To win the race, you must first finish the race. That was the mindset for Rowan Pennink and his No. 99 SK Modified team at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) on Friday night. Prior to Friday night’s event at the half-mile Connecticut oval, Pennink, of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, had been struggling to simply finish a race.
Whether it was being caught up in a wreck or some kind of problem under the hood, Pennink couldn’t seem to buy a break.
On Friday evening, all of those previous struggles were forgotten when Pennink made a last lap pass on Ryan Preece to win the inaugural SK 5K at Stafford and cash in on the biggest SK Modified payday in the division’s history.
“This is a huge race to win the inaugural SK 5K with the caliber of drivers that run here at Stafford,” said Pennink. “That is one of the toughest races you’ll run, I think. It’s just as hard as a (NASCAR Whelen Modified) tour race. You have half the tour drivers out there and these things have less horsepower so everyone is so even. That’s a big win for me.”
Earlier in the day, Pennink and his Kelly Iverson-owned team found themselves once again dealing with problems under the hood of his No. 99 after the first practice session. He told Speed51.com powered by JEGS that it felt like he was “losing 50 horsepower at the end of the straightaway.” The team ended up changing the fuel pump on the car between practices and, once they did that, the car was a rocket the rest of the night.
“Even this morning they replaced wiring, the distributor, and everything and then first practice this morning it was just like it was last week,” said Pennink of the problems under the hood of his car. “I’m like, ‘not again’, and it ended up being the fuel pump so we fixed that. After that it was a rocket and we never looked back.
“The car has been this fast every single week; we just haven’t been able to show it. We’ve been having stupid problems all year and finally we got everything straightened out and it showed tonight. “
Pennink started from the pole during Friday night’s race and seemed to be the one constant up front as the lead was shuffled around 19 times between five drivers during the 100-lap feature. On the last lap, however, Pennink found himself in the runner-up position behind Ryan Preece.
The Pennsylvania driver would throw his car to the inside of Preece’s blue and silver No. 2 as they entered turn one side-by-side on the white flag lap. Pennink powered off of turn two as the leader, but Preece attempted to pull a crossover move on Pennink to reclaim the lead down the backstretch. When he did, Ted Christopher had “the chrome horn” under Preece and the two drivers made contact that sent Preece spinning.
Preece would go on to finish 19th, while Christopher cruised home to second-place finish behind Pennink.
After leading six laps late in the event, Preece was disappointed with the ending of the race and frustrated that Christopher was not penalized for his role in the last lap incident. The 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion told Speed51.com that he was frustrated more so because he was sent to the rear of the field for a similar incident with Keith Rocco just one week ago.
“I was racing with Rowan (Pennink) for the win and as far as I knew Teddy (Christopher) was out of the race for the win,” Preece said. “I was going to crossover Rowan and Teddy threw it in there trying to fill the hole. It is what it is.
“I’m more disappointed that I got put to the rear last week and this week the call isn’t the same. I could have stayed to the outside and he could have not thrown it in. I’m pissed because I had a good run, got turned, and now we got 19th.”
Christopher, who lost radio communication with his team after lap 20, had a different perspective on what happened with Preece on the last lap.
“I really don’t know where Ryan was going on that last lap,” said Christopher in victory lane. “I think he was trying to crossover Rowan, but obviously I was there.”
Frank Ruocco, who led 13 laps during the 100-lap event, crossed under the checkered flag in the third position after a wild last lap.
“We all had good cars,” said Ruocco. “You’re at a disadvantage starting on the outside late in the race. You know, anyone could have won the race. I think out of the top-five cars, any one of them could have won the race.”
Keith Rocco, who led 33 laps during the early stages of Friday’s race, and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver Glen Reen completed the top-five.
Following his win on Friday night, Pennink was headed to the Bahamas on Saturday afternoon to enjoy some vacation time before his next race. A $5,000 payday and his first SK Modified win of the season should help to make that vacation much more enjoyable for the Pennsylvania driver.
Stafford Motor Speedway SK 5K Unofficial Results
|18||93||Richie Pallai, Jr.|
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo Credit: Rick Ibsen/Speed51.com