The state of Wisconsin has arguably the toughest local competition in Super Late Model racing, and the Slinger Nationals proved that to be true with nine of the top 10 finishers in Tuesdays’ race hailing from the Badger State. In addition, five of the 12 drivers that locked their way into the race through qualifying were Slinger Super Speedway regulars, led by current track points leader Steve Apel.
In a tight qualifying field that was separated by all of three-tenths of a second, the Sussex, Wisconsin driver turned a lap of 11.147, nearly a tenth quicker than the rest of the field. During the 200-lap main event, he worked from his 12th-place starting spot to the lead just before lap 50 and would lead for 75 laps before settling for a fourth-place finish.
“We started twelfth and there was a lot of rough driving the first twenty laps, took out a couple contenders,” Apel told Speed51.com. “Our goal was to ride just to get to the first hundred and try to be in the top five to be in contention at the end. We inherited the lead on I think lap 45 or so and then I was like, ‘I got to go.’ There’s some lap leader money and that adds up quick when you’re a car owner, driver, self-funded without having anybody backing you.
“In the second hundred, we just over-adjusted,” he continued. “I tend to make changes at halfway. I didn’t feel like we had the car to win. I felt like Ty (Majeski) was the fastest car, I knew Matt (Kenseth) was coming through the field again. I felt like we had to make a change to have a winning car. At the end of the day, having fast time, starting twelfth, getting the lead, then falling back to fourth isn’t a bad day. I’m kind of disappointed because we come here to win, but a fourth-place finish isn’t bad to hang your hat on.”
While the disappointment of what could have been loomed for Apel, he left Slinger with his head held high after proving to himself and the rest of short track racing he could hold his own against some of the top drivers in the country.
“To be able to have a statement in qualifying and run a fourteen and almost be a tenth quicker than second at your home track against some of the best competition in the country, that was really neat,” he said. “That was probably the highlight of the night. Going against Pollard and Brock and Nasse and Ty and Matt Kenseth, to be able to beat them in qualifying by a substantial amount is a pretty good feeling, to know our racing program locally can compete against these big-name guys with big money, big haulers. I’m more jealous than anything. I’m not knocking them, if I had it I would do it too. But it’s nice to know that we can contend with those guys and that I can drive to that level and our crew can perform to that level and build a car that can compete with those guys.”
Another Wisconsin driver that proved himself in the Slinger Nationals was 15-year-old Kulwicki Driver Development Program competitor Luke Fenhaus. The defending State Park Speedway track champion backed up his strong showing at Milwaukee three weeks ago by setting the second fastest time in qualifying and finishing eighth in his first Slinger Nationals attempt. Though it was not the desired outcome for the Wausau, Wisconsin driver, he still considered it a good night.
“We were really good early in the race and in qualifying we were good,” Fenhaus said. “All day in practice we were good. In the long run, we were actually pretty decent. With five to go there I made a stupid mistake on my part and got into the No.17 (Griesbach). I thought we would have a better finish but with four tires at the break, it helped us but not enough. It was a good day for us though and we’ll move forward.”
As with Apel, Fenhaus left Slinger feeling good about being able to compete with Super Late Model racing’s best. As he works to become the next racing sensation from the state of Wisconsin, knowing he can hang with the best of the best gives him a boost going into future races.
“I thought we were really good here tonight,” he said. “We qualified second and we were faster than Bubba and Ty was good, and we competed with all of them. Going into the next couple of races, it gives us a head booster for sure. We just got to keep improving and keep moving on.”
Following winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Ty Majeski across the finish line were fellow Wisconsin drivers John DeAngelis, Jr., Steve Apel, Alex Prunty, Rich Bickle, Grant Griesbach and Luke Fenhaus. At the end of the night, NASCAR Cup Series star and ninth-place finisher Daniel Hemric (Mooresville, North Carolina) was the only out-of-stater who finished inside the top 10. Wisconsin driver Ryan DeStefano completed the top 10.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / Bruce Nuttleman