Eyes On the Prize: Santos, Stefanik for Tour Title
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.”
|The Race||Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing|
|The Place||Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway|
|The Date||Sunday, Oct. 17|
|The Time||3:30 p.m. ET|
|TV Schedule:||VERSUS, Oct. 20, 8 p.m.|
|Track Layout||.625-mile paved oval|
|2009 Polesitter / Winner||None-rain / Ted Christopher|
|Event Schedule||10/16: Practice 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Qualifying 2:30 p.m.|
|Track Contact||Russ Dowd, (860) 923-2280, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|NASCAR PR Contact||Jason Cunningham, (704) 201-6658, email@example.com|
The Race … Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway will play host to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for the third and final time in 2010. The Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing, the final of 14 races on the Whelen Modified Tour schedule, will be contested on Sunday, Oct. 17.
The Procedure … Starting positions 1-27 will be determined from time trials, followed by a redraw of the fastest qualifiers. The remaining five positions in the maximum starting field of 32 cars will be filled through the provisional process. The race is 150 laps (93.75 miles).
The Track … A .625-mile high-banked oval that opened in 1940, Thompson was the first asphalt track in the nation, and the largest in New England until New Hampshire Motor Speedway opened in 1990. Thompson has played host to the Whelen Modified Tour more times than any other track, 111, and is the only track, along with Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway, to hold races in all 26 seasons of the Tour.
Race Winners … There have been 29 different race winners at Thompson, led by Mike Stefanik’s 14 victories. Bobby Santos and Ted Christopher have won the first two races of the year at Thompson and Christopher is the two-time defending winner of the World Series.
Pole Winners … There have been 37 different pole winners at Thompson, led by Jeff Fuller’s 13. Bobby Santos set the Thompson qualifying record in the 2010 season-opener with a pole run of 18.418 seconds (122.163 mph). Christopher was the pole winner for the August race.
NASCAR History at Stake for Stefanik
Already in possession of every major NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career statistical record, the ultimate milestone remains available for Mike Stefanik to seize.
No driver in the 62-year history of NASCAR racing has compiled 10 series championships. Stefanik has nine NASCAR touring series titles: a record seven in the Whelen Modified Tour and two more in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. A 10th would break the tie he has shared with Richie Evans since 2006.
Evans was an eight-time NASCAR Modified national champion and his ninth title came in the 1985 inaugural season of the Whelen Modified Tour. Stefanik’s Tour championship run began in 1989, with his latest in 2006. His K&N Pro Series East crowns were earned in 1997-98, the same seasons in which he also amazingly captured Modified crowns No. 3 and 4.
Stefanik’s performance in 2010 has resulted in his first legitimate shot at a 10th series trophy. After finishing seventh in the Whelen Modified Tour standings in each of the three previous seasons, the Coventry, R.I., driver has compiled a Tour-high 11 top 10s and is the only title contender to finish all 13 races this year.
Thirty-seven points back of current leader Bobby Santos, Stefanik has an uphill battle in the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing. He is winless this year, but a 15th career triumph at Thompson International Speedway would undoubtedly make up some ground. No driver in the first 25 years of the Whelen Modified Tour has earned the championship without at least one win during his title campaign.
Tour Tidbits: Santos Gains Second Stafford Win
The last time out the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour made its fourth and final visit of the year to Stafford Motor Speedway for the CARQUEST Fall Final on Sunday, Oct. 3.
Santos Returns to Winning Ways … It had been four months and a span of nine races, but Bobby Santos returned to Victory Lane at Stafford in the next-to-last race of the year to further strengthen his title bid. Santos, who also won at Stafford in May, took the lead on Lap 144 and held it through the final six circuits for his fourth triumph of the season.
Stefanik Loses Ground Despite Top Five … The primary competition for Santos in the championship chase, Mike Stefanik turned in yet another top-five finish at Stafford, but lost ground in the standings. Stefanik trailed Santos by seven points entering the Fall Final, but Santos’ win stretched the lead to 37 tallies despite Stefanik’s ninth top five of the year.
Silk Still Searching for First Win … Ron Silk was once again close to gaining his first win of 2010 with a runner-up finish at Stafford despite leading a race-high 92 laps. With top fives in eight of the last nine races, including six of those on the podium, Silk has been knocking on the door but has yet to break through. His consistent top finishes have continued to pay off in the season standings as he is now up to third. Silk entered 2010 with at least one win in each of the previous three years.
