Lowell Bennett Bests NASCAR Drivers To Win 28th Annual Miller Lite Slinger Nationals
by Steve Zautke
7/17/07, Slinger, WI - Lowell Bennett powered through the pack and took charge of the 28th Annual Miller Lite Slinger National and won going away. Bennett bested NASCAR drivers, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Erik Darnell, Scott Wimmer and Kelly Bires along with short track legend and joining Nationals winner Dick Trickle to win the Larry Detjens Cup for the fourth time. Bennett also joins the late Joe Shear as a four-time Nationals winner.
Kyle Busch was the fastest qualifier of the night. Busch qualified his Richie Wauters prepared car at 11.400 seconds around the quarter-mile high banked track. Busch joked after qualifying, “He (Wauters) built the car and I paid for it.” This was Busch’s second race in the black #51 late model. Busch continues on his Wisconsin short track tour on Friday in Madison and other stops scheduled.
The top-12 were inverted for the start of the 250-lap late model feature (with 10 minute break at halfway). Kelly Bires started on the pole with J.R. Norris starting alongside. Matt Kenseth started 11th and Busch 12th. Scott Wimmer started 15th, Rich Bickle 21st, Dick Trickle and Erik Darnell brought up the rear of the 24-car field.
The Slinger Nationals started off rough when Rich Bickle and Steve Carlson got together in turn four just as the green came out, John Mueller also spun receiving damage. On the restart Norris took the lead with Bires tucked in behind. With 11-12 second laps, the laps add up quickly at Slinger. Soon Bires started to fall back with handling problems. Matt Kocourek and Brad Mueller took turns leading as Kyle Busch was charging hard to the front as he was up to fifth after starting twelfth by lap 4. On lap, 15 Tony Strupp slid up high in turn three, causing a traffic jam of cars bouncing into each other on tight confines of the track. Josh Bauer, Al Schill, and Rich Bickle spun to avoid Strupp. After the restart Busch charged after Mueller to take the lead on lap 19. Kenseth who had worked his way into the top-10 moved into seventh place. A multi-car spin in turn one once again slowed the field However, during the caution flag Kenseth’s the defending Nationals title was black flagged due to an oil leak. The crew worked on the car however it appeared the leak, which developed at the oil tank, was unrepairable. “It lost all its oil, and so the engine needs to be checked out anyway,” Kenseth said. “We could have got it fixed and got out there maybe 20 minutes later, but to be 80 laps down and take a chance is kind of dumb. These motors are too expensive to do that.”
Mueller continued to lead as Busch went to the pits because of a flat tire. J.R. Norris who had been battling handling problems apparently smacked the wall because he left the track “crabbing” due to a broken rear end housing. Jeremy Lepak charged into second place behind Mueller who continued to lead. Trickle brought out the yellow on lap 51 when he spun. Busch who had been running loose spinning his wheels coming out of the corners also pitted once again because of tire issues. A bit later, Busch finally called it a night. Busch remarked, “We had a flat left rear, left front and right front. Just running over stuff, I guess. Nobody else is having a problem but us.” Busch added, “This thing was just bad fast, but you’ve got to finish. I got the lead and I was running 70%.”
Lap 69 Bennett charged into second place from his 18th place starting position by passing Eric Fransen. Bennett’s performance was impressive due to he had to race his way into the line-up by winning the qualifying race after failing to lock into the top-16 in time trials. Bennett eventually passed Mueller for the lead on lap 80. Earlier on lap 73, Bickle dropped out as Lepak raced into second place. By lap 90 Bennett had a 1.3 second lead. On lap 106, Trickle pulled in as the attrition rate started to add up. At the mandatory halfway break, the running order was, 1. Lowell Bennett, 2. Tony Strupp, 3. Jeremy Lepak, 4. Brad Mueller, 5. Matt Kocourek, 6. Al Schill, 7. Scott Wimmer, 8. Conrad Morgan, 9. Dennis Prunty, 10. Erik Darnell.
