Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – RICHMOND, VA – The one that got away.
That’s what Max McLaughlin was thinking the whole way has he headed north from the Richmond Raceway Friday night.
He was on his way to the Empire state of New York to compete in the Orange County Fair Speedway Hard Clay Open that will take place on Saturday.
However, he was thinking about what might have been on the asphalt.
McLaughlin ran near the front of the field almost the entire evening during the NASCAR Modified Tour race at the Richmond, VA track in the Gary Putnam Racing #77, but when the caution came out near the two-thirds mark of the race, the team elected to stay out. McLaughlin was in second at the time.
Along with leader Jimmy Blewett, very few others remained on track.
Then, McLaughlin was on an island as Blewett had to come to the attention of his crew to replace his air cleaner which had blown off on track.
That meant the Mooresville, NC driver had to do everything he could to keep the top spot.
While he gave it a gallant effort, Max was overtaken by Tommy Catalano for the lead about 12 laps later and, for the most part, it looked like he may hold on to a top 5 finish.
Unfortunately, his luck ran out along with his tires, as in the closing stages, McLaughlin fell further down the running order, ultimately finishing 12th, the last car on the lead lap.
“I don’t even know what to say,” McLaughlin said. “Our team decided to stay out on the last caution. We were gambling that there would be another one before the end of the race. That never happened and we went from the lead to 12th.”
You could tell the dejection in McLaughin. He knew he had a car that could win.
All I can say is I’m devastated,” he said. “We gave that one away but we’ll get them next time.”
That’s the constant within every statement Max made about his run Friday night…”we”. He knows it was a team decision and this is a team sport, and that is ultimately great to see.
“It was ultimately my crew chief call tonight,” he said. “We just gambled. We were expecting a late caution but it didn’t materialize. It’s really nobody’s fault. We’re a team and we win, or lose as one. It’s just heart breaking.”
In the end, Justin Bonsignore got to Catalano with a handful of laps left and took the lead. The defending NASCAR Modified Tour champion went on the grab his first victory of the season.
Did McLaughlin feel like he could have contended with the leaders for his first career series victory?
“I don’t doubt we would have been there,” he said. “We should have been up front to contend with the 51, but we’ll get them next time.”
How many times will fans get to see him in the Gary Putnam-owned car this season?
“I’m not sure yet, but we’ll be back,” he said. “We have to look at my dirt schedule and do some figuring, but there’ no doubt that Gary’s got a great team. We need some luck and if we get it, we will win a lot of races together.”
Now focus for the young McLaughlin shifts to the dirt of the Orange County Fair Speedway and the Short Track Super Series’ Hard Clay Open. That race will take place Saturday night and pay $25,000-to-win.
Is it difficult for Max to jump from asphalt to dirt in less than 24 hours, and be competitive in both?
“It’s not really difficult,” he said. “A good driver should be able to make a good race car go fast regardless of where it is or what surface they’re racing on. Truthfully, it takes a team and the team is what makes the driver look good. If the car’s good, the driver is too.”
Friday night, Max McLaughlin feels like he gave a checkered flag away. However, he’s learned from what happened and so has his team. Now, they’ll regroup and chase the next one…but not before Max throws around some hard clay.