THOMPSON, Conn. – A wild finish left one driver showered in a chorus of boos, one driver frustrated nearly beyond words and a third driver within inches of a remarkable victory.
When everything had settled on rugged NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener at Thompson International Speedway, though, it was Ron Silk who made a hard right-hand turn into Icebreaker 150 Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon and not Rowan Pennink.
Pennink may have been the first driver under the checkered flag, but NASCAR officials penalized him for jumping the restart on the last of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish in a race extended nine laps past the advertised distance.
“I was in a lose-lose situation there,” said Pennink, his face literally red with frustration as he waited outside the NASCAR hauler for a word with the race director.
“When (Silk) spins his tires, that's not my fault that he spun his tires and didn't get a good restart. Bottom line, the only thing I could have done to not do that was to brake-check the whole field. I've got people physically pushing me, so what am I meant to do?”
Silk said he never spun his tires, offering a flat “no” when asked, then adding: “But that's what I would say, too.”
Silk and Pennink staged a great duel at the front of the field over the final 30 laps, with Silk passing Pennink for the lead on Lap 138. They were both nearly outdone, however, when Ted Christopher made a miraculous move to the bottom of Turns 3 and 4 to clear them both on the race's second GWC attempt.
Wade Cole spun in Turn 4 behind them, however, relegating Christopher back to third and necessitating the third GWC restart.
Pennink cleared Silk by a car length under the green flag and never looked back, but it was Silk who pulled into Victory Lane.
“The first restart, he ran me up into the weeds down here (in Turn 1) but I was able to get by, and then he jumped the (next) restart,” Silk said. “He got what he deserved.”
Christopher was credited with second place, while Mike Stefanik finished third. Jimmy Blewett and Donny Lia rounded out the Top-5.
The race was slowed 12 times by caution for a total of 45 laps – including a 10-minute red flag – for several single-car incidents and a number of multi-car accidents. Just 15 of the 29 starters were running at the end of the race, with track record holder Ryan Preece sidelined after 125 laps.
Preece led the first 84 laps from the pole.
“You really fly around this place,” Silk said. “It's a fast track, and it's getting bumpier and bumpier over the years. There's contact that sometimes, it's just a part of racing. (The wrecks) definitely didn't surprise me.”