Rudolph Gets First Stafford Podium … An up-and-down year for Erick Rudolph took a turn for the better at Stafford as he led 17 laps and finished third. It was the best finish in 11 career starts at Stafford for the third-year driver, who improved to seventh in the standings with the effort.
Heagy, Pennink Earn Improvement Awards … For the second outing in a row, Ken Heagy was on the move. In the previous race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Heagy improved 16 spots during the race but was beat out for the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award. At Stafford he was able to bring it home with a 10th-place finish and an improvement of 18 positions from where he started. Rowan Pennink’s misfortune at New Hampshire – 35th place – combined with his fourth-place finish at Stafford earned him the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award.
Rookies Struggle … Despite earning his second Coors Light Pole Award in the last three races, rookie Justin Bonsignore suffered a race-ending accident on Lap 76 and had to settle for 29th place, his lowest finish of the year. Richie Pallai Jr. was able to earn Sunoco Rookie of the Race honors, but he was also involved in a major accident on Lap 94 and finished 23rd.
Home Tracks: Christopher Dominant at TIS
Thompson International Speedway’s Sunoco Modified division has been Ted Christopher’s playground in 2010.
Third on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s all-time wins list, Christopher has won 10 of 17 races contested in this year’s Sunoco Modified action to capture yet another track championship. In the seven races in which he didn’t reach Victory Lane, Christopher finished fourth or better five times.
Christopher has unofficially collected 80 career wins at Thompson. The Plainville, Conn., driver earned his 10th Whelen Modified Tour win there in August, and will look to become the first driver to earn three-straight Tour races in the World Series after his 2008 and 2009 triumphs.
Christopher won in Thompson’s premiere division, but there were five other champions this year in the track’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series program. Derek Ramstrom repeated as the Super Late Model titlist, Rick Gentes was the Late Model winner, R.J. Marcotte came out on top in the Thompson Modifieds, Larry Barnett was the Limited Sportsman champ and Chuck Rodgers earned the Mini Stock crown.
All six divisions will compete in the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing.
Last Chance To Vote
Just like the racing season, voting for the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Most Popular Driver of the Year will conclude on Sunday, Oct. 17.
Fans can click HERE and vote for their favorite driver for the 2010 Most Popular Driver of the Year NASCAR’s regional touring series – the K&N Pro Series East and West, Whelen Modified Tour, Whelen Southern Modified Tour, Mexico Series and Canadian Tire Series.
Fans may vote or submit a write-in candidate once per day.
Up Next: Night of Champions Gala
NASCAR will return to Charlotte with a special week of activities culminating with the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards Banquet on Friday, Dec. 10 and the NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards Gala on Saturday, Dec. 11. The banquets will be held at the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The NASCAR Night of Champions Touring Awards Gala will feature the series champions and top drivers from NASCAR’s regional touring series.
Fans throughout the U.S. and Canada, and around the globe, will again be able to watch the festivities from both nights via a live webcast on nascarhometracks.com.
The Westin Charlotte will be the host hotel for both awards banquets.
COORS LIGHT POLE AWARD
Bobby Santos, 3
Ryan Newman, 2
Justin Bonsignore, 2
George Brunnhoelzl III, 1
Ted Christopher, 1
Erick Rudolph, 1
Ron Silk, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Todd Szegedy, 1
COCA-COLA MOVE OF THE RACE AWARD
Woody Pitkat, 3
Doug Coby, 1
Eric Goodale, 1
Ken Heagy, 1
Danny Knoll Jr., 1
Dale Quarterley, 1
Glen Reen, 1
Erick Rudolph, 1
Ron Silk, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Jamie Tomaino, 1
FEATHERLITE MOST IMPROVED DRIVER AWARD
Rowan Pennink, 2
Eric Beers, 1
Justin Bonsignore, 1
James Civali, 1
Chuck Hossfeld, 1
Richie Pallai Jr., 1
Ryan Preece, 1
Bobby Santos, 1
Mike Stefanik, 1
Rob Summers, 1
Todd Szegedy, 1
Glenn Tyler, 1
WHELEN WINNER OF THE RACE
Bobby Santos, 4
Ted Christopher, 3
Ryan Newman, 3
Rowan Pennink, 1
Dale Quarterley, 1
Todd Szegedy, 1
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE RACE AWARD
Justin Bonsignore, 8
Richie Pallai Jr., 5
SUNOCO ROOKIE OF THE YEAR STANDINGS
Justin Bonsignore, 125
Richie Pallai Jr., 122
Sources: Jason Cunningham/NASCAR WMT PR