Eatonton's Rafe Slate heads toward the final race of the 2018 Thursday Thunder series
Although Rafe Slate’s run during this year’s Thursday Thunder U.S. Legends racing series at Atlanta Motor Speedway cannot be described as a failure – after all, Slate currently sits third in points not too far behind first – the summer still has not yet brought a win for Slate.
This Saturday, he has one last chance to drive his No. 8 Vizitech USA car to victory lane when the Thursday Thunder series hosts its championship round at AMS.
“I think, this week, the best thing that we can do is go shoot for a win,” Slate said.
“I plan to qualify up front, stay up front.”
That’s what Slate did last Thursday. He started third in the Pro division race and, for a long period, ran in the second spot.
Unfortunately for Slate, a handful of cautions ruined his chances of taking the lead. On more than one occasion, Slate had race leader Jensen Jorgensen in his sights.
But just as soon as Slate began reeling in Jorgensen, yellow caution lights placed around AMS flashed, signaling a stoppage due to crashed cars.
Because he was in second place, Slate restarted on the outside line. It is almost impossible for any Legends driver to outrun cars on the bottom. Slate always seemed to bounce back and find himself in second place again, only for another caution to occur and begin the whole process again.
“I just haven't had good luck on restarts and starting on the outside all year long,” Slate said. “I start on the outside near the front pretty much every time. It's always disappointing when you make a pass for second and start trying to chase down the leader but then, all of a sudden, a caution comes out and you're like, 'Ah, great, I've got two fast cars on my inside that are going to pass me,' which is exactly what happened on the restarts (last week) and I got hung up behind two cars that raced really, really hard.”
All those restarts bottled up the drivers. It resulted in a third-place finish for Slate, behind Jorgensen and second-place driver Dawson Fletcher.
Fletcher took over the Pro points lead thanks to his finish. He started last and earned bonus points for each position he gained throughout the race. That allowed him to leapfrog then-points leader Cody Hall, who found himself caught in a couple of collisions.
Slate definitely noticed Fletcher’s dominance throughout the event.
“The race went really well,” he said. “Me and Dawson Fletcher were the fastest two cars on the track. We ran some of the fastest times ever run on uncut tires, close to a tenth faster than what we ran in qualifying, so that's definitely pretty cool.”
Slate remained in third place in the points standings and said he must finish three or four places ahead of Hall this weekend to earn a second-place finish.
A division championship appears unlikely – Slate said a rash of bad luck for both Hall and Fletcher, along with big moves and a win for himself, will be necessary in order for him to score the comeback.
Of course, Thursday Thunder does not present the only championship Slate can win.
Regardless of where he competes, Slate regularly earns points toward the national Pro division standings. As of July 19, Slate was only 130 points behind Minnesota’s Baiden Heskett in the national Pro points standings.
Slate said the drivers’ 21 best finishes count toward those national points. Therefore, if he can rack up better finishes and knock off a couple of 11th-place results, his standing will improve.
Some of the other tracks at which Slate typically competes include Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele and Sunny South Raceway in Grand Bay, Alabama. Once Thursday Thunder wraps up, Slate intends to visit those tracks and others in pursuit of the national championship.
“I'm pretty confident,” he said. “I know we've (run) some of the most races out of anybody. We were way ahead in total number of races run before we got to Thursday Thunder but it's been so hard to get over to some different tracks but, hopefully, after this week we'll be running Sunny South again and Cordele more, maybe a few other tracks around us.”
This Saturday, Slate hopes to give himself a good shot in the arm with a victory in the Thursday Thunder finale.
Check back next week for results from this week's race.