Normally seeing sparks at a racetrack at night can mean a variety of things. It could be something as simple as the car merely bottoming out. It could be that the car has suffered enough damage that it completely drags on the racetrack. It could be that you are watching the sparks from the spectacular fireworks show as your car sits in Victory Lane.
Most race cars will bottom out, especially early on when the tire pressures are low. However, it’s the other two scenarios that drivers are wary of. Last year Kyle Busch saw the horrifying sparks of a damaged race car just nine laps from victory. This year, Busch was proudly watching the fireworks display in awe as he sat in Victory Lane after finally winning the 32nd annual Miller Lite Slinger Nationals at the Slinger Super Speedway.
“That was an awesome fireworks show,” exclaimed Busch from Victory Lane. “I don’t know what y’all thought, but I’m hard of hearing right now.”
Hard of hearing and completely drenched with sweat, the hot summer night at the world’s fastest quarter mile oval took its toll on all the drivers. Yet when the checkered flag fell, it was Busch surviving a heated duel with Dave Feiler enabling Busch to add his name to the Larry Detjens Cup as winner of the Slinger Nationals.
Whereas Busch struggled with restarts in last year’s event, this year he excelled as he bullied his way around Feiler just after a restart before pulling away to a 2.171 victory over Feiler.
“Great racing. I can’t say enough about Feiler, Lepak, all the guys that raced with us tonight,” said Busch. “The restarts were tricky, I didn’t know if I wanted to the bottom or the top, but neither one of them were working for me for the first two laps then my car would really come in. So I just did what I could do there.”
What Busch did do there was prove he had the muscle as well as the cahones to race with the best that Slinger has to offer, yet it would not be as easy as it might have appeared.
Ross Kenseth and Becca Kasten led the field of twenty six super late models to the green flag. Kasten would gain the advantage from the high side and clear Kenseth by lap 2. Steve Apel would quickly follow Kasten around Kenseth and into second. Kenseth’s car began to fade as he was pressured by Driver X, Jon Reynolds Jr. and Jeremy Lepak, before settling into the third spot.
Kasten, who began her racing career at Slinger became the first woman to ever lead a lap in the Nationals, but she would not be content to lead just one. Kasten impressively began to stretch out her lead over the next thirty five laps.
While Kasten was running unchallenged up front, Kyle Busch began to assert himself as a threat to win. Busch, who had earlier blistered the hot asphalt in qualifying with an 11.355 second lap started the race from the eighth spot with the invert. Busch methodically mowed down his rivals as he worked both high and low to get towards the front.
By lap 29, Busch moved around Apel and into second place as he continued to track down Kasten. Lapped cars snuck into the equation, as Kasten’s lead began to shrink. Busch was glued to her rear bumper on lap 32, and over the next six laps began to try to find a way to get around her.
Entering turn one on lap 38, Busch dove to the inside of Kasten and a tad deeper into the corner. The right front of Busch’s car made significant contact with Kasten that it turned her loose and started a slide. She was able to recover, but not before Steve Apel was able to sneak past. While the contact may have seemed innocent enough at first, it soon became quite obvious that Busch suffered more damage than first anticipated. The tell-tale sign of tire smoke from a fender rub reared its ugly head, and made everyone wonder if Busch would be snake bit yet again at Slinger. Not only was there the tire smoke, but the brake rotors on Busch’s car were glowing much brighter than his fellow competitors, and it was a long way from the 100 lap halfway break.
“I got on her inside a little late, probably my fault,” said Busch. “I was just trying to press the issue a little too early maybe and we made contact. I kind of came up, she kind of came down, no big deal. We think it bent a tie-rod but we worked on it during the break, so no harm no foul.”
Perhaps it was just Busch’s driving style, or perhaps it was just being out front, but he began to actually stretch out his lead and the tire smoke began to somewhat dissipate.
