As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour
drivers and teams prepare for their season-opening race April 15 at Thompson
(Conn.) International Speedway, here are five drivers to watch:
Stefanik won last year’s Icebreaker, and then proceeded to post 15 top 10
finishes in 16 races en route to winning his seventh NASCAR Whelen Modified
Tour championship. It was Stefanik’s ninth overall NASCAR title, tying him
with the late Richie Evans. The Coventry, R.I. driver has been a model of
consistency, with 24 top fives and 31 top 10s in 40 races over the past
three seasons. It’s that reliability that makes Stefanik, 48, the odds-on
favorite for his 10th championship.
The Plainville, Conn. has led the Modified Tour in wins in each of the past
two seasons and has been in title contention late in the year only to fall
short. He was second to Tony Hirschman by 18 points in 2005. Christoper
wound up third last year after pulling to within 35 of Stefanik with five
races to go following a runner-up finish at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. His
2006 was disrupted by an early-season ride change. But in his first full
year with Ed Whelan, the 48-year-old Christopher is again expected to
challenge for his first Modified Tour title.
The 2002 Rookie of the Year and 2003 Whelen Modified Tour champion returned
to run the full schedule last year. The 30-year-old from Ridgefield, Conn.
had nine top 10s and two wins, including capturing the season-ending
Carquest Fall Final at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway. Szegedy finished
fifth in points last season. He remains confident for a strong season
despite the fact that he will race this year without longtime crew chief
Phil Moran, who moved to North Carolina to work with Bill Davis Racing.
Civali showed remarkable maturity in his first full Whelen Modified Tour
schedule. It paid off with his first career victory at Stafford – less than
a month after nearly winning at New Hampshire International Speedway. The
23-year-old finished seventh in points and captured the Sunoco Rookie of the
Year Award. The Meriden, Conn. driver had eight top 10s and five top fives
in his breakout season and is poised to make a run at the championship.
Lia confirmed one of the biggest off season rumors when he showed up at
practice for the Icebreaker with the Bob Garbarino-owned Mystic Missile.
Lia, 28 from Jericho, N.Y., has showed flashes of promise in his Modified
Tour career with five wins in four seasons. His victory in a side-by-side
battle with Ed Flemke Jr. at the Waterford (Conn.) Speedbowl was one of the
best races of 2006. If he can fulfill some of his potential running for
Garbarino, he may be the one to finally give the veteran car owner his first
Modified Tour title.
Christley/NASCAR WMT PR
April 10, 2007