STAFFORD – Rowan Pennink pulled into victory lane and the first point of the celebration was a simple one for he and his team.
They finished the race.
It hasn’t been the kind of year Pennink had hoped for behind the wheel of his SK Modified at Stafford Motor Speedway.
But all the down feelings of a tough start to the 2014 season melted away in a rain of dollar bills Friday for the Huntingdon Valley, Pa. driver.
Pennink used a last lap pass of Ryan Preece in turn one to win the inaugural 100-lap NAPA Auto Parts SK 5K Friday at Stafford Motor Speedway.
Ted Christopher of Plainville was second and Frank Ruocco of Cheshire third.
“The thing has been this fast every single week, we just haven’t been able to show it,” said Pennink, who earned $5,000 for the victory. “We’ve been having stupid problems all year and finally we got everything straightened out. It showed tonight.
“What everyone said when we pulled in victory lane, ‘We finally finished a race.’ I guess they say if you ain’t first you’re last.”
Before Friday Pennink had not recorded a top-10 finish in his first five starts of the season at the track.
Friday’s event featured 17 lead changes, with Pennink involved in 13 of the swaps at the front of the field.
“This is a huge race,” Pennink said. “To win the inaugural SK 5K, with the caliber of drivers that run here at Stafford. That’s one of the toughest races you’ll run. That’s just as hard as a [Whelen Modified] Tour race. … Everyone is so even.”
Pennink started on the pole and was involved in battles in the top five for the duration of the event.
“We started up front, got shuffled back a few times, but I could drive it back to the front when I needed to,” Pennink said. “And that’s what we did.”
On lap 95 Pennink went under Ruocco for the lead in turn three but Preece went under both in turn four to steal the top spot away and drop Pennink to third.
Pennink went back to second on a lap 96 restart. On lap 99 Pennink got under Preece into turn three. Preece led the lap as the two went side-by-side under the white flag, but Pennink took the lead into turn one.
“I got a good run down the backstretch,” Pennink said.” Preece tried to block me a little bit. I got up underneath him and stayed off him in the center [of the corner] and drag raced him down the [frontstretch]. The car was awesome. I couldn’t be happier.”
Christopher followed Pennink to second and as he did, Preece tried to come back to the low lane, making contact with Christopher and spinning in turn two.
“It was a little bit tough,” Christopher said. “We had no radio from lap 20. So you’ve got to really be cautious and stay in your lane. I really don’t know where Ryan was going on that lap. I think he was trying to cross over Rowan, but obviously I was there.”