JEFFERSON, Wis. (September 19, 2016) – Having swept Friday and Saturday’s Late Model events, Casey Johnson had to feel good heading into Sunday’s TUNDRA Super Late Model Series Round Six Powered by Wisconsin Potatoes at Jefferson Speedway. Even with a different car owner and fresh competition, there was no stopping Johnson.
Johnson battled past fellow title contender Dalton Zehr on lap 37 of the 75-lap main event and dashed away on several restarts to pick up his second career TUNDRA win at his home track and first series title.
Although there was still a realistic chance that Zehr could take the title away – he had erased a 24-point deficit last season – that bit of history didn’t seem to shake any confidence Johnson had for the weekend. In fact, he knew that being at his home track would be a great opportunity to find Victory Lane for the first time in 2016.
“I got a call from the car owner a couple days ago,” Johnson said. “He told me to go to this race not thinking about points and to go get him a trophy. It was fun coming here with that mentality.”
It was the third time in the series’ six seasons the Champion capped the season with a win. Dennis Prunty sealed the Championship with a win in 2012 and Dalton Zehr accomplished the feat last season.
The win and the title prove to loom large for Johnson, who admitted he’s trying to get his name on the Super Late Model scene. A win with Chase Motorsports in the Red, White and Blue series at Wisconsin International Raceway earlier this season began that process. A touring title only serves to help him continue that quest.
“It feels great,” Johnson said. “We’ve been looking for this for a while.”
Any thoughts that the title could elude Johnson came just after qualifying. Johnson set fast time and a new TUNDRA track record, but then pulled the invert during opening ceremonies. An invert of 12 put Zehr on the pole and left Johnson with some work to be done.
Outside pole-sitter Eric Connell took the lead from Zehr at the outset of the race, but eventually surrendered the top spot to him on lap ten. By this point Johnson had moved from his 12th-place starting spot to ninth. Perhaps the biggest scare of the weekend was awaiting Johnson on lap 18.
While racing for fourth, Kelsey Dassow and Michael Ostdiek came together down the back stretch. Still in close quarters heading into three and four Ostdiek contacted Dassow, which sent her spinning. Johnson dived to the bottom, which proved to be the way through. Those who tried to avoid on the outside weren’t as fortunate.
Although it was a stroke of luck, it’s nothing Johnson hasn’t seen at his home track before. His run to the front Sunday was a similar formula to that which he used to win the 2014 event – stay patient early, then strike when the time is right.
This time, however, it had Championship implications.
“At the very start you had to be real cautious and let everything shake out a little bit,” he said. “Once we got into the Top Five and the lead was in sight, we were able to go at it.”
Patience certainly was a virtue for Johnson, but making good decisions for the restarts proved just as important. With multiple drivers choosing the outside line behind Zehr for the restart, Johnson ducked behind Mike Lichtfeld in the second row. When the green fell, Johnson was able to secure Second and set his sights on the lead duo.
Just as Johnson had caught Lichtfeld and engaged him in a battle for Second on lap 31, a caution fell when Jordan Thiel and Jordan Ives came together on the front stretch, sending Ives spinning to the infield. Both were sent to the tail, but would not stay back there for long.
This time Johnson decided to stay behind Zehr for the restart. Just two laps after the green came back out, Johnson cleared Lichtfeld and looked to close the gap on Zehr. On lap 35 Johnson slipped to the bottom as Zehr tried to hold him off up top. Two laps later, Johnson cleared his title-contending rival and dashed away into the lead.
Although Johnson was strong out front, there were still challenges to come. After another yellow on lap 47, Johnson and Lichtfeld squared off in the front row. Lichtfeld held close, but Johnson was able to pull away. At that point Zehr tried to retake the Second spot from Lichtfeld, but spun on lap 48. Just like Thiel and Ives, Zehr’s day in the Top Five was not complete.