As Busch completed lap 50, both Ross Kenseth and Dave Feiler dropped Kasten back to fifth place. Three laps later Jeremy Lepak brought the second Gerry Gundermann #40 into the top five as he got around Kasten as well.
Steve Apel’s night would come to an abrupt end on lap 57 when he broke a power steering belt and pulled off the track. That allowed Feiler to inherit second place and begin the two man battle to the checkers.
Busch had grown his lead to almost a full straightaway before lapped traffic began to play a role. As Busch began to get hung up behind a group of cars running side by side, Feiler was able to drastically cut into Busch’s lead. On lap 72, Busch was stuck behind the heavy traffic, and by lap 94, Feiler was right on Busch’s rear bumper.
Feiler was able to actually nose ahead of Busch and got credit for leading lap 96, but Busch would head into the halfway break as the leader. The crews then had ten minutes to perform whatever miracles and work they could do to mount a charge in the second half.
The top ten at the break were Busch, Feiler, Kenseth, Eric Fransen, Conrad Morgan, Kasten, Lepak, Matt Kocourek, Dennis Prunty, and Lowell Bennett. There were a total of 18 cars on the lead lap.
As the field took the green flag to start the second hundred laps, Conrad Morgan spun off of turn two down the backstretch and into the infield. He narrowly avoided sliding up the track into turn three and in front of race traffic. For a race that went the first one hundred laps caution free, this was perhaps a sign of things to come.
The subsequent restart found Busch on the low side and Feiler up top. The initial attempt was aborted when either Busch lagged back or Feiler jumped, giving Feiler a huge advantage. The yellow would come back out and they would try again for a restart.
The gamesmanship continued once again as they took the green flag. Busch would run himself and Feiler nearly off the track at the turn two exit on the high side before turning back down and taking the lead. With Feiler having to slow to gather his car, both Kenseth and Lepak would get by and into second and third place respectively. Busch would be able to stretch his lead to over ten car lengths.
Jeremy Lepak would dive underneath Kenseth on lap 108 and into second place. Feiler had gathered his car and followed Lepak past Kenseth. Then on lap 116, Feiler would work his way around Lepak and set his sights on catching Busch.
The yellow would fly again on lap 133, when Brad Mueller would spin coming off of turn two right in front of Jon Reynolds Jr. There was slight contact between the two cars, but both would be able to continue with no damage done.
The race leader at Slinger has lane choice for the double file restarts, and surprisingly, Kyle Busch chose the outside lane. As he led the field to the green, it appeared that Busch jumped the restart, much to the chagrin of the packed house, but flagman Roger Miller dropped the green and racing resumed.
Dennis Prunty and Eric Fransen would both get loose in turn four on lap 136 with slight contact between the two. Becca Kasten would sneak past, but the race remained under green. Two laps later, Prunty would stop in turn four bringing out another caution. Prunty was able to make a pit stop and make repairs, but under Slinger rule, stopping on track to cause a yellow means a one lap penalty.
Under this caution, it was apparent that Fransen’s car suffered damage as he began to smoke and drop fluids on the track. Fransen would pull into the pits to get his car worked on. Jon Reynolds Jr. would pull off the track as well under this caution. Fransen would return to the track, but was still leaking fluids and was black flagged. Prunty came to a stop at the start/finish line, seemingly protesting his one lap penalty.
As the field lined up for another restart, it would be Kyle Busch who would jump this effort and the limp wristed green was displayed.
The next attempt at a restart would find Feiler getting the jump and actually clearing Busch on lap 139.
Feiler would cruise to a few car lengths advantage, and perhaps Busch was content in just riding in Feiler’s tire tracks. Busch would once again find himself on Feiler’s rear bumper and occasionally use the chrome horn to let Feiler know he was there.
Feiler was well aware of Busch’s being there, but didn’t let that stop him from staying out front. Lap 169 would see Busch attempt to dump Feiler in turn 3, but Feiler held onto it and stayed out front. Five laps later on lap 174, Feiler came up on his teammate and Wisconsin Short Track Hall of Fame member Al Schill. Perhaps, it was Feiler’s impatience with Pressure from Busch, or perhaps Schill was not moving over fast enough, but there was contact between the two coming off of turn two bringing out another yellow flag.
