BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Championship leader Zach Daum won his sixth race of the season POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series and Nathan Benson clinched the championship in the POWRi Speedway Motors 600cc Outlaw Micro Series on Saturday in the features of the ninth annual Charlene Meents Memorial at Belle-Clair Speedway.
Daum has four victories in the past seven features and 14 top fives in the last 16. The 22-year-old has built a commanding 300-point lead over second-place Andrew Felker, 4,230-3,930, with three events remaining.
When the points are adjusted for POWRi’s rule requiring the elimination of a driver’s two worst finishes, Daum leads 4,120-3,910.
Benson’s fifth victory of the season combined with runner-up Cale Thomas’ 22nd-place lifted him to a 2,590-2,360 advantage with one event remaining. When the points are adjusted, Benson leads 2,490-2,340.
Benson’s second–worst finish is 12th on July 5 and the 29-year-old can’t score fewer than the 90 he received for it. Even if Thomas wins the finale next Saturday (Oct. 5), worth 200 points, at Tri-City Speedway in Pontoon Beach, Ill., and Benson scores zero, he’d win the title, 2,580-2,540.
Daum, driving a Toyota-powered Eagle, finished a quarter-lap lead of Dereck King of Gore, Ill., in the 30-lap feature on the one-fifth mile track. Daniel Adler was third, Felker fourth and Jake Neuman fifth.
Daum started third and fell back to fifth on the opening lap. He passed King for third on the fourth restart on lap five, Colten Cottle for second on lap 11 and Adler for the lead on the 17th lap.
“I got the bottom really going in turns one and two,” Daum said. “I got alongside Adler on the back straight and passed him for the lead with a slide job into (turn) three and made sure it was clean.
“I’ve always hated Little Belleville (Belle-Clair). Everything we’ve brought here has gotten torn up and it’s the only track I’ve wanted to be replaced by a Walmart parking lot. But this year it’s been one of our better tracks with a win, second, third and 11th. We figured some stuff at Macon (Ill., where Daum finished third last week).
‘To win here, especially this being a race in Charlene Meents’ honor, means a lot.”
King’s second place was the eighth of his career. He’s the all-time leader in POWRi Micro victories with 22, but doesn’t have one in the midget. King entered eight POWRi midget events and made six features this season.
“For us, a part-time team, this (second) was what we needed to finish up the year,” King said. “I messed up after a restart and let Zach (Daum) by at the beginning and I knew we’d have trouble getting back by him.”
King’s Spike-Fontana passed Adler for second on the 23rd lap.
Adler started on the outside of the front row and jumped into the lead in turns one and two of the first lap.
“We had a really good start and a good car,” Adler said. “I’m usually a bottom feeder, but the top was good at the beginning. The cushion built up and my front wheels started going over it and we had problems. To run third to Daum and King was a good result.”
Felker’s Fontana-powered Spike had an ignition wire break in his heat and he finished eighth. That put him into the semi, where he started 14th and finished second to qualify for the feature. Staring 18th, Felker drove up to fourth.
Daum remains focused on winning the championship and is not taking anything for granted.
“It still is what it is,” Daum said. “I gained some points (30) on Andrew and lost some (10) last week. We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Benson started on pole and Thomas on the outside of the front row in the feature. After slowing for a caution on the third lap, Thomas’ engine died and it had to be pushed to be restarted. The 15-year-old had to restart from the back. When the second caution came out on lap six, Thomas’ engine wouldn’t re-fire despite an extensive push and he watched the rest of the race from the infield.
“The car just died the first time and it restarted,” Thomas said. “The second time it died, we couldn’t get it going. It’s my last full season in a Micro and we really wanted to win the POWRi championship and put it on our resume. It’s so prestigious and the competition is so tough.”
Thomas led the points the entire season until being eliminated in a crash and finishing 21st in the previous feature at Macon and followed with 22nd at Belle-Clair. Benson won both features. He led all 20 laps at Belle-Clair in his Pace-Suzuki.
“This has been an awesome year,” Benson said. “I hate to see the 91 (Thomas) have some bad luck, but we’ve had our problems, too, and we’ve kept our cars running and going down the highway. Belle-Clair is our closest track and it’s three and a half hours. It’s been a lot of miles.”
Jeremy Zumwalt finished second and Jeremy Camp was third.
Zach Daum, Dereck King, Daniel Adler, Andrew Felker, Jake Neuman, Colten Cottle, Tanner Thorson, Tyler Thomas, Ryan Criswell, Tim Siner, Tony Roney, Jacob Patton, Austin Brown, Terry Babb, Parker Price-Miller, Justin Peck, Jake Blackhurst, Jay Mounce, Pat Schudy, Daniel Robinson, Tyler Robbins, Garrett Aitken.