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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



by Polly Reid

It was overload. From flag to flag the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour UNOH Perfect Storm 150 was fast, changing, non-stop bumper to bumper action and when the dust settled, it was Ryan Newman from South Bend, IN claiming the victory in the Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion owned modified. Seven time NWMT Champion Mike Stefanik finished second with James Civali, the first NASCAR Southern Modified Tour driver to cross the line in third, Bobby Santos, Todd Szegedy the top five.

“The first 75 laps we maintained until that break. Bono and those guys did a good job making adjustments and getting another set of tires on,” said Newman. “I want to thank Bono and our sponsors Menards and Aggressive Hydraulics for the opportunity. We come here to win but it’s a lot of fun. These guys have had a heck of a year and I’m glad to be part of it.”

The first half, Newman lingered in the fourth to sixth place position. On the restart after the competition yellow, Newman seemed to repeat the effort, the key words being ‘seemed to repeat.’ A comfortable fourth at the 127 mark, it was like a flip switched and one circuit later Newman launched past James Civali and Teddy Christopher suddenly tucking into second place, his focus centered on one more spot, getting past the stout Diversified Metals, R.B. Enterprises sponsored modified, Stefanik behind the wheel.

“I tried to manage my tires a little bit,” explained Newman about his sudden surge. “I wasn’t as quick as those guys in the first 75 laps. Then I got a really good run off of turn four and got passed two of them. I had a good run on the outside of Stefanik there and set sail. I didn’t really expect it to come as easy as it did but I looked up and it was like 19 to go and I was like fourth or fifth. Everything came together at the right time.”

With confidence and conviction, Newman saw his opportunity to take the lead as he moved to the outside of Stefanik. Side by side, a lap car came into the mix and Newman, using the lap car as a pick, finished off the pass to take the lead with 19 to go. Stefanik stayed with Newman, the pair running nose to tail and while Stefanik made several attempts to gain the lead back, timing of lap traffic continued to foil completion.

“If we could have had the luck of catching lap traffic right, we could have had something for the 7 car,” said Stefanik who mentioned he used the lap traffic to his advantage once to keep Newman behind him. “I’m really proud of my team,” said Stefanik. “We’re contenders.” While all eyes seem to focus on Christopher and Santos, Stefanik is more than into the mix for the championship title only 61 points out of first. There is a determination not to mention momentum that the Eric Sanderson owned team has that is going to bring this down to the wire.

Newman described the closing circuits, Stefanik filling his rear view mirror. “He pulled underneath me a couple of times especially in 3 and 4, I was a little loose getting into three more than one. He was really good rolling through the center. Honestly, I didn’t know who was in the 16 but he raced me clean then I realized after it was Stefanik. He could have come up and nerfed me a couple of times in turn four but he left me plenty of room and raced me clean, that was a lot of fun. I really have a lot of fun racing with these guys in the Whelen Modified Tour, their hard nosed racers and I really appreciate that.”

The best seat in the house had to have been NSWMT driver Civali, the Meriden, CT driver who was fastest in both practice sessions and started fifth in the Hill Enterprises, Coors Light, LeBleu Water modified. A battle back and forth with Todd Szegedy was another whole show in itself as the pair finally settled with less than 25 to go, Civali edging out the UNOH, Wisk, Snuggle sponsored Szegedy for the eventual podium spot.

“Our car was real good, it was a battle at the end, everybody was good,” said Civali. “We were real good but the two guys who finished in front of me were a little better. The 4 car finished right behind me, I think he was a little better than me but we held our own. A big improvement over last year. We really needed this for the points, it was a good run for us.” Civali leaves Bristol with a five point lead over L.W. Miller who suffered terminal motor problems.

Szegedy in the Mike Smeriglio owned Ford dominated the opening laps setting a torrid pace but a slight brush with the outside wall at some point suddenly turned the complexion of the race around as the Ridgefield, CT driver worked to hold onto a top five. Szegedy in fourth, had his hands full with Bobby Santos and relented the position with just over 15 to go, Szegedy crossing fifth.

Coming up short, Ted Christopher led on three separate occasions, a top contender until engine problems brought the Al-Lee Installations to pit row with 10 to go. Clearly disappointed, the finish sets Christopher back to 2nd in points, 32 behind Santos with three events left on the schedule. Santos struggled in the first segment with brake issues, or more the point, lack of brakes. But after the five minute competition yellow, Santos in the Mystic Missile Dodge returned and starting ninth, used the caution free run to work his way forward. “It feels good to have an awesome run,” said Santos. “We found the outside in the second half of the race, the car was awesome.”

There was a lot of ‘first time’ in Justin Bonsignore’s vocabulary this week who crossed the line a solid 6th place. It was the first time he came to Bristol, the first time he raced the car and now, it is the first time he won a pole. Bonsignore set a 14.835 second qualifying lap topping the field in time earning the Coors Light Pole.

“It is a car we bought from Brain Loftin, the first time we ran it was at Riverhead just to shake it down. Our first time in it really, had no flaws in it, everything’s working good and we have a new motor.”

“I knew we had a good car, I didn’t think we had a pole car. We picked up a little bit from practice, I figured we back in up and be a top ten. The guys gave me a really good car and they told me not to lift, so I didn’t lift.”

With qualifying rained out a year ago, Bonsignore in the M3 Technology modified owned by Ken Massa with crew chief Aaron Clifford, now holds the track record for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at the half mile Bristol high banks. “It’s pretty cool,” said Bonsignore about the track record. “Anywhere it’s cool, but at Bristol? We’ve had some good cars, but nothing to show for it. Finally we have something to hang up in the shop. It’s a real morale booster. Next, we just need to seal the deal.”

Two cars did not qualify and think they would certainly have added to the action if they made the field. Gary Fountain from Clermont, FL pulled together a team to attempt his first NSWMT start and while Fountain adjusted well to the high banks, he was a tick off in time and was not able to qualify.

Andy Petree took a break from his ESPN announce booth duties teaming up with car owner Brody Jones. Lap times showed improvement form the first to second practices, but unfortunately it was not quite enough to make the field.

The University of Northwestern Ohio returned to not only sponsor the NWMT event at Bristol, they came to work it. UNOH brought several students for some ‘on the job’ training. UNOH students were on hand to help out Todd Szegedy with four of them actually going over the wall during the competition yellow.

And it did not end there, six UNOH students went over the wall during the NASCAR Camping World Series Truck race helping out on the pit stops for #12 Truck driver Mario Gosslin.

A final note, Newman mentioned in his post race interview what will always be on our minds. It was August 19, 2004 that we lost ‘Tiger’ Tom Baldwin. The 7 car will always be a welcome sight in victory lane.

  Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: August 19, 2010

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