KENSETH ADDS ANOTHER TROPHY: THE SLINGER NATS ONE By Dean Strom
Despite Two Car Shut Offs, Cup Star Takes Big Win
Matt Kenseth has a trophy collection that includes the last ever Winston Cup and trophies from his 12 Cup race wins. His trophy case also includes two Larry Detjens Memorial Cups from previous triumphs in the Miller Lite Slinger Nationals.
A return visit to his native Wisconsin netted another Detjens Cup, Tuesday night as Matt passed leader David Prunty with eight laps to go to claim his third Nationals win, in dramatic fashion.
Kenseth crowd had one eye at the front of the field, while the other was clearly focused on their Cambridge, Wisconsin hero.
With 24 cars on the high-banked ¼-mile oval, it didn’t take long for Prunty to run across the tail of the field. And a 62-lap caution-free run allowed Prunty to put several cars a lap down.
As Prunty set a torrid early pace, one of the cars that was on the verge of going a lap down belonged to Kenseth. Fate shown down on Kenseth the first time when the leaders brother, Dennis Prunty, spun on lap 62 and brought out the evenings first caution.
“I was just about to go a lap down and I looped it,” said Dennis Prunty. “It was almost a good thing I looped it because it kept us on the lead lap.”
Dennis Prunty continued on and when the field went back to green, Kenseth was shown in the 10th spot with just 12 cars on the lead lap.
Late in the race, it was all about Matt Kenseth (#17) and David Prunty (#1). (Doug Hornickel Photos)
Former Nationals winner Rich Bickle was on the move early as was current Nextel Cup racer, and Wisconsin native, Scott Wimmer. The pair shadowed David Prunty and waited for the events midway break.
“I could run where ever I wanted and wasn’t doing anything to really hurt my car,” said Wimmer. “I tried to pass Rich a little bit and then I knew that Rich is always good at the end of these races, so I just settled in and followed him for a little bit.”
New to the Slinger Speedway format this year is double file restarts. The lap 62 restart brought former Nationals
David (#1) and Dennis (#42) Prunty race side-by-side
“It’s still a big deal to win this,” said Kenseth after emerging from his potent Ford Fusion. “The stands are packed, there’s a big fireworks show going on, you’ve got some of the best short track racers there is to run against. It’s a huge deal to win this race.”
Fate was clearly on Kenseth’s side all night long. He qualified 22nd and made the Nationals field via a promoters option. He started the 250-lap grind from the 21st spot.
Outside front row starter Travis Dassow led the opening two laps before current Slinger Speedway point leader David Prunty took over the top spot. The partisan
champion, and the night’s fast qualifier, Lowell Bennett into the mix. Once back underway, Bennett quickly moved up the inside lane and into the fourth spot.
Caution flew again just 18 laps later for a spin in turn three. On the restart Bickle lined up alongside leader Prunty. Meanwhile Kenseth had worked his way to the sixth position.
On the restart, Bickle made a save that the nations best dirt late model drivers would be proud of.
“If you’re ever going down the highway and you watch somebody have to make a right before they turn left, that’s what Mr. Prunty did,” said Bickle. “He run me in the fence. I don’t know how I didn’t wreck it.”
The shunt punted Bickle back to sixth and allowed Wimmer, Bennett, Josh Bauer and Kenseth to move up a spot.
Before the midway 10-minute break Bickle got back past Kenseth and Bauer to go fourth. But Bickle ran the last 10 laps before the break with a small fire under the hood as his rack and pinion leaked fluid. Once the checkered flew on the first half, Bickle ducked into the pits to have the fire extinguished and repairs made.
Before the rest of the drivers were allowed to their pits, the pace car hit the track while scoring double-checked the running order. As the field circled the speedway under caution, Kenseth’s car lost power and sat dead on the front stretch.
“Right at the break the thing just died,” said Kenseth. “We cooled down the ignition box and got it running again.”
