Stefanik Credits Lafontaine With Win At New Hampshire
LOUDON, N.H. – Before Mike Stefanik won the Granite State Classic last season, he had gone 13 years between victories at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He hardly waited that long to make a return trip to the Magic Mile's Victory Lane.
In the second-closest NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finish in track history, Stefanik inched past Ron Silk to win the Town Fair Tire 100 on Saturday afternoon. It was the eighth career Modified win for Stefanik at New Hampshire – a series-high – and the 72nd career Tour win for the all-time Tour leader.
“This is huge, man,” Stefanik said. “This is New Hampshire. It doesn't get any better than this in our division.”
Stefanik has been united with crew chief Brad Lafontaine this season for the first time on the Whelen Modified Tour, though they have worked together some outside of the series in the past. In just their sixth race together on the Tour, they've now won one of the biggest races on the schedule.
Stefanik – having seen Lafontaine win Modified races with drivers ranging from champions Jeff Fuller to Ted Christopher – isn't surprised.
“I've always admired Brad Lafontaine's ability to give his previous drivers fantastic cars,” Stefanik said. “I'm still a student of the game. I study everybody's car, how much wheel in it they have. You just know who's driving the good cars and who's struggling – and it just seemed like more often than not, he's given his drivers what they need to win the race.
“He's been around the game a long time. He's old like me. He works hard at it, and he's smart at it. I always thought that before I step out of this game, I wanted to know what it's like (to drive his cars).”
Stefanik qualified ninth for the race and ran with the leaders throughout the event – only his fourth Top-10 starting spot at New Hampshire in the last 12 races here. Over the second half of the race, he and Ron Silk unofficially traded the lead on 17 different occasions.
In both cases, the driver credited the crew chief for putting him in position to be able to do that.
“(Lafontaine) is like an icon,” Stefanik said. “He's an icon crew chief in this series, there's no doubt about it. He probably has more wins than I do if you added them all up. Smart man, knows these cars, and he's a gambler. I like that part.”
THE SPECS: Ron Silk brought the NASCAR-approved spec engine to New Hampshire this weekend. The Eddie Partridge-owned and reigning championship car won the pole on Friday and led a race-high 82 laps Saturday before finishing second. Before pitting for tires midway through the race, Silk had the dominant car on the track.
“That car handled pretty good down the straightaway. It's a good thing our car handled well in the corners,” Stefanik said.
This was the first time this season Silk used the spec engine – and the first time since Bristol Motor Speedway two years ago. Bryon Chew was the only other car in the field Saturday with the spec engine. He finished 14th.
“The motor ran great. My problem wasn't something that happened with the motor. I think I had a bad tire on that pit stop,” Silk said. “The motor's a good motor. It's cheaper than going out and buying a built motor, so NASCAR's done a pretty good job with that.
“Everyone thinks it's going to be the death of the series – it's non-stop everyone constantly talking about it, but they'll all go out and buy a built motor for $50 grand. So, I think this could be a good thing.”
WILD CARD: Whelen Modified Tour point leader Doug Coby said prior to the start of the season that he had no doubt his Wayne Darling-owned team could contend for the series championship so long as it could perform at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He certainly did that, gaining several spots over the final 30 laps to finish third and retain his point lead after running outside the Top-10 for most of the first half of the event.
“You just can't give up. That's not points racing – that's just racing,” said Coby, who now has five straight Top-5 finishes this season, including three wins. “When you give up, that means you're defeated, and and our team isn't going to be defeated until the World Series (at Thompson International Speedway) at the end of the year. We're going to give it our all.”
Coby was asked if he still saw New Hampshire as the 'wild card' on the Tour schedule – but true to Coby form, he was already focused on the next race.
“As for the wild card, everybody knows Riverhead (next weekend) is the wild card,” Coby said with a chuckle. “So, if I can get out of Riverhead (with a good finish), I'll be really happy.
“But New Hampshire is also, because we've come up here and run good (before)… and still come out with a 35th-place finish. It ruins your momentum for the summer if you don't run well at Loudon.
“This is definitely going to carry us through the summer stretch here.”
Sources: Travis Barrett, Special To NASCAR Home Tracks