Slate returns to top two

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After finishing up a qualifying session earlier this summer, Rafe Slate heads back to the garage to await the beginning of his Thursday Thunder race.

PHOTO: Justin Hubbard

By Justin Hubbard


After finishing third or worse in each of his past three Thursday Thunder races, Rafe Slate cracked the top two during last week’s competition.

Slate drives the No. 8 Vizitech USA U.S. Legends race car as part of the Legends Pro division. Since placing second in this year’s Thursday Thunder opener on May 31, Slate has found himself outside the first two spots.

He finished fourth in the second and third race of the season and third two weeks ago after leading the first 24 laps of the 25-lap event. Slate drove his car to a second-place finish last week, snapping the relatively disappointing stretch of finishes.

“I'm feeling pretty good,” Slate said regarding last week’s race. “I felt like I was faster than the leader for a whole lot of the race and I feel like I could've had a shot at the win if it weren't for contact on the green-white-checkered restart.”

A “green-white-checkered” restart happens when a race returns to action following a caution; a restart is “green-white-checkered” in nature if it happens with only two laps remaining.

Last week’s race came down to that style of restart. Unfortunately for Slate and Jensen Jorgensen, contact from Hunter Johnson’s car had them scrambling as they got back up to race speed.

“The car that was behind Jorgensen, he just didn't lift going into the corner,” Slate said. “It wasn't Jensen's fault at all. He just got pushed all the way up the track into me. It was kind of ridiculous, honestly, because he got pushed hard.”

As he roared across the track toward the finish line, Slate had to contend with Johnson on his bumper.

“I had a lot of pressure,” Slate said. “The same guy that was behind me the last few laps was the same guy that was pushing him into the corner. Jensen said he kind of felt like he was limping around; I felt like I was doing the same. Something got bent when we made contact. I was getting run over at the same time.”

In addition to the late-race collision, Slate and the other Pro drivers had to deal with rain in the area.

For the first time all season, rain made its way to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, which is the site of the Thursday Thunder series. Even slight rain can alter the way a track handles. Usually, Slate enjoys driving on wetter surfaces.

An early caution was the biggest effect the slick conditions had on last week’s race. Slate used it to his advantage.

“It definitely changed the way I raced,” he said. “The first lap, we had a caution and they reset the field and tried it again. I watched the same people lock up and wash up the track and I just drove around them.”

Although he’s got two top-two runs to his credit during this year’s Thursday Thunder series, Slate is still searching for his first win of the summer. So far this year, Jorgensen and Dawson Fletcher have camped atop the leaderboard.

Slate said he believes his car is finally capable of contending with those two drivers.

“At this point, I think we're up there with them,” Slate said. “Really, I just need to get out front and stay out front. That needs to happen.”

The Thursday Thunder finale is quickly approaching. Beginning this Thursday, there are only five races remaining in the summer series.

Slate entered the week within the top four in the points standings. The good news for Slate is a new points incentive is in place this year for Pro drivers: If a driver elects to start near the back, he or she can pick up bonus points for each position gained during the race.

Slate said he aims to use that system to his advantage in order to finish the summer strong and compete for the Thursday Thunder Pro division title.

“Points are gonna be big,” he said. “I really, really, really want to get a win but that doesn't matter as much as points when it comes to the championship standings because, starting from the back and finishing top three or top four, I can get 105 points compared to somebody that led every lap getting 100 points.”

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