WATERFORD, Conn. -- Keith Rocco record win No. 20 Saturday night at the Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl and unofficially clinch his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
The 25-year-old Wallingford, Conn., driver started 12th and took the lead from Tom Abele Jr. on Lap 29 of the 35-lap SK Modified division feature. He weathered one subsiquent restart to claim the win. It was his 10th at Waterford, where he is the points leader.
Rocco also has eight wins at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway and two at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, and has 810 points -- the maximum available -- under the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series points system.
"This is just unbelievable," Rocco told the Hartford (Conn.) Courant after the race. "I'm speechless. Absolutely speechless. I don't know what to say. All the hard work pays off. Great guys, great car owners, I can't say enough for everybody."
All points are unofficial pending verification and confirmation by the NASCAR Points & Membership Department. The official points are released each Tuesday.
Of Rocco's wins this season, 18 have come against a field of 20 or more cars. Twenty-one cars started Saturday's feature.
A driver’s best 18 results through Sunday, Sept. 19 are counted toward their state and national points totals, and the champions are decided on overall points total.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner received two points for every car in the event up to 20. Second place received two fewer points, and so-on through the field. Race winners received an additional five bonus points. For example, if there are 20 cars, the winner received 45 points, second gets 38 and third 36. If there are 15 cars, the winner received 35 points, second gets 28 and third, 26.
If two drivers finish the season with identical points, final positions are determined by a tiebreaker procedure. If two drivers finish with the maximum 810 points, the deciding tiebreaker is the first driver to have achieved the 18th 45-point win.
Overall, Rocco has 20 wins, 30 top fives and 38 top 10s in 41 starts. Craig Preble of Yuma, Neb., entered the weekend second in points at 769. Preble also has 19 wins -- 11 coming against the maximum 20-car field.
Rocco picked up his 19th win Friday night at Stafford with a last lap pass of Ted Christopher. Christopher, the 2001 champion, is the last Connecticut driver to win the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship. Rocco is the third asphalt Modified driver from New England to earn the title, joining Christopher and New Hampshire's Peter Daniels (2002).
"We've been there every year for the last two or three years," Rocco told the Hartford Courant. "Every year we got a little bit better and better and better. I surround myself around great people. When you surround yourself with great people you get results. The people I surrounded myself with is what got me to where I am today."
Rocco's clinching win came at the track where he got his racing start. He was the 2004 Sportsman Division champion at Waterford, a tight, banked third-mile, before moving up to the Feature Division, the SK Modified, in 2007.
He has finished in the top five in the nation each of the last three years, including as runner-up last year to three-time national champion Philip Morris of Ruckersville, Va. This season, Rocco won six of his first eight starts and never relinquished the top spot.
Track, state and provincial champions and the top three finishers in the national standings earn invitations to the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet. Rocco also earnedd a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series postseason race in January that has earned the title as the 'Daytona 500 of short-track racing.'