Lightning can have many connotations. It can be the flash of light in a thunderstorm. It can represent speed. It can represent doom. During the 31st annual Miller Lite Slinger Nationals presented by SuperSeal, lightning covered each of those scenarios. Lightning also happens to be the nick name of Lowell Bennett, who scored his record tying fifth win in this prestigious event at the Slinger Super Speedway.
After battling intermittent rain showers all day, Bennett was the beneficiary in a bizarre if not controversial turn of events with nine laps to go in the 200 lap feature. Bennett was almost speechless at how things turned out.
“I was all ready to set myself just to be happy with third,” said Bennett. “I thought that’s all we had. We had that yellow and I thought ‘Well, things happen on a yellow’. Things did happen on a yellow.”
The things that Bennett referred to were things that could be construed as bizarre as well as controversial.
NASCAR star Kyle Busch seemed to be cruising towards an easy victory when the caution came out with nine laps to go. Brad Dahmer got a piece of Conrad Morgan going into turn one, causing Morgan to spin. That cost Busch his nearly half a straightaway lead and bunched up the field for a double file restart.
Dennis Prunty, who had been following Busch in second place since lap 81, suddenly found himself on the outside for the restart, while Lowell Bennett was behind Busch in third place.
This is where the bizarre part comes into play.
As the field made its way down the backstretch coming to the green, Busch’s car started to swerve, as if he was more violently scrubbing his tires. Entering turn three where the cars normally accelerate to the green, Busch suddenly slowed as Prunty took off. Sparks then began to fly from underneath Busch’s car as he had blown a right front tire and the suspension parts scraped the ground.
Once the cars hit the start/finish line, the restart was instantly aborted and Busch worked his way back to his hauler, done for the night.
Now this is where the controversy stepped in.
Since Busch was the leader and pulled off the track due to his mechanical failure, it was thought that everyone would just move up a position for the subsequent restart. However, the official scoring ruled that the inside row where Busch was lined up, would just move up one spot as opposed to the actual running order moving up one spot.
This allowed Lowell Bennett to “jump” from third place into the lead for the restart. Once the cars came back to the green, Prunty spun his tires from the outside lane and got his car completely sideways before saving it. Bennett got a much smoother restart, and was able to hold off both Prunty and Ross Kenseth to the checkers.
Prunty was visibly angry at the decision and didn’t want to talk about it afterwards.
“Don’t even come talk to me, I’m so (expletive deleted) pissed right now,” said Prunty after the race. “How does the third place car get to the lead on a yellow?”
Yet to get to that point we need to get back to the beginning. Kyle Busch set fast time in qualifying with a blistering 11.185 lap. A lap that fast hadn’t been seen since the track was repaved in 1994 when Tony Strupp set the track record. Fellow NASCAR driver and two time defending Nationals champion Matt Kenseth shared the front row with a 11.254 lap. The cut off time of 11.453 just to make the feature would normally set fast time on most nights here at Slinger.
A seven car invert found 1999 Nationals winner Conrad Morgan on the front row alongside Jon Reynolds Jr. As they came to the green flag, which was waved by four time Nationals winner and short track racing legend Dick Trickle, Morgan jumped out to the early advantage. Kenseth found the high side to his liking and quickly worked his way towards the front. By lap 8 he was up to third place and by lap 11 he was in fourth. Only the fact that Morgan was able to build up a slight lead kept Kenseth from taking over the lead before lap 17.
Lowell Bennett followed Kenseth to the front and was in second by lap 18. Kyle Busch wasn’t gaining spots as quickly and found himself in fifth place. However, Ross Kenseth, Matt’s seventeen year old son was making progress just like his dad, despite starting deep in the field from a promoter’s option. Ross made his way to sixteenth place by lap 18 and was definitely on the move.
Meanwhile, it appeared that perhaps Matt would once again have the car to beat as he began to stretch his lead. Yet lightning would strike on lap 46 and the victim was Matt Kenseth himself. The power steering hose would come loose, causing a fire in his left front. While the fire was quickly extinguished at speed, it was a harbinger of things to come. The broken hose led to a failure of the power steering pump and forced Kenseth to end his night on lap 79.
