Tour Takes Intense Points Battle To Stafford
As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway this week for the CARQUEST Fall Final, a slim 37 points separate the top four drivers in the standings with just two races remaining in the season.
In the 25 years of the Whelen Modified Tour, a tight points race as the season winds down is not a new storyline. Following the Made In America Whelen 300 last week at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, however, the 2009 points race is bordering on historic competitiveness.
Coming into the Fall Final, defending Whelen Modified Tour Champion Ted Christopher leads 2007 titlist Donny Lia by a single point. But it’s far from a two-horse race – like it was in 2008 between Christopher and Matt Hirschman. Ryan Preece is just 12 points behind Christopher while Todd Szegedy is also within reach, 37 points out. And not to be counted out, Rowan Pennink’s consistent season has him sitting fifth in points, and mathematically still in the title chase at 119 points back of Christopher.
The smallest championship margin in Whelen Modified Tour history was decided by just three points in 1995 when Tony Hirschman edged Steve Park, but even that title hunt was more spread out entering the final two races. Last year, 55 points separated Christopher and Hirschman entering the Fall Final, and the last time the points spread between the top two contenders was in the single digits with two races to go was in 2000. That year, eight points separated eventual champion Jerry Marquis from Reggie Ruggiero.
With the Whelen Modified Tour’s returning to Stafford for the fourth time in 2009, each of the top four championship contenders have a history of success at the track. Christopher – in addition to being the winningest driver in Stafford’s history – won the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler and finished second there in May and August. Lia has six poles and two wins at the half-mile, Preece won the Tour’s August event and Szegedy has three career Stafford wins to go along with three top-10 efforts this year. Even fifth-place Pennink also has a pair of top 10s at Stafford this year and led seven laps during the Spring Sizzler.
Action will commence in the 37th Annual CARQUEST Fall Final with practice and qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 3. The 150-lap race is scheduled to go green on Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Race: CARQUEST Fall Final
The Place: Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, October 4
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Distance: 150 laps / 75 miles
Race Purse: $84,013
2008 Winner: Mike Stefanik
2008 Polesitter: Mike Stefanik
Event Schedule: Saturday: Practice 10-11:30 a.m., Qualifying 1:15 p.m.
Track Contact: Scott Running, (860) 684-2783, firstname.lastname@example.org
NASCAR PR Contact: Jason Cunningham, (704) 201-6658, email@example.com
News & Notes
The Race … The CARQUEST Fall Final will be the next-to-last race on the 2009 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule, and the last of four stops for the Tour at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
The Procedure … Starting positions 1-28 will be set from time trials. The remaining five will be filled through the provisional process. The race is 150 laps (75 miles).
The Track … A half-mile flat oval, Stafford Motor Speedway began as a horse-racing track in the 1870s. After seven decades as a horse track, the dirt oval started holding auto races following WW II. Stafford became a NASCAR track in 1959 and was paved for the first time in 1967.
Race Winners … There have been 29 different race winners at Stafford, led by Mike Stefanik’s 20 victories. Ted Christopher had the longest win streak in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford with four-straight victories from Sept. 30, 2001 to Aug. 23, 2002. Christopher won the first race of the year at Stafford, the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler presented by CARQUEST on April 26 and Jimmy Blewett was triumphant in the May 22 race, the TSI Harley-Davidson Classic. Ryan Preece earned his first Stafford win on Aug. 7 in the Town Fair Tire 150.
Pole Winners … There have been 35 different pole winners at Stafford, led by Stefanik’s 15. Christopher captured the Coors Light Pole Award in the first two 2009 dates and Eric Berndt earned his first career pole at Stafford for the Town Fair Tire 150.
Stefanik Turns Around Season
Following the Budweiser 150 presented by New England Dodge Dealers at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway on Sept. 3, the 2009 season seemed to be a lost one for Mike Stefanik and the Flamingo Motorsports team.
Fortunately for them, however, a season can be turned around quickly.
Stefanik, a seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, entered the sixth event of the year at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway ranked fourth in the standings, 113 points out of first place. Then a string of four-consecutive DNF’s for the winningest driver in Tour history starting with the Riverhead 175 moved him back to 10th in points, a distant 362 tallies back of leader Ted Christopher.
Things started to turn around for the No. 16 Diversified Metals/Sanderson-MacLeod team at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stefanik crossed the line fifth in the New Hampshire 100 and followed that with a win last time out at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the Made In America Whelen 300.
With the consecutive top fives, Stefanik is back up to sixth in the season standings. Although he is 276 points back, and not likely to contend for an eighth title with just two races remaining on the schedule, the win was just what the team needed.
