1998-99 Round 14

Sears Craftsmen Challenge - Vernon Farms Super Speedway

March 18, 1999

Round 14 of 16

Sears Craftsmen Challenge


-Late-race crash gives win to Margetta-

wauwatosa, WI (Mar. 18, 1999) - Defending SlotCART champion Phil Cianciola played a dangerous game of cat and mouse here Thursday night, a strategy that bit him in the end and cost him a win in the Sears Craftsman Challenge. Cianciola and Dan Margetta spent the better portion of this race dicing around the big tri-oval in a tight battle for the lead. But with about three minutes remaining in the race, Cianciola put on a burst of speed to pull away. It was an added punch that turned into a knockout punch as he explained afterward.

"We knew we had the speed to take Margetta anyway because the car was great tonight. So Roger (Penske) came on the radio and said I should save the tires in the final quarter of the race. With two minutes to go he gave me the green light on full rich for the fuel and we pulled away. I lost my rhythm and the car just got away from me." he said.

Cianciola, who also won his heat race, shocked the crowd when his Penske/Mercedes went tumbling through the tri-oval for a DNF, his third of the season. Cianciola ended up in fourth place and in a virtual tie for the PPPG Cup championship with Jim Kaehny with two races remaining on the schedule this season.

Margetta was able to hold off Kaehny in the final laps to pick up his fourth win of the season, a career high for Dan. "I 'II take it. I really don't like being toyed with, and I think Cianciola was toying with me big-time out there tonight. He had the fastest car but that strategy bit him tonight," said Margetta.

With his second-place finish and fifth pole position of the season, Kaehny gathered enough points to tie Cianciola for the points lead. "This is what it's all about," he said nervously after the race. When asked if this year would finally be his year (he has had a chance to win the title in the final two races three seasons before, failing each time) Kaehny simply shook his head and said, "I certainly hope so. We'll see."

Phil Marich continued his late-season surge with a career high qualifying effort of fourth on the grid. Marich also managed to take points away from his own Frugal Homebrewer teammate Kaehny when he beat Kaehny out in their heat race. It was Marich's first career heat race victory. As for the Final he said, "Well, Phil (Cianciola) gave us a gift tonight. But we'll take it."

Dave Austin finished fifth, complaining of engine or pop-off valve problems that cut his speed so severely that at times he had the throttle down to the floor and was still being passed every other lap. Ev Kamikawa finished a respectable sixth, albeit a bit of a letdown after tumbling from third to fourth in the standings thanks to a combination of some lackluster races and Margetta's red hot streak in the second half of the season.

Chad Sorce also struggled to find speed on a track where speed is all that matters. Being an open-class race, Sorce was nowhere near the top end speed he needed to be competitive, prompting him to at one point say, "It's too bad this isn't a de-slot race. I've got great handling but no speed."

Tom Spehert put the Harley-Davidson machine fifth on the grid, but disaster stuck early, when on lap 14 he crashed the car hard and had to sit for the rest of the night, finishing in eighth place. A Consi race win later would give him one extra championship point.

Rookie Mike Prelozni picked up a couple of points for ninth place, one of three drivers failing to make the grid. The other rookie, Larry Rotter, continued to struggle with tenth place and no points. Also finishing out of the points and dead last was track owner John Baas, owner of the Frugal Homebrewer team. During qualifying Baas' Swift chassis developed an unexpected problem with a tension spring. The crew had to replace the spring, killing any chance Baas had to continue trying to qualify for the race.

Two races remain in the season to determine a champion. Kaehny and Cianciola, former partners on the Penske

H.O. team, each have 202 points, with Margetta in third place at 178 points. The next race will be held at Cianciola's home track, Sanibel Speedway, where he has never won. But Kaehny has won there, and Margetta has described the island road course as one of his favorite tracks. The season concludes with the H.O. U.S. Indy 500 on Saturday, April 17th.



0    WHAT: The 2nd-annual Sears Craftsman Challenge

0    WHERE: Vernon Farms Super Speedway       Wauwatosa, WI

0    WHEN: Thursday, Mar. 18th 6:30 p.m.



0    TRACK LAYOUT: Tri-oval

0    RACE LENGTH: 20-min. Final, Open Class, Reverse direction race

0    RACE RECORDS: Qualifying- 176 laps, Phil Cianciola, 1998

Race- 450 laps, Phil Cianciola, 1998

0    RACE#: 14 of 16

0    NEXT EVENT: The Leinenkugel's 400

Thursday, Apr. 1st Sanibel Speedway


In last year's debut event, Phil Cianciola was dominant, building a lead of over 20 laps at times, as no one even came close. In the end it was a 24-lap win, a pole and all the points that could be had in this route. Perhaps second-place finisher Dave Austin put it best when he said afterward, "I'd like to say it was a good race, but it wasn't. No one had anything for Phil out there tonight."




Race Winner

Pole Winner








Things to watch for this year...

The obvious...all eyes will be on Cianciola, who not only is the defending race champion, but also was the winner of the Sprecher 400, one of two races already run on this track this season. The other winner at this track is Jim Kaehny, who is on a hard push to get the PPPG Cup. Those two should be considered favorites once again.