Kirk Sutherland goes for clean sweep on Sunday

Gary Gorst watches as Kirk Sutherland passes him and his fallen team at the start/finish line in first place in heat nine on day nine of Calgary Stampede's GMC Rangeland Derby, on July 16, 2016. CRYSTAL SCHICK / POSTMEDIA

Kirk Sutherland is looking for the clean sweep.

The veteran driver was on the stage Friday night to pick up his Richard Cosgrave Memorial Award as the aggregate champ, as well as the keys to a new GMC truck.

On Sunday, he’ll look to grab the big check.

Sutherland’s Ghostpine Environmental rig was the fastest among the eight semifinalists, punching his ticket into Sunday’s Dash For Cash.

And he’ll get to choose which barrel he would like (hint: it will be the No. 1), which makes the Grande Prairie reinsman the overwhelming favourite to win his first Rangeland Derby crown.

“Yeah, I sure will,” Sutherland said when asked if he’d be wearing a white jacket (for the No. 1 barrel) again on Sunday.

“It’s awfully exciting that I’ll have the barrel I want.

“And having my son (Mitch) in there makes it that much better.”

Sutherland won Heat 9 with a 1:16.84, edging heat 7 winner Jason Glass (Birchcliff Energy), who crossed the finish line in 1:17.39.

Those two will be joined by Vern Nolin (Dentons Canada LLP; 1:17.76) and Mitch Sutherland (Manteo Group of Companies; 1:19.15) in the sport’s most lucrative race.

“There were a couple of false starts but it didn’t seem to hurt my horses,” Sutherland said. “They were ready to go when the horn went.”

Two-time defending champion Kurt Bensmiller (Grey Eagle Resort & Casino) won’t get a chance to defend his crown after a false-start penalty put him in fifth spot, .15 out of fourth.

John Walters (Coyote Ugly Whiskey; 1:19.42) and Luke Tournier (Express Employment Professionals & Ranches; 1:19.61) and Gary Gorst (BD&P Put the Boots to Hunger) rounded out the semifinal field during a muddy night of racing.

Gorst’s leaders got all tangled up coming out of the barrels and fell to the track, forcing the veteran to take a no time in Heat 9.

One the remaining three outfits cruised by the finish line, Stampede officials got everything straightened out.

The horses eventually hopped back up – drawing the night’s biggest roar from the crowd – and headed back to the barns for a much-needed shower.

AROUND THE BARRELS

Too bad Chance Bensmiller (Western RV/Country 105) wasn’t in the semifinals. He ran away with Heat 3, stopping the clock in 1:15.92, by far the fastest on the night … Kirk Sutherland was second-quickest followed by Chanse Vigen (Southfork Enterprises Ltd./Children’s Wish Foundation) at 1:17.10.

TOP OUTRIDER

They don’t get a big piece of the spotlight, except for when they screw up.

But the outriders are crucial when things go wrong.

When Rick Fraser’s pilot-less wagon was running free earlier this week, it was outrider David Bensmiller who brought the outfit to a halt.

Bensmiller won third spot in the BP Top Outrider Award, just behind Chance Flad.

Rory Gervais (Mervin, Sask.) took first place and a $3,000 cheque.

Chuckwagon final four determined

And then there were four.

After nine nights of racing, the field has been narrowed to four drivers for Sunday’s $100,000 Dash For Cash.

Here’s a look at the final four:

1. Kirk Sutherland

Hometown: Grande Prairie

Age: 59

Rangeland Derbies: 25

Rangeland titles: 0

Dash For Cash appearance: 5th

Best time of week: 1:12.24 off of Barrel 2

Penalty seconds: 0

Average nightly placing: 8.44

Prognosis: Sutherland wrapped up the qualifying round atop the standings, giving him the first Richard Cosgrave Memorial Award, and accompanying GMC truck, of his career. He’s been knocking on the door for a number of years and his powerful top hook could, finally, put him on the stage Sunday night. He’ll be tough to beat off the no. 1 barrel.

2. Jason Glass

Hometown: High River

Age: 45

Rangeland Derbies: 26

Rangeland titles: 1

Dash For Cash appearance: 10th

Best time of week: 1:12.68 off of Barrel 1

Penalty seconds: 2

Average nightly placing: 8.37

Prognosis: An outrider penalty cost him the truck. Otherwise the High River product would have had his hands on his fifth career Richard Cosgrave Memorial Award. He had the highest average placing among the 36-driver field and has more dash experience than anyone in the race. He’s pretty good off Barrel 2, but will need plenty of run to stay in this one.

3. Vern Nolin

Hometown: Dewberry

Age: 43

Rangeland Derbies: 13

Rangeland titles: 0

Dash For Cash appearance: 2nd

Best time of week: 1:12.17 off of Barrel 1

Penalty seconds: 0

Average nightly placing: 9.63

Prognosis: You’ll probably need the rail to win this thing but Nolin has shown the ability to go two-wide and still cross the line first. That’s good news for him as he’s likely looking at an outside barrel position. He made his dash debut a year ago and has been one of the most consistent drivers in Calgary over the past half-dozen years.

4. Mitch Sutherland

Hometown: Grande Prairie

Age: 38

Rangeland Derbies: 3

Rangeland titles: 0

Dash For Cash appearance: 1st

Best time of week: 1:12.94 off of Barrel 1

Penalty seconds: 0

Average nightly placing: 10.44

Prognosis: Drivers usually spend the better part of a decade building an outfit capable of winning the sport’s richest race. Not this relative newcomer. Sutherland is in the big dance in just his third trip to the Calgary Stampede but, hey, paying your dues is over-rated. He had some of the nicest turns of the week and he’ll need a perfect one on Sunday.