Fifteen cars answered the call for the second half. The second half of the race was all Bennett as he immediately took control of the race and pulled away from Strupp on the restart. Mueller raced past Strupp to take second. However one car on the move was the #40 of Lepak who passed Mueller to take control of second place. However, Bennett was running very consistent 12.06 to 12.09 second laps as he started to distance himself from Lepak.
On lap 176 Dennis Prunty spun in turn four and slammed into the frontstretch wall with the front of his car. The ensuing smoke, Strupp spun his car around to avoid Prunty and was immediately met nose-to-nose by Lepak’s car. It initially looked like Lepak would bear most of the damage, however it was Strupp that would retire from the race. Lepak’s crew did a yeoman’s job of tearing off damaged bodywork and returned him to the race. Prunty retired due to damage.
On the restart ten cars took the green flag, seven were on the lead lap. Lepak even with his damage to the car charged back from the rear of the depleted field cutting very competitive laps. By lap 202 of the 250 lap race he passed Mueller for second and chased Bennett. Lepak was cutting laps that were about a tenth of the second faster than the leader, however he was running out of time. Bennett took the checkered flag 4.8 seconds over Lepak and Mueller. Kocourek ran a very respectable fourth and veteran Conrad Morgan the final driver on the lead lap was a steady fifth. Schill faded late in the race to finish sixth place ahead of NASCAR Craftsmen Truck Series driver Erik Darnell who turned in his best Nationals performance in seventh place. David Prunty the defending track champion came across the line in eighth place while NASCAR Busch Series driver Kelly Bires was ninth, the final car running at the finish. Fred Winn finished in the tenth position.
Bennett who led 171 of the 250 laps commented from victory lane, “It’s an honor to be included in that crowd (with Trickle and Shear),” an extremely happy Bennett announced to the capacity crowd. “It doesn’t get much better and it was an awesome night. But boy…what a racecar. That thing was just fun.”
By Dan Margetta
Tommy Pecaro was the winner of the 35-lap late model semi-feature over Race McComb and James Swan. Chris Wimmer and Randy Schuler rounded out the top five. Bennett took the win in the 30-lap late model qualifying race over David Prunty, Josh Bauer, and Todd Stapleman as all four transferred their way into the main event. Kyle Busch blistered the speedway in 11.400 seconds and was the fastest qualifier among the 45 late model entries.
Derek Thorn took top honors in a caution-filled 25-lap limited late model feature, holding off Scott Ascher and Chris Blawat at the finish.
Ascher paced most of the event that was shortened to 25 laps after numerous spins and one multi-car incident slowed the race a total of six times under caution. While Ascher led, Thorn sliced his way forward from the fourth starting spot into second place by lap 12 while Blawat and Rob Braun raced with Josh Wallace and Ryan Carlson behind the leaders. Thorn took the top spot with a strong inside move on lap 18 and drove on to the victory over Ascher and Blawat. Braun and Carlson rounded out the top five. Jeff Steenbergen was the fastest limited late model qualifier after timing in at 12.450 seconds.
Jake Vanoskey raced to his first career feature win in front of the large crowd on hand in the 35-lap Midwest Sportsman main event.
John Janssen led the opening laps while Vanoskey settled into second place ahead of brothers Jay and Scott Shambeau. Janssen continued to pace the event through two caution periods for minor spins while Vanoskey remained stout in second place. In the final laps, Vanoskey took to the outside groove and made a bid for the lead, executing the pass for the top spot on lap 25. Scott Shambeau also got around Janssen for second place and began to edge in on Vanoskey while Jay Shambeau and Mike Graczkowski raced close behind. Vanoskey was able to turn back all challenges and he charged to the win over Scott Shambeau and Janssen. Jay Shambeau and Graczkowski rounded out the top five. Kenny Joosten was the fastest qualifier at 12.683 seconds.
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