(Stafford Springs, CT)—With the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final at Stafford Motor Speedway set to take the green flag this weekend, four track championships remain up for grabs. Michael Bennett and Devin O’Connell have clinched the Late Model and Legend Cars championships, but four Stafford crowns remain to be decided. Stafford’s SK Modifieds®, SK Lights, Limited Late Models, and DARE Stocks will all see a champion crowned at the conclusion of the weekend.
Stafford’s SK Modified® division has been led by Rowan Pennink and the #99 NAPA Van Wickle Auto Supply / Monk Hand Wipes team since winning the season opening NAPA Spring Sizzler. After the Sizzler triumph the #99 team went on to score 6 SK Modified® victories in 2015 while holding the point lead all season. Chasing Pennink in the championship standings all season has been the 2011 SK Modified® champion Ryan Preece and the #6 J.G. Poulin Drywall / East West Marine team. Just 2 races ago, Preece trailed Pennink by 48 points, but has chopped 36 points off of that lead with a win and a fifth place finish in the final 2 races. Preece will be looking to continue his positive momentum as he has finished second in the SK Modified® standings by 2 points each of the last 2 seasons.
Entering the NAPA Fall Final SK Modified® feature event, Pennink leads Preece by 12 points, 6 positions on the track. Pennink also holds the tiebreaker over Preece by a 6-3 margin in wins. Should Preece win the race, Pennink would need to finish at least in the seventh place to win the championship. If Preece doesn’t win the race, all Pennink will just need to finish within 6 positions of Preece on the track. But Pennink says his plan will be to go out and try to win the race.
“We’re going to try to do what we always do and try to win the race,” said Pennink. “We can’t do what we did the last time we raced. We’re not exactly sure what happened, I think somewhere I might have knocked the toe out a bit racing side by side, but we had a bad night and we can’t afford to have that happen again. The 99 car has been strong all year and we’re hoping we have the car back on point for this weekend. Losing the point lead with the cushion that we had and have it come down to this close at the end isn’t what you want to do, but all we need is a top-5 finish. I’m pretty confident we can get a top-5 but at the same time, you never know what’s going to happen.”
After making up 36 points Ryan Preece has some confidence going into the final race of 2015.
“We have a really good car and we’re going in to the fall final with everything we need,” said Preece. “There was a point in the season that we thought making up 10 points would be hard but lately things have seemed to be going our way. We have a good car, good motor, and we’re in good shape, it’s one of those deals where we need a little bit of luck. You never know what can happen at the Fall Final.”
The race for the SK Light championship has been a see-saw affair throughout the 2015 season. Several drivers have taken a turn at the head of the points standings but for much of the season Limited Late Model graduates D.J. Burnham and Joey Ferrigno set the tone. But once August arrived another driver topped the standings, Stephen Kopcik moved to the top of the standings the first week and he has led the points every week since. Kopcik and the #31 N.J.K. Automotive / David Smith Racing team hold a 14 point lead over Burnham and the #54 Maneeley’s Catering / Advice One team.
Burnham holds the tiebreaker advantage over Kopcik by a 3-1 margin in wins heading into the NAPA Fall Final feature. If Burnham wins the race, Kopcik will need to finish no lower than seventh to clinch the championship. If Burnham doesn’t win the race, then Kopcik will need to stay within 6 positions of Burnham in order to become champion. If Burnham finishes 7 or more positions in front of Kopcik, he will become the 2015 SK Light champion.
“Our strategy is to not change a thing,” said Kopcik. “We’re sitting where we’re sitting for a good reason and I don’t know why we’d do anything different. I don’t want to be cocky, but the way I look at it is we just have to do what we’ve been doing and get a top-5 finish. I’m looking at this race like why is it any different than a mid-season race. It’s pretty crazy because at one point we were 20-something points behind Burnham and now we’re 14 points ahead, so anything can happen. I’m not going to lie, I’m a little nervous, but I’m not going to let that get to me.”
