It's hard to imagine that four weeks into the 2012 season at Mahoning Valley Speedway and multi-time Modified track champion John Bennett of Lehighton is nowhere near the top five in points, a place he has solidified over the past five years. More to the fact is he's not even in the top ten as his results have been uncharacteristic of his amazing ability of getting around the demanding paved quarter mile.
Saturday night Bennett was back in true form as he shook all the hard luck that had beleaguered him and scored a decisive victory.
Bennett's rough start to the season was due to either mechanical woes or just plain bad luck and in actuality his win was due in part to hardship of drivers just ahead of him.
Joe Mooney had just taken the lead from Troy Bollinger on lap 24. They had been running side-by-side for a number of laps. Bollinger had led from the start but Mooney was a constant challenge. Mooney's efforts finally paid off when he tucked in low on the front straight and pulled ahead.
However, before they reached turn two the new leader had spun after being tagged by Bollinger. Both had to go to the rear due to the incident. In third at the time was Bennett who avoided the scene and became the front man for the restart.
The rest of the race it was classic Bennett as he went unchallenged thanks to a far enough lead he built over the remaining laps.
"Racing luck, we finally got it back and it paid off big time," said Bennett. "This is just what we needed and we'll be back at this more often I'm sure."
Bennett earned his 28th career Modified win and 58th overall and remains uncontested as the all-time leader in track victories.
Don Wagner settled for second and has moved back into the points lead. Defending champ Tyler Haydt, Rick Reichenbach and Earl Paules completed the top five. Mod heats went to Haydt, Bennett and Wagner.
Although Paules has yet to finish a Modified race outside the top five, he remains locked out from victory. But when it comes to the Late Model class that he also races with, he has been virtually unstoppable as he powered away for his fourth win in five starts. The only race he didn't win he finished second.
Paules, who hails from Palmerton, went past early leader Paul Effrig on lap six and afterwards it was on to a strong win that was nearly half a track ahead of the pack.
"That was good and we want to get our streak going again," said Paules who won three straight to start out the season.
"This is such a great race car under us. I have an awesome crew that works on this car all week while I focus on the Modified."
Effrig held on for a career best second while Dave Wallace passed Ramos on the final lap to snag third. Rick Wallace was fifth. Paules and Mike Sweeney recorded heat wins.
Paules is not the only driver doing double duty this season. So too is 12-year old rookie Kyle Strohl of Palmerton with the only difference being he has picked up a win in each of his classes.
Last week Strohl became the youngest driver to win a stock car race at Mahoning when he triumphed in the 4-Cylinder Stock main.
This week he duplicated that feat by winning with in the Street Stocks. Strohl, who started pole, was driving like a seasoned veteran as he led every lap and fended off a determined Joe Roberts in securing the crowd pleasing victory.
Roberts' second was his best ever and rookie Jonathan Tracy took third.
In the Dirt Mods it was two-time division champion Randy Thomas of Palmerton winning for the first time in two seasons.
Jeremy Miller of Northampton was back in Victory Lane for the third time in five starts with the 4-Cylinder Stocks. Miller executed an outside pass over Jake Kibler on lap nine and then motored off to the win.
Fourth place finisher Dan Freundt of Lehighton was the highest of the Front Wheel Drive cars and took home the $50 bonus.
Bob Wagner of Rockaway, NJ picked up his first Micro Stock win of the year in what was another spirited battle at the front of the field.
Modified Feature Finish, 35 Laps: 1. John Bennett, 2. Don Wagner, 3. Tyler Haydt, 4. Rick Reichenbach, 5, Earl Paules, 6. Nevin George, 7. Kames Pritchard, Jr., 8. Eric Beers, 9. Bobby Jones, 10. Todd Geist, 11. Kevin Rex, Jr., 12. Lonnie Behler, 13. Joe Mooney, 14. DJ Wagner, 15. Troy Bollinger, 16. Jarred Nace, 17. Matt Wentz, 18. Scott Meckes, 19. Terry Markovic, 20. Tom Flanagan. Did not qualify: Chip Wanamaker, Shawn Sitarchyk
Late Model Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1. Earl Paules, 2. Paul Effrig, 3. Dave Wallace, 4. George Ramos, 5. Rick Wallace, 6. Mike Sweeney, 7. Kenny Hein, 8. Paul Koehler, Jr., 9. Ed Bauer, 10. Mike VanFossen, 11. Mark Simon
Street Stock Feature Finish, 25 Laps: 1. Kyle Strohl, 2. Joe Roberts, 3. Jonathan Tracy, 4. Chris Parry, 5. Todd Ahner, 6. Kevin Smith, 7. Joe Steigerwalt, 8. Josh Mooney, 9. TJ Gursky, 10. Jason Frey, 11. Gene Bowers, 12. Jason Kuhn, 13. Joe Stamm, 14. Greg Long, 15. BJ Wambold, 16. Randy Ahner, Jr., 17. Zach Graver, 18. Nick Igdalsky
Dirt Modified Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1. Randy Thomas, 2. Mike Stofflet, 3. Dave Thomas, 4. Kris Graver, 5.Joe Stangle, 6. Ronnie Krex, 7. Mark Levy, 8. Ed Altemose, 9. Bill Sittler, Jr.
4-Cylinder Stock Feature Finish, 20 Laps: 1. Jeremy Miller, 2. Jake Kibler, 3. Nick Baer 4. Dan Freundt, 5. Tyler Stangle, 6. Barry Christman, Jr., 7. Dillon Kibler, 8. Josh Oswald, 9. Kyle Strohl, 10. Doug Knauss 11. Taya Wentz. Did not start: Bobby Kibler, Jr.