Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl coverage presented by RPM Racing Engines
BARRE -- Joey Polewarczyk began the 2009 season with high expactations and a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. At age 20, the Hudson, N.H. racer has often been touted as the "next big thing" to come out of the bullrings of the northeast. NASCAR champions Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick have spoken well of him, and his talents are praised often by the various car owners he has driven for.
But this season has been a miserable one for Polewarczyk, at least on the race track. Sure, he won an ACT Late Model Tour event at Oxford Plains Speedway in May, finally got his first victory at Barre's Thunder Road Int'l Speedbowl in June, and has raced twice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this year. But between events in ACT, PASS, and NASCAR competition, he has been involved in no less than five incidents that took him out of contention for a victory in the 2009 calendar year. And although he ranks in the top-five, he is not a contender for the ACT championship this season.
A victory in this weekend's Chittenden Bank Milk Bowl at Thunder Road, Polewarczyk says, would erase all of the bad stuff.
"I want this one bad," he said on Friday. "Last night I stayed up and watched the last three years' Milk Bowls on DVDs that we have. I watched every part of them. I'm the most focused I've ever been for any race this year. Next to the Oxford 250, this is the biggest race we have, it's huge. We've had a horrible second-half of the season, and a win in this race could change everything."
While he has a chance to tie Brian Hoar's record of four consecutive pole positions in the race, Polewarczyk has bigger designs on just getting the checkered flag at the end of the day.
"I definitely want another pole. Brian Hoar won four in a row and it would be pretty cool to tie his record, but our main focus is to win the race," Polewarczyk said. "We always qualify well and do well in the first segment, then we seem to have back luck or get in someone else's mess in the second segment. It's all about the second segment." In 2007, a dismal 27th-place effort in the middle 50-lap segment of the race left Polewarczyk 19th overall. He won the first round and finished third overall in 2006, but a 14th-place second-segment finish left him unable to catch winner Brent Dragon or runner-up Cris Michaud.
"The Milk Bowl is all about patience, but then again, you can't say that, either," Polewarczyk said of the race, which inverts the finish of each segment to begin the next and awards the driver with the lowest three-segment point tally (one point to win a segment, two point for second, etc.) the overall win. "You can't look at it like a regular 150-lap race, it's 50 laps that you have do three times. You have to make your moves at the right time and be quick, but you have to save your [equipment], too, and then do it two more times. You have to get to the front fast, but you have to race with the sense in your head that, 'Okay, there's another leg right after this one, so don't wreck.'"
Polewarczyk earned his first win at Thunder Road in June at the Vermont Governor's Cup 150, but said the win does little to ease his nerves at the tough quarter-mile. "We ran good at Thunder Road for a long time before the win," he said. "The win gives us confidence and it got the monkey off our back, but you can't ever go to Thunder Road thinking you're going to win there. It's such a tough place, and it'll bite you at any second. You can come out of Turn 4 and think you're just going to brush the wall a little bit, and the next thing you know you're upside down. You have to respect it, because something will always go wrong that will bring you back to reality."
But the temptation to race hard and try to win the Milk Bowl, and to turn his frustrating year around for his team means Polewarczyk isn't holding anything back.
"You have to take some chances, but you have to be smart," he said. "And a win in that race would just... I can't even tell you how much it would mean."
(PHOTO: Joey Polewarczyk says he's "more focused" than he's ever been entering this weekend's Milk Bowl at Thunder Road. Photo by Justin St. Louis/VMM)