Just as he did on the previous restart, Johnson escaped Lichtfeld and built a lead. Behind the Top Two Jordan DeVoy and Ryan Farrell were disputing Third. The two drivers who were former crew members together for both James Swan and Dan Church had a spirited battle. However, Farrell got into the back of DeVoy in turn two on lap 65, which sent DeVoy spinning. Both were sent to the tail, which brought Thiel and Ives back into the Top Five.
Much as it had been before, Johnson’s restart was masterful and he cruised away from the pack. He would face one final restart in single file formation after the yellow fell for debris with four to go, but it was just a formality on the way to the win.
“I’ve raced with Mike [Lichtfeld] a lot, so I knew he wasn’t going to do anything too crazy. He’s a heck of a race car driver. I wasn’t too worried running on the outside of him – got to thank him for running me clean,” Johnson said of the restarts.
For Lichtfeld, a second straight podium finish and a TUNDRA career-best Second was a solid way to cap off a season that started with a string of bad luck. He knew that although he was in contention, it would be difficult to leave Wisconsin’s Action Track with a win.
“That’s kind of going to school on a Sunday when you’re with Casey Johnson here,” Lichtfeld said. “We came down here and watched him put a whooping on them Friday night. I guess he did it last night and he put an old fashion whooping on us again today.”
Behind Lichtfeld, Thiel’s battle back to Third had major point implications. Coming into the race Thiel was Third in standings and the altercation earlier in the race had sent him down to Fifth. His run back to the front helped him retake Third with a 17-point pad over Lichtfeld.
“We had one hell of a car and it felt good all day,” Thiel said. “Getting in that little scuffle and getting sent to the back didn’t help anything, but sometimes driving angry is a good thing.”
Thiel had to hold on for dear life over the final five circuits as he was tested furiously by Zehr. Zehr found the inside line and came up just inches shy of a podium spot at the line. Jordan Ives rounded out the Top Five with his TUNDRA career best finish.
Although Zehr did not have the same fate as last season, he held his head high. To go with his two Championships, Zehr has now finished Second in TUNDRA standings three times.
“Second means you were there to contend for it,” he said. “You’re going to get a lot more Seconds than you are wins. We’ll keep coming back and hopefully contend for the Championship next year.”
Braison Bennett sealed off the season with a solid Seventh place finish and was named the Dean’s Satellite and Security Rookie of the Year.
ROSSIER CLINCHES VINTAGE TITLE WITH WIN
Rex Rossier preceded Casey Johnson’s Championship clinching win by doing the same in the TUNDRA Vintage 25-lap feature. Much like Johnson, Rossier set a new track record earlier in the day and had to work through the feature field.
Dick Kath stormed to an early lead in the event, but eventually was chased down and surpassed by Pat Heaney. Heaney looked strong out front, but soon had to deal with Rossier knocking at the door for the lead. After a restart with four laps to go, Rossier dived to the insdide line and took the top spot from Heaney on the way to the win.
Heaney finished Second, Jerry Schneider was Third, Pat Echlin was Fourth and Bryan Webb rounded out the Top Five.
With the sixth season of TUNDRA in the books, the series would like to thank its partners for their involvement: Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Dean’s Satellite and Security, The Country Plumber, Habelman Brothers Company Cranberries, Johnnie’s Hobbies, RSI X-ray, Five Star Race Car Bodies, TD Graphics, Coleman Racing Products, Wegner Automotive Research, and Neuline Torque Arm.
TUNDRA would also like to thank Wisconsin International Raceway, Dells Raceway Park, LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway, State Park Speedway, Golden Sands Speedway, and Jefferson Speedway for their support. In addition, a large thanks is in order to the drivers and teams who supported the series at the six events this season. The series would also like to thank the drivers and teams of the Midwest Truck Series, Sportsman division and Vintage division for their support of the events this season.
Finally, the series would like to thank its ever-growing fan base. We appreciate your continued support and look forward to more entertaining events in 2017.
The TUNDRA Super Late Model Series is working to secure and time and location for the awards banquet. Information will be available on the web site as soon as all is confirmed.
The 2017 TUNDRA Super Late Model Series season kicks off on Saturday, May 13 at Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, WI.