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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — As the summer months heat up the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship race, Keith Rocco shows no signs of cooling off. In fact, the 26-year-old Wallingford, Conn., native continues to roll off wins at an astounding rate.
Over 10 starts last month, Rocco posted seven wins, nine top fives and 10 top 10s to further cement his place atop the national standings. The recent run gives him 20 wins – one less than his national championship performance a year ago – in 35 starts in the weekly asphalt Modified division.
It also earned him the recognition as the top driver in the August edition of the Hunter Index, as determined by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives.
Rocco collected eight of the 12 first-place votes and easily outdistanced runner-up CE Falk III and the rest of the touring and weekly series drivers.
“It’s gotten to the point over the last few weeks that it’s become more newsworthy when Rocco doesn’t win, he’s become that automatic,” said Shawn Courchesne of the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, who covers Rocco on a weekly basis at the three Connecticut NASCAR tracks -- Thompson International Speedway, Stafford Motor Speedway and Waterford Speedbowl.
“Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m witnessing history being made each weekend when I go to cover events at the three tracks Rocco runs at full-time. Twenty years from now people will be talking about these past two years and what he has done behind the wheel. And people who weren’t around to see it, they’ll think the stories are some made up myth. That’s just how staggeringly unbelievable his dominance has been since the start of the 2010 racing season.”
Drivers are ranked on their performance over the previous month. The rankings are compiled by a panel of auto racing writers and NASCAR representatives. This season, the panel was expanded to 12 media members from across North American with experience covering NASCAR’s touring and weekly series, along with two voters from NASCAR.
Panelists rank their top 15, with first place receiving 15 points, second 14, third 13 and so on.
Falk, who had five wins in his six asphalt Late Model starts in the southeast, also earned three first-place votes. Luis Martinez Jr. and Homero Richards received the other first-place votes.
Martinez scored his first NASCAR K&N Pro Series West win at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, while Richards’ win at Mexico City last month was his third straight NASCAR Mexico Series victory.
“Only a handful of drivers have been able to beat Greg Pursley in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West,” said,” said Tim Haddock of haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com. “Not only did Martinez beat Pursley, but he won the first race of his West Series career on a difficult road course. Martinez was patient and calculating. More importantly, he didn't panic when the result of the race was on the line.”
Overall, Rocco collected 166 points, to Falk’s 149.
Twice this season, Rocco has swept three races at three different tracks on the same weekend. He holds a lead of 22 points over North Carolina’s Lee Pulliam and 24 over Virginia’s Philip Morris in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings.
Max Gresham (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) with 134 points, Todd Szegedy (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) with 125 and Morris with 107 rounded out the top five in the Hunter Index voting.
Falk collected three wins in five Late Model starts over the last month to move to fourth overall in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standings. He swept the twin features at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va., last weekend, including the first which also featured Morris. He was fourth at South Boston (Va.) Speedway on July 16, in a race Morris won.
“When the heat index is in the 100s, CE Falk's No. 40 is the last car any competitor should want to see show up at their local track,” said David Smith of DavidSmithMotorsports.com. “For the last three summers, Falk has been on a planet by himself in the short-track racing world. Over 30 wins in a two-and-a-half-year span in the state of Virginia is difficult to accomplish.”
Gresham added to his K&N Pro Series East points lead at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He earned the 21 Means 21 Pole Award presented by Coors Light, led the most laps and won the race. He also won the pole and finished seventh at Columbus (Ohio) Motor Speedway.
Szegedy picked up the Whelen Modified Tour win at New Hampshire after Ryan Newman’s disqualification. He also finished second at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, his third top two finish in the last four tour races.
Scott Steckly (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series) was sixth in August’s voting, followed by Pursley (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West), Martinez, Darrell Wallace Jr. (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East) and Richards.
Pursley is the only driver to be in the top 10 in voting in each of the first five months.
The Hunter Index, which was launched in 2010 on NASCARHomeTracks.com, is a monthly power poll designed to highlight the standout performances in the NASCAR developmental series. This year, the monthly winners will be presented with a trophy designed by Jostens.
The Hunter Index is named for the late Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president of corporate communications and a longtime supporter of the weekly and touring series that make up the NASCAR Developmental Series.
The Index was designed as an opportunity to compare the top drivers from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series all the way up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. It will also encompass drivers from the NASCAR Mexico Series, NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
The Hunter Index is released the first week of each month from April through November.
The panel also included media members: J.A. Ackley, Dick Berggren’s Speedway Illustrated; Shawn Courchesne, Hartford (Conn.) Courant; Bob Dillner, SPEED; Tim Haddock, haddockinthepaddock.blogspot.com; Keith Lair, Los Angeles Newspaper Group; Spencer Lewis, Inside Track Motorsports News; Jorge Mondaca, FOXSports.com; Pat Patterson, SIRIUS NASCAR Ch. 128/ESPN Radio; Len Sammons, Area Auto Racing News; David Smith, DavidSmithMotorsports.com; and Elgin Traylor, Speed51.com. They are joined by Brett Bodine, who is the chairman of the NASCAR Résumé Committee and represents the NASCAR competition side on the panel, and Jason Christley, a NASCAR public relations representative.
HUNTER INDEX – AUGUST
|1||KEITH ROCCO (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why he’s here: The Wallingford, Conn., driver picked up another seven asphalt Modified division wins last month to give him 20 for the season and 41 over the last two years, as he chases a second straight national title.|
|2||CE FALK III (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: His dominance at Langley Speedway – five wins in July – has vaulted the 23-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., into the national championship hunt.|
|3||MAX GRESHAM (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: He backed up his pole run at New Hampshire with a win on the ‘Magic Mile’ to further solidify his hold on the series points lead.|
|4||TODD SZEGEDY (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour)|
|Why He’s Here: A strong run at New Hampshire resulted in his second win of the season and he followed with a second on the bullring at Riverhead.|
|5||PHILIP MORRIS (NASCAR Whelen All-American Series)|
|Why He’s Here: The three-time national champion has been nearly unbeatable at South Boston – three straight wins gives him 14 for the season.|
|6||SCOTT STECKLY (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series)|
|Why He’s Here: His second-place finish to Andrew Ranger on the street course at Toronto was nearly as impressive as his pole and win in Vernon.|
|7||GREG PURSLEY (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why He’s Here: A late-race mechanical issue at Portland has been the only thing to slow the Newhall, Calif, driver, who also claimed the checkered flag at Evergreen for win no. 6.|
|8||LUIS MARTINEZ JR. (NASCAR K&N Pro Series West)|
|Why He’s Here: The Long Beach, Calif., driver held off a stout field of road-course aces at Portland to earns his first series win.|
|9||DARRELL WALLACE JR. (NASCAR K&N Pro Series East)|
|Why He’s Here: The 17-year-old from Mobile, Ala., bounced back from mechanical issues at New Hampshire to dominate at Columbus and collect his second win of the year.|
|10||HOMERO RICHARDS (NASCAR Mexico Series)|
|Why He’s Here: A victory at his hometown track in Mexico City was his third straight series wins and moved him up to second in the championship race.|
HONORABLE MENTION: Lee Pulliam (Motor Mile and South Boston/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Amy Catalano (Spencer and Holland/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Travis Braden (Columbus and Kil-Kare/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series), Brandon Davis (Toyota/NASCAR Whelen All-American Series) and Pete Shepherd III (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series).