By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
What seemed to be a perfect final round for Jeff Hoffman drastically changed coming towards the final lap as he ran over cones, giving him a five-second penalty and inherited the Race of Champions Mexico SST Race No. 2 victory to the series champion Matt Brabham.
It’s Brabham’s sixth Speed Energy Stadium SUPER Truck Series victory of the season as he celebrated his championship in front of the energetic Foro Sol ballpark in Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, hoisting the trophy and hitting the pinata to close out the 2019 edition of the Race of Champions.
Brabham said he felt for Hoffman’s penalty as he felt that he had the better truck and technique to get around a circuit that requires technical driving in Race No. 2.
“I’m disappointed for Hoffman,” said Brabham. “He was so fast on that last round and obviously did a better job learning the track overnight than I did, and he came off firing.
“I’m just bummed because he was quicker, but the penalties is what decided. I’m happy to win, but I’m also equally bummed for him. He deserves to win as well.”
Series founder and owner Robby Gordon described Brabham’s season after coming up of winning the title by a single point over Paul Morris last season.
“Brab’s tough. I went against him (Saturday) and he’s tough,” said Gordon. “He’s done a wonderful job. He came so close to winning it, but comes back and wins it this season, so I’m very happy for them. He’s had a great run.”
Prior to the finale, Brabham studied Gordon’s race-winning run to improve his performance, hoping to face him in the finals again. Before reaching the finals however, he had to get past the likes of Davey Hamilton, Jr. and Blade Hildebrand first.
The 24-year-old put on tremendous runs against Hamilton and Harlien, making it to the semifinals with relative ease.
Meanwhile, Gordon faced Cole Potts twice with Saturday’s winner coming out on top in the opening round. Like Saturday, Potts continued his quest by virtue of being the “fastest loser,” giving him another crack against Gordon but the result remained the same. Gordon’s semifinal opponent? Brabham, resulting the champion’s wish being granted.
A five-second penalty by Gordon, who was pushing his No. 7 truck to its absolute limit, eliminated him from sweeping both races at Mexico City, which meant Brabham advanced into the final round.
Gordon, who beat Brabham at the line, said he was bummed on knocking over a cone, but remained in positive spirits as the competition has been intense.
“The format’s neat and competition was really close. I beat him to the line, but they said I knocked a cone. So if I knocked a cone, I knocked a cone. That’s part of the rules, but were hear to have fun and put on a good show. The competition is very close at ROC.”
The American/Australian was thrilled of beating Gordon after coming up short in Race No. 1 Saturday.
“I was stoked to obviously beat Robby. That was the homework and all the hard work over last night and today,” said Brabham. “It’s hard to beat him. He’s a tough competitor, so I was happy about that.”
Hoffman’s road to the finals almost didn’t happened as Casey Mears, who was riding Arie Luyendyk, Jr.’s No. 25 truck this weekend, beat him at the line in first. However, Hoffman officially advanced into the next round and ran against Blade Hildebrand, as Mears was given a time penalty.
Aside of a small error in one of his jumps, Hoffman’s second round fared much better, beating Hildebrand by a convincing 5.816 seconds. Additionally, Hildebrand knocked multiple barriers and was reprimanded with a major time penalty.
The fastest loser in the second round was Potts, having was a tenth quicker over Harlien, who wasn’t pleased at SST officials for being inconsistent with their penalties, as Hoffman escaped without penalties, which cost Harlien a “fastest loser” opportunity.
“It’s kind of frustrating,” said Harlien. “We get docked five seconds for hitting comes. I hoping to be the lucky loser out there, but there was a cone knocked over. I don’t know who hit it but they weren’t five seconds, but it is what it is. That’s racing I guess, I should’ve gone a tenth faster.”
In addition, Harlien said he isn’t satisfied of finishing second in the championship standings as he’ll be setting his sight on the upcoming season this spring.
“I finished second in the championship, but I’m not happy with that,” Harlien added. “I want to get first in the championship. I was behind Matty (Brabham) by like 20 points, so I got to pick up the pace next year and get that championship.”
Opinions aside, Hoffman was facing Potts in the semifinals. In that race, Hoffman cruised his way into the finals by 4.15 seconds and faced Brabham in the four-lap final.
At the start, Hoffman had the early advantage and was putting on scorching laps, which ultimately gave him a three second advantage over the champion after three laps. Suddenly, Hoffman’s perfect run was dashed after running over multiple cones, just as he cornering the final turn to take the white flag, Axing his 3.9 second advantage and a huge sigh of relief for Brabham.
As “The Hoff” took the checkered flag by 2.4077 seconds, all was in the clear as he was doing burnouts in front of the fans, SST officials hand slapped him with a five-second penalty. Therefore, Brabham’s final margin of victory was 3.4077 seconds over Hoffman.
“I made it all the way to the finals, so I was pumped on that,” Hoffman on his performance. “I was going against him and it was a good race. I had him covered for awhile it looked like, but I guess on the last lap I knocked over a cone, so that set me back for my penalty. I don’t know but I’ll take it.”
With the 2018-19 SST season officially over, Brabham will now enter with the No. 1 plate on his DeVilbiss truck and thanked the fans at ROC and sponsors that’s supported him.
“It’s such an awesome event. All of my sponsors and those guys who supported me all year and to get the championship is just unbelievable, I’m so happy.”
The Stadium SUPER Trucks have two confirmed race weekends for the 2019 campaign, taking place at both Texas Motor Speedway on March 30-31 and Long Beach on April 13-14.
ROC Mexico SST Race No. 1 Results
1. Matt Brabham
2. Jeff Hoffman
3. Cole Potts
Matt Brabham def. Davey Hamilton, Jr.
Jeff Hoffman def. Casey Mears
Blade Hildebrand def. Jerett Brooks
Robby Gordon def. Cole Potts
Gavin Harlien def. Apbdaly Lopez
Fastest Loser: Potts
Hoffman def. Hildebrand
Brabham def. Harlien
Gordon def. Potts
Fastest Loser: Potts
Brabham def. Gordon
Hoffman def. Potts
Brabham def. Hoffman