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Auto Racing: Ricky Baker wins late-model feature at Grundy County Speedway

Ricky Baker displays checkered flag after winning late-model feature Friday Grundy County Speedway. | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media

Ricky Baker displays the checkered flag after winning the late-model feature Friday at Grundy County Speedway. | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 5, 2014 6:45AM



Ricky Baker was hoping for a night off Friday at Grundy County Speedway.

“I was struggling last week (seventh-place finish) and it got kind of busy at work,” the defending late-model champion said. “We wanted to maybe go out and test next week.”

Baker struggled again in his heat Friday, but some changes before the feature worked wonders for his No. 52, which found its way to victory lane.

The win put the Plainfield native way ahead of 2013, when he didn’t carry a checkered flag until the midpoint of the season.

“Yeah, we’re ahead on that, but I don’t know if we’re ahead on what we’re doing here,” Baker said. “It kind of worked out (Friday). We’ll keep working at it. We’ll get it.”

Baker was the best of the field Friday, chasing down Larry Schuler and taking the lead on lap 11, then pulling away from Eddie Hoffman after a yellow flag just five laps from the finish erased what had been a comfortable lead.

“I was a worried there for a little bit,” Baker said, smiling. “I didn’t think we had the car for it (Friday).”

Hoffman, who was victorious on opening night, had to work his way from well back in the pack. By the time he swiped second place away from Schuler on lap 14, Hoffman was chasing a lot of car-lengths to catch Baker.

The yellow on lap 25 changed all that, but Hoffman’s No. 8 ultimately didn’t have enough.

“It was pretty even out there,” Hoffman said. “He couldn’t pull away and we really couldn’t get to his bumper. Maybe after a few laps — like last week, it took a few laps to heat up (the tires). I might have needed a 50-lapper.”

Baker beat Hoffman across the line by one car-length. Scott Koerner was third, followed by Chris Cooling, Schuler and Brandon Clubb.

Defending Mid-American champion Tommy Knippenberg inherited the lead on lap 11 when Luke Baldwin suffered a flat tire and handled the field the rest of the way to capture the win in the 25-lap main event.

After a yellow flag on lap 21, Knippenberg beat Kevin Gentile in a four-lap sprint to the finish. Ron Willems was third, followed by Matt Clemens, Ken Benson and Joe Vinachi.

“It feels great to be in victory lane already,” Knippenberg said. “We should have been here last week. We just had a run in with (Gentile), but it is what it is, it’s racing. He drove me clean this week, and that’s all I could ask for. Here we are, at the start of the season we already have us a No. 1.”

Eddie Ligue, taking over the wheel of defending street stock champion John Senerchia’s No. 77, bested the field in the 25-lap feature. Ligue held off a late challenge from Jake Bradley to prevail by 0.290 seconds. Christy Penrod, Bob Davis, Matt Sisson and Renee Farren completed the top six.

The 4-cylinder feature went to Billy Rud over Mikey Slabenak and Dan Schmeissing.



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