The Chrome Horn News



    Mike Stefanik closed out 2006 with his ninth NASCAR championship.
    When the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opens this Saturday with the Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, he’ll have some familiar challengers. Between Stefanik, Tony Hirschman, Todd Szegedy, and Jerry Marquis, the veteran foursome have accounted for every championship back to 1995. They also occupied four of the spots in the top six of the final standings last season.
    Tour veteran Eddie Flemke Jr. has been runner-up two of the last three years, while last year’s third-place, Ted Christopher, has finished in the top four in points in each of the last five seasons.
    “There’s a lot of guys that are aimed and loaded,” Stefanik said. “And so are we.”
Counting the 55-year-old Reggie Ruggiero, who ran a partial schedule last season, and the five accounted for 41 of the 80 possible top five spots last season.
    Stefanik’s latest title run was a blueprint in how consistency wins championships.
    He opened the season in Victory Lane at the Icebreaker. While he didn’t win again, he compiled a remarkable 10 top five and 15 top 10 finishes in 16 races to outdistance Flemke by more than 200 points.
    Even so, Stefanik wasn’t pleased.
    “That’s great and wonderful and you can take some pride in that as a team we made the fewest mistakes,” Stefanik said. “It’s a pride thing. One win? That doesn’t cut it.
    “When you have other teams out there winning multiple races and you win one race and you’re the champion? That’s kind of sickening. … Not a lot of people were impressed with our performance last year, including us.”
    To that end, Stefanik has been impressed with the overhaul the team and the cars have undergone in the offseason.
    “We have definitely raised our package,” Stefanik said. “Everything about our car is cleaner, neater, lighter, stronger. … It’s fine-tuned, like a jeweler’s watch.”
    But even as the Old Guard maintains its excellence, the next generation has begun to make its mark.
    James Civali captured the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award as a 23-year-old and was a consistent threat to win. He nearly grabbed his first victory at New Hampshire International Speedway, only to break through a month later at his home track of Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
    Zach Sylvester, 25, finished 2006 by matching his best season finish with a third-place at Stafford’s Fall Final. He finished ninth in points.
    And the 24-year-old Matt Hirschman knows what it takes to win a championship. He served as crew chief on his father’s Whelen Modified Tour title teams in 2004 and 2005. In his rookie season behind the wheel, Matt Hirschman had five top 10 finishes. He showed his potential following the end of the NASCAR season, when he went out and won the North-South Shootout at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports Park and then backed it up with a win at the inaugural Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston (Va.) Speedway.
    In addition, Jimmy Blewett, 26, will join his older brother, 33-year-old John Blewett III, in running a full season on the Tour. Last year, the pair combined for four wins and nine top fives.
    Like the roster of drivers, the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule features a little of the old and some of the new.
    Beginning with Sunday’s Icebreaker, the season includes five races at Thompson. It will conclude with the World Series Oct. 14. There will also be four races at Stafford. Tour staple Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway will return, as will two races at New Hampshire International Speedway and the annual combination event at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway Sept. 1.
    The Whelen Modified Tour will also venture to the Midwest, running at the ½-mile Mansfield (Ohio) Speedway.
    New this season will be three “Flash” events, which incorporate twin qualifying races with a sprint format main event. The Flash events – at Wall Township (N.J.) Speedway, Twin State Speedway in Claremont (N.H.) and Riverhead – were implemented as a cost-containment measure for the promoters of smaller tracks who wanted to host NASCAR’s open-wheel division.


Source: Jason Christley/NASCAR WMT PR
Posted:  April 9, 2007

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