Kenseth’s misfortune became Busch’s fortune as shortly after the restart Busch was able to take over the lead. A lead he would stretch over the remaining 49 laps until the halfway break. Coming to the break, Busch was backing off in an effort to keep Dan Fredrickson on the lead lap. The move almost backfired, as Dennis Prunty was able to reel in Busch and actually pull alongside him on lap 97. However Busch was able to use Fredrickson as a pick and narrowly held off Prunty at the break.
“Dan’s a friend of mine and I wanted to keep him on the lead lap,” said Busch. “I was going for the Sportsman of the Year award.”
The running order of lead lap cars at the break were, Kyle Busch, Dennis Prunty, Lowell Bennett, Jeremy Lepak, Ross Kenseth, Conrad Morgan, Brad Mueller, Brian Johnson Jr., Steve Apel, Dave Feiler, Jon Reynolds Jr., Al Schill, Nathan Haseleu, and Dan Fredrickson.
After the ten minute break for adjustments, the racing resumed with Busch reassuming the lead. In fact the top three would remain the same until the yellow would come out on lap 191 and setting the stage for the drama that ensued.
Busch, who seemingly has won every Super Late Model race that he enters, seemed poised to take the win in this event as well. However, as fate would have it, lightning would strike him down and end his night just nine laps shy of another win.
Once Busch left the track and ended his night, it was Dennis Prunty who seemed to be set to capture the biggest win of his career. Yet the racing gods, or some unknown divine intervention, would prevent that from happening.
When Prunty reluctantly accepted his spot on the restart, he still had things reasonably under control. After all, he has said he prefers the high sides on most nights, and on this night was already running much better then Bennett had all night long. In fact, Bennett, who was battling brake issues as his rear rotors were glowing brightly, didn’t appear to be much of a threat for the win.
However, as they came to the green, Prunty spun his tires in the marbles. That momentary lapse allowed Bennett to clear him and set sail for his record tying victory in this prestigious event.
“When a car breaks they move that lane up,” explained Bennett. “So that’s just the way that it went. I still thought Dennis would be pretty tough on the outside and he usually is. Our car was just awesome after that yellow. It took off, the tires cooled down, we were set. If we had to race another twenty or thirty laps we would’ve been in good shape.”
Even though the rear brake rotors were glowing brightly?
“I was a little tight and I had the rear brake wound in the car and I was looking for more,” said Bennett. “I couldn’t get enough rear brake in the car. There’s with my setup that I just run more rear brake than most people, and it seems to be working for us.”
Perhaps the most impressive run of the night came from Ross Kenseth, who had to start the feature from the twenty-first starting position with a promoter’s option. Kenseth quickly worked his way through traffic on the high side and found himself in sixth place at the halfway break. His progressed slowed in the second half, as the adjustments that were made weren’t to his liking. However, he was also a beneficiary of the Kyle Busch incident and suddenly found himself in third with nine laps to go.
“We started 21st and I thought the car was absolutely perfect,” said Kenseth. “Great off the corner and back on the gas, we passed like 16 guys in the first hundred laps which was unbelievable. We made one little adjustment to try to get it that much better but it hurt us way too much. We were too tight to start the second half of the race. I don’t know if we deserved third place but we had the best car in the first half.”
Wayne Freimund picked up the win in the Late Model feature, getting past Madhouse TV start Chris Flemming on the ninth lap. Flemming, making his first start at Slinger in a Late Model, started on the pole with Freimund on the outside. Flemming would lead the first 8 laps before his car got extremely loose, and allowed Freimund to slip past on lap 9.
Chris Blawat wound up finishing in second place, while fast qualifier Pat McIntee finished in third. Brad Dahmer, who finished 15th in the Nationals in his Super Late Model, pulled double duty to get fourth in the Late Models. Rob Meyer rounded out the top five.
Jonathan “Jon Boy” Brown, also from the Madhouse TV show took the checkers in the Super Late Model semi feature. Brown started the event from the seventh spot, and climbed his way to the front quickly. He was in second place by lap 11 and made his way around Travis Dassow for the lead on lap 21. From there he was able to hold on for the win. Scott Schoeni would also get by Dassow and finish second while Dassow took third. Brandon Hill and Randy Schuler rounded out the top five.