Victory eludes Kenseth in Oregon
OREGON Thank heavens Wausau’s Chris Wimmer and Cambridge’s Matt Kenseth picked the final 15 laps of Tuesday night’s Swiss Colony All-Star Chal-lenge to get into a side-by-side duel for the victory.
Those few moments of action somewhat salvaged what had been a 27-car, Sominex parade.
Wimmer, who dogged Kenseth for virtually the entire race, got inside of the former NASCAR champion on lap 90, took the lead and held on for the biggest victory of his racing career.
“This is amazing,” said Wimmer, who just turned 30 last week. “This is neat. My car was good. I was just biding my time.”
Kenseth, who led from lap 5 through lap 89, had a hunch he was a sitting duck in Wimmer’s sights, especially when race officials waved a funny smelling “competition yellow flag” on lap 85 to tighten the stretched-out field.
“We just missed it all night,” Kenseth said of his car’s setup. A break at the midway point wasn’t enough for Kenseth’s crew to get the car exactly to its driver’s liking.
“I was surprised we held on all night,” Kenseth said. “On the second run the car was real tight. (Wimmer) was just dogging me the whole time.”
Wimmer rode Kenseth’s back bumper like a Rock Aqua Jay tethered to a pullboat.
After making the winning pass, Wimmer pulled away during the final 10 laps on the high-banked half-mile oval to win by about 1.5 seconds in a race that took, not counting a 17-minute break at the halfway point, just 38 minutes to complete, an average speed of 79 mph.
It actually appeared the race was going to be over before it started when fast qualifier Nathan Haseleu, who turned in a lap of 17.734 seconds, stepped out to the start/finish line to roll a die and determine how many of the qualifiers would be inverted for the start. The inversion would be 10 cars plus whatever number rolled. Haseleu tossed a three, meaning he would start 13th and, what a coincidence, Kenseth would start on the pole.
So, on a night when the weather felt like Oktoberfest at La Crosse Speedway, the drivers took the green flag at least 90 minutes early as race officials wisely moved up the start of the main event to beat an impending rain storm. That decision proved to be highly prescient as the rain began to fall as the top five drivers were being interviewed in victory lane. That rain, in fact, postponed the rest of the action, including the 38-lap Big 8 series feature event. That race has been recscheduled for Friday, Aug. 15.
Meanwhile, the first 85 laps of Tuesdays’s event were practically devoid of any meaningful racing. Even lapped cars were getting out of Kenseth’s way as if they were scooters on the interstate avoiding 18-wheelers.
The only racing incident to cause a caution flag came on lap 75 when Cottage Grove’s Dave Feiler spun in Turn 1 and 2.
Jon Eilen, starting on the outside of Row 1, got around Kenseth to lead the first four laps. Kenseth took the lead on lap 5 and held the point until Wimmer got around in the waning laps.
“Those last 10 laps seemed like they took forever,” said Wimmer, whose brother Scott is a regular on the NASCAR Nationwide series. “I can’t wait to get back (home) and tell my brother.”
Wimmer’s victory left hundreds of black-and-yellow clad Kenseth fans—which added a bumblebee affect to the packed grandstands—disappointed.
Sprint Cup points leader Tony Stewart, who started on the inside of Row 3, faded to the middle of the pack, then made a second-half charge to finish fifth.
“We were just too tight the first half,” said Stewart, who didn’t arrive at the track until 4 p.m. and had just 12 practice laps in his car.
“I just think the longer I’m in the car, the worse I make it,” Stewart joked. “(During the second half) we got a couple break. You just try to find a hole and get to the bottom of the track.”
Stewart also knew early on from his driver’s seat view that Wimmer was going to be one of the racers to beat.
“It didn’t take long to figure out how good he is,” Stewart said.
The cool temperatures did create plenty of grip for the racing tires even though the action wasn’t as gripping.
“This weather made it grippier,” Stewart said of the track. “This ain’t like a Cup track. At most short tracks like this, the tracks gain grip when it cools off.”
Milton’s Michael Bachaus, who raced his way into the main event with a victory in one of the two last-chance races.
Haseleu slipped deeper into the field than his 13th spot on the starting grid, but diced his way to a fourth-place finish. Andrew Morrissey came home third.
SWISS COLONY ALL-STAR CHALLENGE
Top five finishers: 1. Chris Wimmer, Wausau; 2. Matt Kenseth, Cambridge; 3. Andrew Morrissey, DeForest; 4. Nathan Haseleu, Marshall; 5. Tony Stewart, Columbus, Ind.
Time of race: 38 minutes (not counting halfway break).
Winner’s average speed: 79 mph.
Lead changes: Three among three drivers.
Lap leaders: Jon Eilen, 1-4; Kenseth 5-89; Wimmer, 90-100.
Caution flags: 2 (caution laps did not count).
Fast qualifier: Nathan Haseleu, 17.734 seconds (101.5 mph).