A year-long drought in the FUEL Late Model Series finally came to an end for Steve Banal at Cherokee Speedway (SC) Saturday night. The defending champion of the FUEL Series went a full year without securing a victory dating back to October of 2017.
Banal snagged his first win of the season with the FUEL Series on a night where finishing second appeared to be the best outcome. Anthony Sanders dominated the majority of the race until a mechanical failure took him out of the race on Lap 22.
“I really wasn’t trying to run too hard because I knew that I got something going on with my right front so I was kind of taking it easy a little bit,” Banal said. “Catching [Sanders] and passing him probably wouldn’t have happened, but bad luck for him, unfortunately. We’ll take it.’
Though Banal got the victory, he wasn’t the driver most fans had their money on. Sanders was not only the fastest driver in hot laps, but he backed that up with the fastest time in qualifying and led the majority of the race. That all came to a screeching halt when Sanders car lost power with eight laps to go.
“I don’t really know what broke; we just lost power there,” Sanders explained. “I’m not sure if we broke something in the motor or fuel pressure but it just went down the backstretch and lost power. It’s always something.”
Sanders has been haunted with a string of bad luck over the past couple of years. Despite showing tremendous speed at every track they show up to this season, they have yet to stand in FUEL Series victory lane this season.
“It’s heartbreaking. I mean the last two years it’s been nothing but something every week, whether it’s tires or motors or transmissions.”
Although Sanders spirit may have been broken after the checkered flag at Cherokee Speedway, he’s still confident in his team and hopes his luck will turn around.
“I’ve been fast every week in practice and qualifying but just can’t put the whole night together,” he said. “It’s going to change one day hopefully.”
After Sanders dropped out, Banal had to hold off challenges from Brandon White and Derrick Ramey on a few late-race restarts. Nevertheless, Banal sailed to victory.
Picking up the win at the famed Cherokee Speedway is a huge confidence booster for Banal and his team.
“Oh it’s great,” Banal stated. “We’ve been struggling all week. We got the big race at Fayetteville next week so it’s awesome to be able to go into that on a good note.”
The FUEL Late Model Series’ next race will be their season finale at County Line Raceway in Elm City, North Carolina on October 20. Robbie Emory has a commanding point lead over Shaun Harrell going into the 10th and final race of the year. Banal sits pretty far behind in points in third, but after Saturday night he proved that anything can happen.
“We crashed Thursday night and won tonight. “That’s pretty awesome.”
– Story by Casey LaJoie, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent – Twitter: @Casey_LaJoie
– Photo Credit: Speed51.com
FUEL Late Model Series Unofficial Results
October 6, 2018 – Cherokee Speedway (SC)