“We’re going to approach this race just like all the others and we’re going to go for the win,” said Burnham. “I don’t feel any pressure right now and I’m sure [Kopcik] must be feeling at least a little pressure being the leader. We’ve had really fast race cars all season long but we haven’t always had the finishes to show for it. My father and brother have worked their butts off on this car to come up with new setups every week and we hope we can run up front again. If we’re up front, hopefully we can win, and if we can win the championship, it would be even better, but we’re kind of the underdog right now.”
Stafford’s Limited Late Model championship race will come down to Al Saunders, who has led the standings for the majority of the 2015 season, and Andrew Hayes, who is the defending Limited Late Model track champion. Saunders kicked off the 2015 season with a victory in the NAPA Spring Sizzler and his consistent up front finishes has kept the #04 American Sleeve Bearing Chevrolet at the top of the standings throughout the year. Saunders is tied with Hayes for the division lead in wins with 5 each and Saunders leads all drivers with 17 top-5 and 20 top-10 finishes.
Hayes got off to a slow start in defense of his 2014 track title and two consecutive finishes outside the top-10 in mid-July dropped him to 52 points out of the lead. But since those poor finishes, Hayes has been on a hot streak, scoring 8 consecutive podium finishes, including a 3-race win streak to climb back to within 16 points of Saunders. Should Hayes win the race, Saunders would need to finish no lower than eighth to clinch the championship. If Hayes doesn’t win the race, Saunders would need to stay within 7 positions of Hayes to take home the title.
Should Hayes win the race, Saunders would need to finish no lower than eighth to clinch the championship. If Hayes doesn’t win the race, Saunders would need to stay within 7 positions of Hayes to take home the title.
“I feel pretty good about things,” said Saunders. “The car has been great all season so as long as I keep on doing things like I’ve been doing all year long, things should be pretty good. The best part about it is we’re in the lead and [Andrew] has to catch us. I don’t think I’m really all that nervous about the race. I’ve been racing for about 9 years now and being at the track, working on the car, and driving the car is the best part for me. Getting ready to go racing doesn’t really make me all that nervous.”
“It’s going to be tough for us to win the championship, [Saunders] is quick every week,” said Hayes.
Stafford’s DARE Stocks are the final division with a track championship to settle at the NAPA Fall Final. Defending track champion Frank L’Etoile, Jr. has had a masterful season behind the wheel of his #33 Zeke’s Pump Service / Tommy’s Tattoo Supplies Chevrolet. L’Etoile has 3 wins and he has finished all but one race in the top-5 this season. L’Etoile’s consistency sees him enter the NAPA Fall Final with the largest margin of any of the championship races left with a 36 point lead over Tyler Trott. Should Trott win the race, L’Etoile would need to finish no lower than seventeenth place in order to win the championship.
“Our plan is to do the same thing we’ve been doing all year long,” said L’Etoile. “We’ve been right up front all year long, I don’t think we’ve ever been more than 20 points behind, and then a couple weeks ago we were able to open up a pretty nice gap to everyone else. I’ve never won the Spring Sizzler or the Fall Final race in my career, so we definitely want to go out and win the race.”
The 2015 NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final Weekend gets underway on Saturday, October 3rd with practice sessions for Stafford’s Whelen All-American Series divisions, the Legend Cars, and the Whelen Modified Tour. Action continues on with Coors Light Pole Qualifying for the Whelen Modified Tour cars, along with heat races for Stafford’s weekly divisions and the Legend Cars with action wrapping up on Saturday with feature events for the SK Light, Limited Late Model, DARE Stock, and Legend Cars divisions. The Legend Cars feature will be a national qualifier event. The NAPA Fall Final continues on Sunday, October 4th with the NAPA Auto Parts Pit Party from 11am-12noon followed by Stafford’s SK Modifieds® and Late Models joining the Whelen Modified Tour in feature action.
Tickets for the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final Weekend are on sale now at the Speedway Box Office. Tickets are priced at $38.50 for adult general admission tickets, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, and children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult. Reserved seating will be priced at $42.00 for all ages. All ticket prices include 10% CT Admission Tax. Visit your local participating NAPA Auto Parts Store for discount tickets.
For more information on the 42nd Annual NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final, or to order tickets, contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at 860-684-2783 or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.