Duane Howard Wins Coalcracker 72 at Big Diamond Speedway

FORESTVILLE — All Duane Howard wanted was a restart. He knew what would happen if he could just get to the lead at Big Diamond Speedway.

“For some reason here on this race track, there’s a preferred line every week,” the Oley driver said. “And that guy who’s leading is in that preferred line.”

By early Monday morning, that guy was Howard, who took the top spot from Billy Pauch Jr. on a Lap 56 restart and drove off to win the track’s season-ending Jack Rich Inc. Coalcracker 72 358 modified feature.

Howard was joined in Victory Lane by Carlisle’s Chris Heller, who won the street stock feature, and Ringtown’s Devin Trexler, who took the Coalcracker 20 roadrunner race.

But neither Heller nor Trexler were quite as relieved as Howard.

Second on the track’s list of all-time feature wins with 74 victories, Howard, driving car owner Norm Hansell’s No. 357, took his first checkered flag in a feature at Big Diamond since May 29, 2015.

“It took two years to get it right, but, man, we got it right tonight,” Howard said. “The car went right through the middle and laid on the right side like I want to feel it.”

Earning the track’s biggest prize of the season of $10,000, Howard won his seventh Coalcracker crown, but his first since 2008.

Howard was the final of four leaders in the 72-lap marathon interrupted after 40 laps for a fuel stop. Each of those leaders got his chance at the front on a restart.

New York driver Anthony Perrego led the first four tours after drawing for the pole before Ray Swinehart’s car broke and spun on the frontstretch.

Wind Gap’s Frank Cozze took the lead at the resumption and led through two more caution periods to the fuel stop.

Pauch Jr. grabbed the lead from Cozze on the restart and withstood five more caution flags to keep the lead.

Howard, who started ninth, had climbed to second when Dominick Buffalino’s car spun in the second turn on the 56th lap. That put Howard beside Pauch on the double-file restart.

“It was really a cat-and-mouse game on the restarts,” Howard said. “When I got him on my restart and I’m on the outside, I wasn’t letting him push me up to the big cushion.”

Once in front, Howard’s drive to victory was slowed only by a caution flag with four laps left. He outgunned Pauch on that restart and drove away to win by .564 seconds.

Ryan Godown took second from Pauch with three laps left. Cozze was fourth ahead of Perrego.

Heller led the final 17 laps of the 20-lap street stock feature, but provided the biggest drama after the checkered flag. He veered up the track, struck the tire barrier near the second-turn pit exit and rolled his No. X99 onto its roof.

“About five (laps) to go, I started to get a wobble in the rear end,” said Heller, who earned $1,000 for his third win of the season. “... Last race of the year, you’re out front, you just keep the hammer down and hope she holds together.

“And it did until the end.”

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