing the amount of time we’ve spent in the shop,” Ashline said. “I really hope we can say the ACT 150 wasn’t a fluke and we really do have our Oxford program down. But I can tell you there are some heavy hitters coming and they all mean business. To have someone like Trevor Bayne in the field, a former Daytona 500 winner, you can’t take away that that’s huge. If we win, screw cloud nine, I’d be on ten.

“It would mean more than I could ever describe.”

The 39th Annual TD Bank 250 takes place on Sunday, July 22, with qualifying beginning at 2:00pm.