BECHTELSVILLE >> Jeff Strunk, “the Bechtelsville Bullet,” had been having a rather mediocre season, at least by his usually high standards, at Grandview Speedway behind the wheel of the Glenn Hyneman-owned No. 126 Modified. Saturday night the 10-time NASCAR track point champion rectified the 2016 campaign by pulling off his biggest win of the year the Freedom 76-Lap Modified Classic event for a hefty payday of $25,000 plus. He racked up a sizeable amount in lap money, the $100 half-way leader money from Area Auto Racing News and the Dan’s Deli ½-way hoagie award.
Strunk didn’t have an easy time in claiming his sixth win in the event, his last being in 2013, as he first dueled with Ryan Watt, who he lost the lead to earlier and then had to thwart off the challenges of second-place finisher and defending race winner Craig VonDohren.
Following the five qualifying heats won by Dan Bouc, Jared Umbenhauer, Bobby Varin, Rick Laubach, also the winner of the $1,000 Cash Dash, and David VanHorn plus the Schaeffer Motorsports Minuteman 20 captured by Kyle Borror the 32-car starting field was set for the main event – the 46th Annual Freedom 76.
Through the luck of the draw Jeff Strunk pulled the number one seed and he wasted no time maintaining the lead on the initial green from starter Ray Kemp. Thrashing for positions behind him were Watt, Ray Swinehart, Brian Krummel and Mike Kellner.
Duane Howard, the race winner in 2011, brought out the first caution on the fifth lap when he slowed on the homestretch. After a quick pit stop he rejoined the action. Strunk maintained first on the restart and within a matter of laps he had a comfortable margin built up over the rest of the competition.
Lapped traffic allowed Watt to reel Strunk in and gain some ground.
Finally on lap 20, Billy Pauch slowed in turn one after contact with the homestretch wall while running eighth bringing him to an abrupt halt and the yellow was out. This time Watt, who started third, outgunned Strunk to become the new leader.
By this time the order behind Watt consisted of Strunk, 12th-place starter Von Dohren, Swinehart and last week’s feature winner Doug Manmiller, who started eighth.
The field regrouped when Kellner, in the top ten, brought out the 34th lap caution when he slowed his pace in turn four.
When action went green again with Watt on the high lane and Strunk hugging the inside, the pair battled side-by-side for several laps with neither one lifting.
Strunk was back in front at the conclusion of the 37th lap.
Don Norris Jr. slowed in the second turn for the yellow shortly after Strunk regained control and that brought out a mandatory fuel stop.
After the seven-minute stop, Strunk was still first, but now Manmiller and VonDohren were second and third as Watt got shuffled to fourth and Rick Laubach fifth.
VonDohren was back in the runner-up spot on the 43rd lap and set his sights on Strunk.
Ryan Godown brought out the final caution on the 49th lap after contact with the homestretch wall brought him to a stop in turn two. Once again the restart saw Strunk stick with the inside path and VonDohren running his familiar high lane. The two swapped paint on occasion, but not enough to change the status. Waiting in the wings for a miscue in hopes of advancement were Laubach, Manmiller and Watt.
Lapped cars came into the picture again on the 66th lap and Laubach began gaining ground on the front two.
Strunk kept everyone behind him and went on to claim his third win of the season at the 1/3-mile oval followed by VonDohren, Laubach, Manmiller and Watt. Rounding out the top ten were Swinehart, Krummel, Umbenhauer, Kyle Weiss and Varin.
The $500 Hard Charger award sponsored by Guntherracing.com and all his sponsors topped by Square One Markets went to Howard as he started 32nd and finished 11th. Krummel, the seventh place finisher received the T.P.Trailers rookie of the race award while tenth place finisher Bobby Varin received the T.P.Trailers non-regular competitor award.
In the 20-lap Schaeffer Motorsports Minuteman 20, the last chance to qualify, Borror and Dom Buffalino battled back and forth for the lead lap after lap, but it was Borror that emerged the victor trailed by Buffalino, Godown, Kevin Hirthler and Howard putting them in the final starting spots for the Freedom 76.
46th Annual Freedom 76 Modified Feature (76 Laps): 1. Jeff Strunk, 2. Craig Von Dohren, 3. Rick Laubach, 4. Doug Manmiller, 5. Ryan Watt, 6. Ray Swinehart, 7. Brian Krummel, 8. Jared Umbenhauer, 9. Kyle Weiss, 10. Bobby Varin, 11. Duane Howard, 12. Tommy Scheetz, 13. David VanHorn, 14. Mike Gular, 15. Kevin Hirthler, 16. Kenny Gilmore, 17. Keith Hoffman, 18. Dom Buffalino, 19. Brett Gilmore and 20. John McClelland. DNF: 21. Tyler Dippel, 22. Kyle Borror, 23. Ryan Godown, 24. Billy Pauch Jr., 25. Tim Buckwalter, 26. Ryan Grim, 27. Don Norris Jr., 28. Danny Bouc, 29. Mike Kellner, 30. Glenn Strunk, 31. Billy Pauch, 32. Mike Lisowski. DNQ: Bobby Gunther-Walsh, Bobby Trapper Jr., P.J. Oliver, Gary Hager, Steve Swinehart, Brett Kressley, Danny Erb, Ron Seltmann Jr., Mike Weinert, Colt Harris, Bobby Trapper, Nate Christman, Brian Hirthler, Craig Whitmoyer, John Willman, Brian Kuhl, Brian Houseknecht, Dan Waisempacher, Justin Grim, Billy VanIwegen, Dale Hartz, Eric Biehn, Kory Fleming.
Cash Dash: 1. Rick Laubach, 2. Craig Von Dohren, 3 Mike Gular, 4. Bobby Varin, 5. Jared Umbenhauer, 6. Danny Bouc, 7. David VanHorn.
Schaeffer Motorsports Minute Man (20 Laps). 1. Kyle Borror, 2. Dom Buffalino, 3. Ryan Godown, 4. Kevin Hirthler, 5. Duane Howard.