Santos Holds Upper Hand Headed into Season Finale
Daytona Beach, FL — For the 17th time in the 26-year history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway will be the site of the Tour’s season finale, and for the third year in a row the Sunoco World Series of Speedway racing will determine the Tour champion.
Just 37 points will separate leader Bobby Santos from second-place Mike Stefanik as the Whelen Modified Tour makes its third and final stop of the year at Thompson. Santos was the victor in the Tour’s season-opening race at the .625-mile speedway in April, and has maintained the points lead following 11 of the 12 races since.
In the two previous seasons, the driver with the lead coming into the World Series has held serve. Ted Christopher carried a 35-point lead on Matt Hirschman and wound up in Victory Lane to clinch his first Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2008. A year ago, Donny Lia possessed a 26-point advantage on Ryan Preece and, although Preece finished second in the race, Lia’s fourth-place effort was more than enough to clinch his second crown in three years.
This time around it is Stefanik who will attempt to overcome a deficit that Hirschman and Preece could not. The seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion has a record 14 career wins at Thompson, but hasn’t pulled into Victory Lane at the legendary Connecticut oval since the 2006 Icebreaker, a span of 19 races. He has just five top-five finishes during that stretch as well, but two of those have come in the first two races there this year: a third in the opener and a fifth in the August race.
Like Hirschman and Preece before him, Stefanik will also need the points leader to go against recent history and stumble in the World Series. Both Christopher and Lia recorded top fives, and if Santos duplicated that this year then he will be crowned the 2010 champion.
Entering Thompson, Santos has three ways in which he can control his own destiny for what would be his first Whelen Modified Tour title and the third in the last four years for Mystic Missile Racing following Lia’s triumphs in 2007 and 2009. It will not matter what Stefanik does if Santos finishes fifth without leading a lap (2,185 points), finishes sixth with a lap lead (2,185 points) or finishes seventh with the most laps lead (2,186 points). The most points Stefanik could accumulate in the race would be 2,183 if he won and led the most laps.
Still mathematically alive in the 2010 championship chase are Ron Silk and Christopher, the two-time defending World Series winner. Their uphill climb is decidedly steeper than that of Stefanik as Silk trails by 99 points and Christopher is 113 tallies out. With lap leader bonus points figured in, Silk can finish no worse than fourth while Christopher’s only hope is to win, and both would need the other three title contenders to experience significantly sour days.
The championship picture was considerably more cloudy heading into the CARQUEST Fall Final at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway on Oct. 3, but Santos’ tour-high fourth win of the year provided him with additional breathing room for the World Series. The Franklin, Mass., native led Stefanik by a mere seven points prior to the event, but a late push for the checkered flag combined with Stefanik’s fifth-place finish increased the lead by 30 points.
Following Stafford, Santos had a simplistic goal when he looked ahead to the Thompson finale, one that Christopher employed for his first title two years ago.
“We’ve just got to go win Thompson,” Santos said. “That’s the plan, and whatever happens, happens.”
Action will begin in the Sunoco World Series for the Whelen Modified Tour on Saturday, Oct. 16 with practice at 11 a.m., followed by qualifying at 2:30 p.m. The 150-lap finale is set to go green on Sunday, Oct. 17 at approximately 3:30 p.m.
For ticket information, please visit Thompson’s official Web site, www.thompsonspeedway.com.