Sweet enters Sunoco World Series up 23 points on Payea, 26 on MacDonald

–by T.J. Ingerson (@TJIngerson)
VMM Editor

THOMPSON, Conn. — Three drivers. One race. 75 laps. One champion.

Nick Sweet will lead the ACT Late Model Tour into the final race of the season on Saturday at Thompson Speedway with a 23-point lead over Scott Payea and 26-point advantage over Eddie MacDonald.

For Sweet, a finish of second or better will earn him the championship no matter what Payea or MacDonald do.

The multi-time Thunder Road champion from Barre, Vt. has posted two wins this season along with eight top-five place finishes and ten top-ten place finishes. Sweet has also posted ten straight top-ten place finishes — four straight top-five places — along with three other podium place finishes.

For Payea and MacDonald, they will need a little help to secure a championship.

The American-Canadian Tour point structure rewards points during the heat races, as well as bonus points for leading a lap and leading the most laps. A heat race wins earns five points with each position dropping down one point to just one point from fifth on back. A feature win pays 75 points, while second place earns a driver 68 points. A two point drop for each remaining position follows. Five bonus points are also rewarded for leading a lap and leading the most laps.

Should Payea win his heat race, lead the most laps, and win the 75-lap feature, Sweet would have to finish no better than third depending on his heat race result. Should Payea not lead the most laps but still win both his heat and feature, a finish of sixth or worse by Sweet would net Payea the championship.

Payea has posted three wins as well along with nine top-five place finishes and ten top-ten place finishes.

For MacDonald, the same scenario places Sweet no better than fourth if MacDonald leads the most laps while a finish no better than sixth for Sweet if he does not. He has posted two wins on the season with eight top-five place finishes and ten top-ten place finishes.

In a tiebreaking scenario, MacDonald would hold a tiebreaker if he wins. Payea holds the tie breaking scenarios over Sweet.

MacDonald also enters Thompson with the most experience of the three by a wide margin. Both Sweet and Payea have never competed at the five-eighths mile oval, while MacDonald has made multiple starts in the NASCAR East Series. He was also leading the ACT Late Model Tour race there one year ago late in the event when he lost a motor and retired from the race.

Sweet, however, has a bit of history on his side. Only twice in the past 15 years has the driver entering the final race of the season not left as champion — in 2001 with Pete Fecteau overtaking Jamie Fisher in the final race and in 2008 when Patrick Laperle overcame a 19-point deficit to claim the championship over Payea.

The point leader entering the final race has only lost 20 points in the final race twice in the past 15 years. It happened in 2006 when Jean Paul Cyr entered with a 72 point lead over Dave Pembroke, but a wreck ended his Milk Bowl hopes and Pembroke cut the final deficit to 48 points for a 24-point change. It last happened in 2013 when Wayne Helliwell Jr. lost 26 points in the final tally after a wreck at Airborne late in the race that saw his final margin go from 41 points over Joey Polewarczyk Jr. to 15 points.

The eventual champion has also extended his point lead eight times in the final race in the previous 15 season.

For Payea, he’s been there — three times he’s finished second in the ACT Late Model Tour championship. He may have suffered a heartbreaking defeat in 2008 but came back strong in 2009 and nearly pulled it off over the team he races for now. Some say that a driver must first lose a championship before he can win one. Payea is now primed for it.

The ACT Late Model Tour will run at the 54th Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing on Saturday, October 15 with a 75-lap feature event. Racing action will begin at 2:30pm.

PHOTO: Nick Sweet (second from left) enters the final ACT Late Model Tour event of the season as the point leader in a tight championship battle with Scott Payea (right) and Eddie MacDonald (center). (VMM file photo)