Stafford Springs, CT — Stafford Speedway returned to NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing action with the 5th Annual NAPA Auto Parts SK 5k, which paid the winner $5,000 out of a purse of over $27,000. With the Dunleavy’s Truck and Trailer Sales Gambler’s Challenge bonus of $5,000 and a total heat race bonus of $2,000 from Wheelers Auto of Hamden, the total posted awards were over $34,000. Ronnie Williams won the NAPA SK 5K and in victory lane he pulled the winner-take-all chip for the Dunleavy’s Gambler’s Challenge to give himself a pay day of $10,675 with purse and contingencies added together.
In the 100-lap NAPA SK 5K feature event, Eric Berndt shot into the lead at the start with Keith Rocco quickly working his way up to second. Michel Gervais, Jr. was third with polesitter Tyler Hines back to fourth and Glen Reen in fifth.
Rocco got around Berndt for the lead on Lap 10 but Berndt came right back and moved back into the lead on Lap 11. The lead swap between Berndt and Rocco continued with Rocco going back out front on Lap 13. Gervais was still third with Hines and Reen continuing to make up the top five.
Hines worked his way past Gervais to move into third on Lap 18 with Ronnie Williams following him into fourth to drop Gervais back to fifth. Berndt got alongside Rocco for the lead but couldn’t make the pass stick on Lap 19. Berndt then fell back to third as Williams moved into second and nearly took the lead from Rocco on Lap 21 before settling back into line. Williams made a move for the lead on Lap 23 with a pass coming out of turn two. Stephen Kopcik spun into the turn three wall after losing his engine to bring the caution out with 25 laps complete.
Williams and Rocco were side by side for the lead on the restart with Berndt, Gervais, and Joey Cipriano making up the top five. Three laps later, Williams and Rocco were still side by side with neither driver giving an inch. Williams was able to finally get clear Rocco on Lap 30. The two drivers then swapped the lead twice in one lap as Rocco went to the front entering turn three, but Williams made a nice crossover move to come out of turn four with the lead once again. The lead duo then resumed their side-by-side battle for the lead with Berndt, Gervais, and Cipriano behind them.
Dan Wesson spun in turn four to bring the caution out with 34 laps complete.
Rocco took the lead back under green with Berndt and Williams side by side for second. Berndt took second on Lap 35 with Cipriano battling Williams for third. Williams held Cipriano off for third with Hines still in fifth. Berndt made a move to the inside of Rocco to take the lead on Lap 38, but Rocco came right back on Lap 39 and retook the lead. Chase Dowling was closing in on the top-five cars after starting deep in the field.
Tom Bolles spin in turn four to bring the caution out with 44 laps complete.
Rocco took the lead on the restart with Williams moving into second. Berndt slotted into third with Dowling fourth and a side-by-side battle between Cipriano and Gervais for fifth. With 48 laps complete, the caution and red flags came back out as Hines and Cipriano came together in turn four with Hines’ car briefly catching fire.
Rocco took the lead with Berndt and Williams side by side for second. Berndt took second on Lap 49 and proceeded to take the lead from Rocco on Lap 51 with a pass in turn one. Williams then moved into a battle with Rocco for second, with Dowling in fourth and Gervais fifth.
Rocco ran in line behind Berndt until Lap 58 when he made a pass in turn three to go back into the lead. Williams was still third with Dowling and Gervais making up the top five. Todd Owen was up to sixth after having to start deep in the field due to a heat race crash earlier in the evening, with Matt Galko, Dan Avery, Wesson, and Troy Talman making up the top 10.
Berndt was again applying heavy pressure to Rocco for the lead with the two cars side by side for the lead on Lap 65. Berndt dropped back into line behind Rocco on Lap 66 with Williams closing in on Berndt’s back bumper. Dan Wesson dropped off the pace on Lap 68 with heavy smoke from underneath his car and then the caution came out for Dan Avery, whose car went up in flames coming out of turn 4 as he steered off the track and on to pit road.
Rocco took the lead on the restart with Williams able to get in front of Berndt for second. Gervais and Dowling were side by side for fourth with Doug Meservey, Jr. and Michael Christopher, Jr. side by side for sixth. Williams pulled alongside Rocco for the lead on Lap 70 and he was able to get clear to the lead on Lap 72, but Rocco came right back on Lap 73 to the inside of Williams and they were even at the line. The caution came back out with 73 laps complete for a spin in turns three and four by John Studley.
Williams took the lead back under green with Rocco in second. Berndt was side by side with Dowling for third with Christopher in fifth. Rocco was applying heavy pressure to Williams while Berndt was able to finally get clear into third on Lap 77.
Rocco got to the inside of Williams and he had the lead by a nose at the line on Lap 78. Rocco got clear into the lead on Lap 79, but Williams came right back on Lap 80 and he took the lead with a pass in turn three. Dowling was now third behind Williams and Rocco with Berndt and Christopher making up the top five with 20 laps to go.
With 10 laps to go, it was still Williams followed by Rocco and Dowling. Berndt was fourth with Christopher still fifth. Williams led Rocco to the checkered flag to pick up his second win of the 2018 season. Dowling finished third with Berndt and Christopher rounding out the top five.
Other feature winners on the night were Al Saunders taking down his first career Late Model win and earning himself a $500 bounty from Stafford Speedway for ending Tom Fearn’s six-race winning streak, Marcello Rufrano was a back-to-back winner in the SK Light feature, Jeremy Lavoie scored his fifth win of 2018 in the Limited Late Model feature, and Nicole Chambrello won the Street Stock feature one week after barrel rolling her car.
For more information contact the Stafford Motor Speedway track office at (860) 684-2783, or visit us on the web at www.staffordspeedway.com.
-Stafford Motor Speedway Press Release
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Rick Ibsen