(Stafford Springs, CT)—Stafford Motor Speedway concluded its 2014 NASCAR racing season with feature events for the SK Modified® and Late Model divisions as part of its NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final Weekend. Eric Berndt scored his second consecutive feature victory of the 2015 season in the SK Modified® feature while Rowan Pennink locked up the track championship with a fourth place finish. Michael Bennett put the perfect cap on his championship season as he took down his seventh Late Model feature win of the year.
In the 40-lap SK Modified® feature, Bob Charland looped his car at the start to avoid an incident in front of him but he was able to keep going and the race stayed green with Matt Galko setting the early pace ahead of Mike Christopher, Jr., and Tom Bolles. With 1 lap complete, Ronnie Williams came to a stop in turn 3 with smoke pouring from his car and Michael Gervais, Jr. was also stopped against the wall to bring the caution out. SK Modified® championship contender Ryan Preece had to take to the grass to avoid the incident and he rejoined the pack in 9th place.
Galko took the lead back under green with Bolles and Christopher, Jr. side by side for second. Rowan Pennink was up to fourth and Ted Christopher was fifth. Christopher got clear of Bolles on lap-5 and he moved into second. Ryan Preece was charging his way to the front and he moved into fifth just behind Pennink on lap-6. Preece continued his charge, getting by Bolles for third on lap-7 and he took second from Christopher, Jr. on lap-9.
Galko had built up a comfortable lead but Preece had closed that gap down to several car lengths by lap-15. Eric Berndt was up to third with Christopher, Jr. in fourth and Ted Christopher fifth. The caution came out with 16 laps complete for a spin in turn 2 by Tommy Membrino, Jr.
Galko took the lead back under green and Preece was just beginning to make a serious challenge for the lead when the caution came out with 18 laps complete for a spin in turn 2 by Cam McDermott.
Preece was able to keep pace with Galko on the restart and he took the lead at the line. Preece got clear of Galko on lap-20 but Galko came back to Preece’s inside at the line. Berndt and Christopher, Jr. were side by side behind the two leaders for third with Pennink running in fifth. Galko took the lead at the line on lap-21 and he cleared Preece down the backstretch but Preece made a crossover move to retake the lead on lap-22. The caution came out with 22 laps complete for John Catania and Jay Sundeen, who came together at the exit of turn 4.
On the restart, Jeremy Sorel and Membrino got together going into turn 1 and Catania also spun to bring the caution right back out.
Preece took the lead on the restart with Galko slotting into second. Berndt took third with Christopher, Jr. fourth and Ted Christopher fifth. Preece made a move to the inside of Galko in turn 3 on lap-25 to move back to the front. Galko hung tough on the outside of Preece but Berndt was able to follow Preece by on the following lap to move up to second and drop Galko back to third. Berndt then pulled alongside Preece on lap-27 and he took the lead from Preece down the backstretch on lap-28. While Berndt was charging to the front, Ted Christopher worked his way into third with Galko falling back to fourth and Pennink was back up to fifth with 10 laps to go.
The top-3 remained in line while Pennink was able to move around Galko to take over fourth place on lap-35. The three leaders were slicing and dicing on track, but no one was able to make a pass stick. Christopher was able to make a pass stick in turns 3+4 on lap-37 to move into second and drop Preece back to third. Berndt led Christopher back to the checkered flag to pick up his second consecutive victory of the 2015 season. Preece finished third, with Pennink and Christopher, Jr. rounding out the top-5. Pennink’s fourth place finish was good enough to make him the 2015 SK Modified® track champion.
“We had a great car all weekend,” said Berndt. “It was just a matter of executing during the feature. I have to apologize to Ronnie [Williams], I was on his bumper and we touched and he went flying. I like racing against Ronnie and I don’t like having that happen, but these guys haven’t given up all year, great power from T/A Engines, great car, great crew, what a way to finish the year off. To close out with 2 in a row, I’ve never done that before so a great accomplishment for us and a great way to end the year. I told everyone that I pitied the guy who was leading the race if Teddy [Christopher] got up to second and it so happened that it was me, but no cautions came out to close the field up. It definitely would have been a dogfight, Teddy was hungry and probably hungrier than anyone else in the pit area. The car was tight in traffic but once got out front and I was able to use the whole track, it didn’t matter. Every Friday night here is a [Whelen Modified] Tour race to me. You have most of the Tour guys here and it’s an unbelievable field to try to get through so when you can win races here, it’s saying something. I think this is the stiffest competition in the country. Someone steered us in a direction to try something on the car and it worked. As long as nothing changes for next season, we should be good to go.”
“I can’t believe it,” said Pennink. “This 99 team did an awesome job, the number of wins and top-5 finishes we had is just a season you can’t imagine ever having. We had to get a top-5 to close out the season and win the championship and the team gave me the car to do that and we were able to pull it off. It feels awesome and everyone knows these SK’s at Stafford is some of the hardest racing in the entire country and to be champion here, I can’t thank everyone enough. Thanks to the Arute family for giving us an awesome facility to race at, Bob [Hitchcock] and Kelly [Iverson], awesome car owners, Jimmy [Fuller] did an awesome job all year to put this thing in victory lane 6 times for us, Pettit Racing Engines, Mike Paquette and CD Race Chassis, Waddell Communications, Van Wickle Auto Supply, I probably missed a bunch of people but I can’t thank everyone enough for this championship. The level of competition here and the hype that this place brings, I couldn’t be happier to have won the championship. Everyone asked me what happened at the beginning of last season because we won 5 of the last 10 races last year but we had a lot of bad luck and it was a new car. We had our ups and downs this year but we kept those to a minimum and we just need to start this season off like we ended last season and that’s what we did. I was having a little trouble shifting the car into high gear and that one restart I didn’t expect to fall back like we did but we were able to battle back and finish fourth.”
In the 30-lap Late Model feature, Rich Hammann took the lead at the green with Ed Ricard, Scott Cook, Josh Wood, and Michael Bennett behind him. The caution came out with 1 lap complete for a spin by Kevin Gambacorta off turn 2 that also involved Andy Marchese and Stu Fearn.
Hammann took the lead on the restart with Bennett streaking his way up to second. Wood was making a move on Ricard for third with Tom Butler and Wayne Coury, Jr. lined up behind him. Bennett took the lead from Hammann at the end of lap-4 while behind them, Wood took second with Butler, Coury, and Tom Fearn all getting by Ricard. Stu Fearn looped his car in turn 3 to bring the caution back out with 6 laps complete.
Bennett took the lead on the restart with Wood right on his back bumper. Tom Fearn was now up to third, with Coury and Butler making up the top-5. Gambacorta was coming back to the front after his lap-1 spin as he worked his way past Jim Mavlouganes to move into sixth on lap-10. Marchese spun in turn 2 to bring the caution back out with 10 laps complete.
Bennett took the lead back under green while Fearn streaked by Wood to move into second. Fearn’s move allowed Butler to follow him through and drop Wood from second back to fourth with Coury running in fifth. Marchese and Skip Breunig spun in turn 3 to bring the caution back out with 13 laps complete.
Bennett again took the lead on the restart with the cars quickly settling into a single file line with Fearn, Butler, Wood, and Scott Cook making up the top-5. Bennett went unchallenged to the checkered flag as he picked up his 7th win of the 2015 season. Fearn finished second with Butler, Wood, and Coury rounding out the top-5.
For more information, contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.