“We’ve been down pretty low a big part of this season,” Stefanik said. “I’ve got to thank Sly [crew chief Stan Szaban] and everybody on this Flamingo Motorsports team, they worked their tails off.”
With the Martinsville win, Stefanik continued to add to his long list of career accomplishments. The victory was his fifth at Martinsville, which broke a previous four-way tie for the most wins at the track. It was also the 70th of his Whelen Modified Tour career, which extended the record he already owned. Additionally, Stefanik became the just the eighth driver in NASCAR history to reach the 70-win plateau in a series, and the first driver to accomplish the feat while competing in a series other than the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
With the momentum of recent runs at New Hampshire and Martinsville, Stefanik will now head to the track he has experienced more success at than any other. With 20 career triumphs at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway, Stefanik is the undisputed king of Whelen Modified Tour racing at the historic half mile. In the 2008 CARQUEST Fall Final he won from the pole, marking the eighth time he has captured Stafford’s season-ending event.
Tour Tidbits: Martinsville Recap
Tour Remains Strong in Combo Races … The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competitors once again proved their expertise when they recorded eight of the top 10 finishes on Sunday in the combination race with the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour at Martinsville Speedway. In August at Bristol Motor Speedway the Whelen Modified Tour also captured eight of the top 10 positions. There have been six all-time races between the two Tours with a Whelen Modified driver having earned the win each time, including Donny Lia (Bristol) and Mike Stefanik (Martinsville) this year.
Preece Records Best Combo Average … Combining the finishes of the two combination races in 2009, Ryan Preece came away with the best average after finishing third in both events. Lia recorded an average finish of fourth, as did Todd Szegedy. George Brunnhoelzl III registered the best average finish from the Whelen Southern Modified Tour at 5.5.
Silk Makes Most of Opportunities … A driver without a ride following the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol, Ron Silk has made the most of his opportunities in the meantime. Driving a second car for owner Ed Partridge at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he wound up in Victory Lane in the New Hampshire 100 on Sept. 19. Silk then filled in for Keith Rocco at Martinsville Speedway where he earned the Coors Light Pole Award and drove to a fifth place finish in the Made In America Whelen 300.
Szegedy, McDonald on the Move … The Made In America Whelen 300 saw exceptional comeback efforts from Szegedy and Gary McDonald. Szegedy was the Martinsville runner-up after a 29th-place effort at New Hampshire, which earned the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award. McDonald improved from a starting position of 40th to a 19th-place finish to take home the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award.
Pasteryak Runs Up Front, Slips in Finish … Chris Pasteryak stayed out when the leaders pitted at Martinsville and went on to lead a race-high 85 laps, the first of his career. Pasteryak took home the Clarence’s Steak House Mid-Race Leader Award, and stretched his lead to nearly four seconds at one point, but by pitting out of sequence later in the race he was relegated to a 15th-place finish.
Goodale’s Record a First … Brothers Kevin and Eric Goodale finished in the top 10 together for the first time at Martinsville. Kevin tied his previous career-best by finishing sixth in the race while Eric crossed the line ninth. Martinsville marked the 11th race that had featured both brothers taking the green flag.
Most Popular Driver Voting Winding Down
For the second year in a row it will be up to the fans to determine the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Most Popular Driver. In the inaugural season of online balloting, Ted Christopher came away victorious in a close vote. Fans can vote now through the end of the season on Oct. 18.
Just go to www.nascarhometracks.com to vote for your favorite NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver, and cast votes for NASCAR’s other touring series as well while you’re there.
Up Next: Thompson
Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway will once again be the site of a newly-crowned NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion as the season draws to a close at the .625-mile oval on Oct. 18 in the World Series of Speedway Racing presented by Xtra Mart.
The World Series – the traditional season-ending auto racing event in New England – will be the last of three races for the Whelen Modified Tour at Thompson in 2009. Ted Christopher won the season-opening Icebreaker there in April and Donny Lia was a winner in the Budweiser 150 presented by New England Dodge Dealers in August. Christopher and Lia both won from the pole.
Christopher and Lia enter this week’s race at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway separated by just one point, which assures that the World Series will be the decisive championship event.
For the second year in a row, Christopher will be prepared for a fight to the finish. He went to the World Series in 2008 with a 35-point lead in the standings on Matt Hirschman and came away with the race and championship trophies.
The 2009 World Series of Speedway Racing presented by Xtra Mart will commence with practice and qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 17. The 150-lap race is slated to go green on Sunday at approximately 3:30 p.m,
Sources: Jason Cunningham/NASCAR WMT PR