By Zack Huffman
After two weeks of turmoil, the Pro Division kept things clean for Thursday Thunder at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The lack of skirmishes proved to be most beneficial to Zac Kittle (6), who went from consistently finding himself involved in spinouts, to cruising into his second visit to Victory Lane this season, keeping second-place finisher Billy Fulson (18) at bay for almost every turn of the 20-lap race.
"We weren't even planning on racing today," said Kittle. "My sponsor called me last night with new tires. I'm obligated to race because I thought they were coming."
According to Kittle, he was left with very little time to break in his new tires, having only used them for laps in the parking lot, and warm up heats before the race Thursday.
"You could see on a stopwatch that at about lap five they came in and I was running 15.90's," said Kittle.
"I bet it was a tenth faster than anybody."
Aside from new tires, Kittle was also hesitant to race considering his recent involvements with messy racing, including multiple spinouts and an intentional wreck two-weeks ago that resulted in racer Dennis "Bubba" Harry's suspension from the series at AMS.
"I've had three bad races between here and Charlotte. I wasn't even going to race today because I needed time to think about what I was doing wrong," said Kittle. "I'm capable of winning races, I know that for a fact. There was something in my head, and I needed to be more patient. I'm getting back in my groove again."
Wrecks and spinouts had been on the mind of Vice Director of Events Brandon Hutchison when he pulled aside the members of the Pro Division for the second consecutive week.
"Aggressive driving is great," said Hutchison. "But there's a difference between aggressive driving on the edge and aggressive driving over the edge."
He was tired of seeing races mired with destructive driving.
Luckily for Hutchison, he was finally able to enjoy a relatively clean Pro Division race with just a single minor spinout early in the race.
Kittle wasted very little time taking the lead away from Kyle Kitchens (49) to open the race.
It was only a few laps into the race before Kittle broke away from the pack with Fulson hot on his trail.
Austin Hill (24) worked his way into third and calmly waited for Kittle or Fulson to make a mistake ahead of him.
Unfortunately for the point leader, that opportunity never came and he crossed the finish line still in third.
"Third is the lowest we've finished so far. So we've just got to finish in the top three the rest of the way," said Hill. "We have a fast enough car to be top three every week. I've just got to be patient, keep a clear head and see what happens from there."
Entering the race with a comfortable point lead, Hill could afford to sit back and drive patiently. Although he finished third, he continued to hang onto a comfortable 40-points lead over Kittle who over took Currie Pierce in the points race.
Hill currently has 585 points, to Kittle's 545, while Pierce is in third with 532.
"We're cutting down. If I keep winning it will be close," said Kittle. "Currie's still racing, and he's going to be tough.
He's getting better and better every week, it's obvious."
Pierce was very aware that although he's third in points, he's got a long way to go catch Hill.
"Austin's a smart racer, so it's going to hard to beat someone who knows how they need to finish and how hard they need to push the car," said Pierce.
"He's got such a comfortable and entitling lead he could run seventh and eighth every race. What can you say? It's going to be tough to catch him."
With four races remaining in the Thursday Thunder series, in order to win Hill must stay within 10 points of Kittle in each race.
Conversely, if Kittle were to win every remaining race, Hill must finish higher than fifth each race.