THOMPSON – Ron Silk began defense of his 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in perfect fashion, celebrating in victory lane Sunday at Thompson International Speedway, though the path to celebration proved a strange one.
On the track, Silk was second at the start/finish line behind Rowan Pennink when the checkered flag flew, though NASCAR officials immediately deemed Silk the winner of the season opening Icebreaker 150 at Thompson.
The race was extended to 159 laps because of late cautions.
Pennink was penalized after the race because NASCAR officials deemed he jumped Silk, of Norwalk, on a lap 158 restart to take the lead.
Ted Christopher of Plainville was second and Mike Stefanik of Coventry, R.I. third. Pennink was penalized to a 10th place finish, the last car on the lead lap.
Silk had no sympathy for Pennink.
“He jumped [the restart],” Silk said. “He got what he deserved.”
Though the controversy was hardly as cut and dried as Silk made it sound.
Silk passed Pennink for the lead on lap 138. On a lap 154 restart, Pennink got under Silk in turn two and took retook the lead, with Christopher then moving past Pennink for the lead in turn four before the caution flew again prior to the lap being completed, putting the three back to the positions they were in before the restart.
On the next restart Silk seemed to spin his tires coming out of turn four to restart the race. When the two cars reached the start/finish line for the official restart, Pennink was ahead of Silk. NASCAR rules state that the leader of the race must cross the start/finish line first on a restart.
“I don’t make the rules, I don’t make the calls,” Silk said. “If I was making the calls I probably would have penalized Rowan when he had me up [near the wall] in turn two on the restart before that. I don’t think Rowan had a better car than me. I don’t think it’s a fluke that we won. I ran him down with 15 laps to go and I passed him.”
Silk said he didn’t spin his tires on the restart, though his car clearly got sideways, indicative of spinning tires.
“He spun the tires, he was sideways,” said Christopher, who was directly behind Silk. “If I stayed with him I would have spun him out and then I would have been the bad guy.”
Said Pennink: “Am I supposed to stop and wreck the whole field because [Silk] spun his tires on the restart and he couldn’t go? It’s stupid. There’s nothing I could do. My choice was either brake check the whole field and give it back to him right there or do what I did and [get penalized].”
Whelen Modified Tour series director Chad Little said Pennink had the option of allowing Silk to catch him after the restart and avoid a penalty.
“The rule is you can’t beat the leader to the start/finish line,” Little said. “The exception is if the leader clearly has a bad start. Blows a motor, spins his tires and goes sideways. We didn’t see it that way.
“If you beat the leader at the start/finish line, as a courtesy, what we tell the drivers and the spotters, they need to make an attempt to give it back. Give back what they took away on the start. We didn’t see him make an attempt to give it back.
“Obviously you make the call quick. We went down and looked at the tape [after the race]. We saw [Silk] jerk sideways about 20 or 30 feet before the cone which is the restart mark. At the cone they were even. I assume [Silk] lost his momentum because he did jerk sideways. So [Pennink] beats him to the start/finish line. We watched [Pennink] to see if he would give an attempt to give back what he took and he didn’t.”
Said Pennink: “It’s just [bull]. It seems like every time we got going and get some good runs they [hurt] us. I guess that’s NASCAR.”
It was the eighth career Whelen Modified Tour victory for Silk, and fourth at Thompson Speedway. Silk was greeted in victory lane by a chorus of boos from fans.
“I think it means a lot to do this in the first race,” Silk said. “We won the championship last year and we had a great car today. We didn’t have a great car all day. We were about a sixth to seventh place car before the pit stop [on lap 72] and as a team we made it better and drove to the front.”
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