As the final 125-lap segment began, 12 cars were left on the lead lap: David Prunty, Wimmer, Bennett, Bickle, Bauer, Kenseth, 2005 Nationals runner-up Matt Kocourek, Wisconsin short track legend Dick Trickle, Dassow, NASCAR visitor Todd Kluever, Brian Johnson, Jr and Dennis Prunty.
Bickle and Bauer had their runs effectively ended when they made contact just five laps into the second segment.
“Richie came in the corner in front of me and he pushed up, opened the door and I went down underneath,” recalls Bauer. “The hole closed up. I don’t know exactly what
Todd Kluever (#40) races to the outside of Scott Wimmer (#25).
happened after that. We got together. His left rear hooked on my right front bumper and it just ripped the front right off my car.”
“When 71 (Bauer) got into me it cut the left rear real bad, “ said Bickle. “I didn’t realize it, but it took half the tread off the tire and I was just riding around after that.”
Debris from the Bickle/Bauer incident set the field under caution once again. On the ensuing restart, David Prunty had his hands full, lost the lead and almost his racecar.
“I just didn’t get the tires cleaned off,” said Prunty. “They don’t give us any warning when we’re about to go side-by-side for the restarts. And I wasn’t weaving the car back and forth and all of a sudden they say, ‘double up.’ We went down into turn one and it wasn’t biting and it wasn’t biting and then I got hit in the rear and slid up the track. Luckily I saved it.”
Prunty’s miscue, however, allowed Bennett to take the lead.
On lap 146, for the second time in the race, Kenseth’s mount lost power…this time under green, while running fourth. Caution flew over the speedway to remove Kenseth’s disabled car.
“The crew went inside the distributor and switched pickups,” said Kenseth. “They swapped wires and it ran the rest of the race. I thought we were done. I was ready to get out of the car when they fixed it.”
And Kenseth would have effectively been done had fate not shown down on him yet again. While the Kenseth crew thrashed to make the needed repairs, scoring was busy trying to get the field in the proper running order…and that took time. The field was sent back under green, without Kenseth, but Dave Feiler’s machine went around in turn two, before a lap could be scored complete. And Feiler’s caution gave Kenseth’s crew the extra needed time to get his machine running again.
Once Kenseth got by Lowell Bennett (#2), he was headed to the front.
“Just before the break, we had a left front tire going down,” said Bennett. “We changed it at the break but after that the car just wouldn’t turn. Then I burned up the right rear and the last fifty laps it was just a handful.”
Kenseth chased down Prunty and moved to the outside and took the lead with eight laps to go remaining. But just as Kenseth was ready to cruise to a popular victory, caution flew over the speedway after Trickle, while running sixth, was sent into the backstretch wall.
Trickle walked from his mangled mount while the leaders doubled up for the restart; Kenseth on the inside and David Prunty on the outside. Kenseth got a huge jump on the start and it was called off. The second attempt was cleaner, with Kenseth forging to the point.
Just prior to going back to green again, Kenseth stormed out of the pits, to the roar of the capacity crowd, and rejoined the chase on the tail end of the lead lap cars.
Once back underway, as Kenseth charged to the front, Bennett and Prunty raced side-by-side for 13 laps. Prunty finally prevailed and got his lead back.
A caution on lap 183 bunched the field with Kenseth now behind only David Prunty, Bennett and Dennis Prunty.
Kenseth got by Dennis Prunty and made quick work of the fading Bennett before setting his sights on David Prunty.
However, with five laps to go a spinning Dassow brought out the yellow and gave Prunty one last shot at the win. But Kenseth beat him to the gas and held on for the victory.
“You gotta do what you gotta do to win,” said Prunty referring to the jackrabbit restarts Kenseth used. “And he did what he had to do to win.”
“I didn’t give him a whole lot of room there on the last one,” said Kenseth. “He raced it clean, it was just a heck of a race.”
Kenseth in Victrory Lane.
Dennis Prunty recovered from his earlier spin to place third while Bennett and Johnson, Jr rounded out the top five.