Feiler’s right front fender received some damage from the incident, but he was not about to let that deter him from pressing on. Feiler would take the inside lane on the restart, and get the jump on Busch. However just one lap later, Busch would dive down deep into turn one and clip Feiler just enough to get him out of shape and sneak past and into the lead.
While this was going on up front, Jeff Holtz made a late charge past Ross Kenseth and into fourth place on lap 176. Becca Kasten followed on lap 178.
Once Busch got past Feiler, he easily cruised to the victory by a margin of 2.171 seconds. Something Busch admitted was not an easy accomplishment.
“Trust me, I never expect that when I come to Slinger,” said Busch. “These guys are tough, they’re stout. It’s a great team effort by the Kyle Busch Motorsports team. Those guys were awesome.”
Despite his margin of victory, Busch knew that the restarts were the key.
“When I would restart on the bottom and dive into the first turn my car wouldn’t take a good set,” said Busch.
“It wouldn’t turn right away and kind of slide up the track first. So I knew the bottom wasn’t for me. I knew I wanted the top just so I could get in on the top side a little bit light try to pin the car early get a straighter shot off the corner. That’s exactly what I did on that last restart. I just didn’t anticipate the 40 car checking up a little bit and I got into him but no harm no foul. I think it’s just a matter of short track racing, although his right front fender is pretty banged up too. All in all it was a great night. A fun night.”
So just how much fun was it really?
“It’s cool man, this place is fun,” said Busch. “It’s a ton of fun. I came here five years ago and I think I’ve made it back every year since and I had a blast. It’s not because I hadn’t won yet. I’ve won it now but I’d like to come back. You know Wayne (track owner Wayne Erickson) and his staff are great. The fans are great. This place is so much fun. We got a great hospitality tent before the event so people enjoy it.”
While Kyle Busch was enjoying the fruits of victory, Dave Feiler and Jeremy Lepak sought refuge from the heat from the safety crew and ambulance. Feiler, who raced with a heavy heart following the death of his mother shortly after winning last week’s feature at Slinger, was seemingly much more disappointed with finishing in second.
“I had a big problem with lapped traffic tonight, we started way too many cars,” said an exhausted Feiler. “The cautions didn’t fall my way, lapped traffic didn’t fall my way. I don’t know. I had a motor that didn’t run, but I think I would’ve been fine.”
Despite Feiler’s assessment, he still ran strong although he couldn’t catch Busch.
“It’s not hard for him to drive away when your motor don’t run,” said Feiler. “If the motor would’ve run we would have definitely had him beat. We did have him beat. The car was going through the middle of the corner really good. It’s just the way it happens. I don’t know if we have fuel pump problems or what, but it’s just really disappointing. We really prepped ourselves to win this race. I’ve had good chances before but this chance here was really great.”
Feiler’s teammate Jeremy Lepak finished in third and suffered the same motor issues.
“It was a tough night motor-wise,” said Lepak. “This thing usually runs on a dime but tonight it just picked up a miss. It kept cutting out and I don’t know if I had a coil wire melting or if I was vapor locking, but it just quit running. We went through the break and found nothing, so I figured let’s just let it cool down and we’ll go back out. It’s either going to be there or or it ain’t. The cautions saved us.”
Jeff Holtz scored his career best fourth place finish in the Nationals and was ecstatic about his efforts.
“It was a long hot night and we had our hands full in the first half,” said Holtz. “These guys made some pretty good changes at the break and the car came alive. The last 75 laps it definitely handled very much better than the first half and I got a lot of good breaks. I’ll take a fourth any day when these three are ahead of me.”
Becca Kasten rebounded to finish in fifth place, equaling the highest ever finish for a woman at the Slinger Nationals.
