Matt Kenseth Returning to Slinger Nationals
Mar 15, 2022
July 10, 2022
Slinger Stats: Breaking Down the Nationals
July 12th brings the 43rd annual running of the Slinger Nationals to the high banks of the world’s fastest quarter mile. The event has brought together a who’s who of Wisconsin short track stars battling some of the biggest NASCAR and ASA drivers and become a crown jewel in any racer’s crown.
In preparation for Tuesday’s running, let’s look back through some notable Slinger Nationals stats and moments. One very important thing to know is that the Nationals have gone two very different interactions. Since 2000, the event has been an annual event, a winner-take-all 200 lap feature. Prior to that, the Slinger Nationals was contested as a three-race mini series with a points fund recognizing the champion at the end of the competition. In fact, during the mid-1990s, the finale of the event would actually be held at Madison International Speedway.
Ran as mini-series until 1999.
|1980||3||Larry Detjens||Larry Detjens, Jim Sauter & Mark Martin (1)|
|1981||4||Alan Kulwicki||Alan Kulwicki (2)|
|1982||4||Dick Trickle||Dick Trickle (3)|
|1983||3||Dick Trickle||Dick Trickle (2)|
|1984||3||Mark Martin||Mark Martin, Mike Eddy & Alan Kulwicki (1)|
|1985||3||Dick Trickle||Dick Trickle (2)|
|1986||3||John Ziegler||+755||John Ziegler (2)|
|1987||3||Joe Shear||Joe Shear, Butch Miller & Bobby Dotter (1)|
|1988||3||Butch Miller||+4840||Butch Miller (3)|
|1989||3||Dick Trickle||+1825||Dick Trickle, Rich Bickle & Scott Hansen (1)|
|1990||3||Joe Shear||Joe Shear (2)|
|1991||3||Joe Shear||+2000||Joe Shear, Conrad Morgan & Butch Miller (1)|
|1992||3||Rich Bickle||+2500||Rich Bickle (2)|
|1993||3||Joe Shear||+2035||Joe Shear, Butch Miller & Ted Musgrave (1)|
|1994||3||Matt Kenseth||+2040||Matt Kenseth, Ken Schrader & Rich Bickle (1)|
|1995||3||Butch Miller||+1620||Butch Miller, Bryan Reffner & Rich Bickle (1)|
|1996||3||Rich Bickle||+1868||Joe Shear, Rich Bickle & Al Schill, Jr. (1)|
|1997||3||Lowell Bennett||Rich Bickle (2)|
|1998||3||Tony Strupp||+404||Rich Bickle (2)|
|1999||2||Conrad Morgan||Conrad Morgan & Al Schill, Sr. (1)|
Contested as a singular event from 2000 onwards.
|2000||30 July 2000||Slinger Speedway||Lowell Bennett|
|2001||17 July 2001||Slinger Speedway||David Prunty|
|2002||23 July 2002||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2003||22 July 2003||Slinger Speedway||Rich Bickle|
|2004||25 July 2004||Slinger Speedway||Lowell Bennett|
|2005||13 July 2005||Slinger Speedway||Nathan Haseleu|
|2006||18 July 2006||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2007||17 July 2007||Slinger Speedway||Lowell Bennett|
|2008||15 July 2008||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2009||21 July 2009||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2010||11 July 2010||Slinger Speedway||Lowell Bennett|
|2011||10 July 2011||Slinger Speedway||Kyle Busch|
|2012||1 July 2012||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2013||2 July 2013||Slinger Speedway||Rich Bickle|
|2014||15 July 2014||Slinger Speedway||Chris Wimmer|
|2015||14 July 2015||Slinger Speedway||Dennis Prunty|
|2016||19 July 2016||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2017||18 July 2017||Slinger Speedway||Bubba Pollard|
|2018||10 July 2018||Slinger Speedway||Ty Majeski|
|2019||9 July 2019||Slinger Speedway||Matt Kenseth|
|2020||8 July 2020||Slinger Speedway||Ty Majeski|
|2021||6 July 2021||Slinger Speedway||Luke Fenhaus|
Slinger Nationals champions have included 3 NASCAR Cup Champions. Matt Kenseth has the most Slinger Nationals titles of anyone - 8. Alan Kulwicki (1981) and Kyle Busch (2011) are the other two Cup champions to win titles. A few other Cup champions have competed in the Slinger Nationals but never won - Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt, and Rusty Wallace have all made appearances in the Nationals but never won.
While Cup stars invaded, Wisconsiners excelled. The inaugural Nationals in 1980 was won by Larry Detjens, who tragically lost his life in 1981 before achieving superstardom. Then came Kulwicki, and, to no one’s surprise whatsoever it was Dick Trickle winning a handful of Nationals. Rich Bickle won four titles and actually holds the record for most National feature wins with 11. Joe Shear and Lowell Bennett are two other big regional names who have been crowned champion.
Ironically, the Slinger contingent has been feast or famine in the Nationals. While plenty of local heroes would notch wins in the event, it was not until 1999 when the Super Late Model track champion would also win the Nationals in the same year (Conrad Morgan). Lowell Bennett (2000 & 2010) and Luke Fenhaus (2021) are the only other drivers to win the track championship and the Nationals in the same year.
Every great event seems to have one snakebit superstar - be it Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500, Jeff Taylor in the Oxford 250 or Bubba Pollard at the Snowball Derby. This honor unfortunately rests with Steve Apel in the Nationals. Apel has 4 track championships but 0 Nationals wins. His best effort has been 3rd in 2015 and 2017.
Despite being a fairly bump-and-grind short track, the winner of the Nationals more often than not is a driver who gets up front and dominates the day. Only four times since the event went to a single-race format has the winner led less than 10 laps: David Prunty in 2001, Rich Bickle in 2013, and Matt Kenseth in 2006 and 2019. The 2019 race featured a bump and run by Kenseth on the last lap and is the only race known to have had a last lap pass for the win.
Of course, what good is knowing all this history if it can’t help us predict the future? This year’s entry list stands at 40 entries, the most since 2014. The usual favorites are in attendance but have some asterisks - Matt Kenseth struggled with his debut in the Pathfinder Chassis at the Joe Shear Classic, while Ty Majeski will again not be in his normal #91, instead piloting the #21 machine that went up in flames at the Shear. Bubba Pollard continues to be hit-or-miss in his 2022 campaign. William Byron may be an obvious favorite since he’s won just about everything he can in spot Super Late Model appearances this year, but this is his first time at Slinger and he’s never won a Late Model race on a quarter mile. Derek Thorn is the other most intriguing Slinger rookie - strong everywhere he goes but just not a lot of experience on high-banked quarter-miles out west (most of their bullrings are relatively flat).
Stephen Nasse has run the last 3 Nationals, but struggled to earn a top qualifying spot and as a result has done no better than 7th. Johnny Sauter is another heavy hitting name that doesn’t have as much success as you’d think in the Nationals (8th in 2020 is his best showing in four appearances). Sammy Smith, Byron’s teammate, has also been surprisingly uncompetitive in his previous Nationals starts.
It could well be any of those drivers, but three “value” bets that are in the mid-tier range of betting favorites. Carson Hocevar is another driver who hasn’t had Slinger success yet but has run quite well before problems in the last two Nationals. We’ve already touched on Steve Apel, but he is having his most competitive year at the track in a few years and this might be the year to break the 0-for-13 jinx. The sneaky track local that could be prepared to score the national upset is R.J. Braun. He leads the Elite 8 Super points at the track and ran really competitively last year, starting 5th and finishing 6th.