“I had a great time out there tonight,” said Kasten. “I got to lead a bunch of laps then I got blasted out of the lead and lost a few spots. Then lost a few more before starting to rebound. Fifth place is not bad for the first time running the Slinger Nationals.”
Kasten didn’t seemed fazed by the way Kyle Busch muscled his way past her and into the lead.
“He’s still my hero, he’s still the best driver out there right now,” said Kasten. “It’s really cool to be able to race with a guy like that. He loves racing and comes out to the short tracks and you got to love that.”
John DeAngelis scored his first career feature win in the preliminary late model event. DeAngelis worked his way around Dave McCardle on lap seven and had to hold off a furious rally by Ryan DeStefano over the remaining thirty three laps to secure the victory.
McCardle came home in third place, while Jake Vanoskey finished in fourth. Wayne Freimund recovered from an early race spin with Alex Prunty to wind up in fifth.
Results of the 32nd Annual Miller Lite Slinger Nationals
1 51B Kyle Busch 200
2 40F Dave Feiler 200
3 40L Jeremy Lepak 200
4 38H Jeff Holtz 200
5 51K Becca Kasten 200
6 25K Ross Kenseth 200
7 18M Kelly Bires 200
8 2B Lowell Bennett 200
9 89M Brad Mueller 200
10 42P Dennis Prunty 199
11 55L Rich Loch 196
12 40S Al Schill 192
13 12G Mike Graczkowski 185
14 61E Jerry Eckhardt 179
15 26B Chris Blawat 161
16 72S Randy Schuler 140
17 5F Eric Fransen 138
18 10R Jon Reynolds Jr. 138
19 43K Matt Kocourek 132
20 92M Conrad Morgan 130
21 98B Rob Braun 100
22 89E Mike Egan 99
23 9P Tommy Pecaro 74
24 16A Steve Apel 56
25 8W Josh Wallace 45
26 48K Brad Keith 38
Results of the Miller Lite Late Model 40
1 7D John DeAngelis 40
2 0D Ryan DeStefano 40
3 66M Dave McCardle 40
4 84V Jacob Vanoskey 40
5 95F Wayne Freimund 40
6 10R Jon Reynolds Jr. 40
7 57M Ryan Miles 40
8 11P Alex Prunty 39
9 97S James Swan 34
10 88S Scott Shambeau 18
Defending Champ Has Long Night
Lowell Bennett and Matt Kenseth had won the Miller Lite Slinger Nationals consecutively from 2005 until Sunday night, when Kyle Busch finally broke the streak. Bennett just did not have the car he needed to keep the streak alive.
"We just had a tough day all around," said the defending champion. "We had a bad engine miss in the car. We got it running right before we qualified, but we didn't get enough time to work on the car. We didn't have a horrible car, but about half way through the feature we started our miss again. It seemed to be a fuel related thing and it was just killing us on horsepower. I've won five Miller Lite Slinger Nationals and I'm the only seven-time Slinger track champion, but tonight just was not meant to be."
Kasten Makes History
Becca Kasten became the first female to lead at the Slinger Nationals and she walked away with an impressive fifth-place finish. Kasten ran up front all night, and rebounded from a brief on track stack up just after halfway.
Wait till Next Year
As Matt Kenseth sat on the sidelines for the first time in years his son Ross posted another top 10 finishes in his second Slinger Nationals start. Kenseth told 51 after the race the car was so tight and he could not make it well enough to move up.
Kyle's Bucket List
When it comes to Super Late Model racing Kyle Busch is slowing checking his name off in some of the biggest events around the county. Here are just some of the few that he's not won, along with the trophies he has taken.
Snowball Derby - check 2009
Winchester 400 - check 2009
Slinger Nationals - check 2011
Redbud 300 - check 2009
SpeedFest - check 2009, 2010
Dixieland 150 - check 2007
World Crown 300
All American 400
Oxford 250 (Now ACT Late Model Event)
New Brunswick 250
Short Track Nationals