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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



Combined NWMT and NWSMT Race Report
by Polly Reid & Denise DuPont

Same car, same driver, different motor- same results. Ryan Newman of South Bend, IN made good use of timing to make a final pass for the lead with 22 to go repeating what he did a year ago- score the win in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Following Newman across the line for the combined annual NWMT and NWSMT event was Justin Bonsignore for second, Todd Szegedy third, James Civali and Patrick Emerling the top five.

“I felt we had a better car in practice this year than we did last year” said Newman. “You never know how it’s going to play out- I don’t think anyone anticipated the multiple yellows. Once we got racing which seemed to be around lap 75 then we got another caution and we came in, pitted for tires. Gary Putnam did a great job with both the car and the calls during the race. With Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion not being here after the Loudon deal this is a little bit of redemption for us just to come out here and redeem ourselves a little bit with respect to people’s opinions after the last Loudon.”

His fourth career NWMT win, second in a row at Bristol Motor Speedway for Newman, the key to the event appeared to be when the leaders pitted just past the half way mark on lap 86. Szegedy who had pitted earlier inherited the lead followed by L.W. Miller, Tim Brown, Civali, Andy Seuss with the fresh Hoosier group lining up after that including Bonsignore, Newman, Mike Stefanik, Eric Beers Eric Berndt the top ten.

Civali made his pass to become the newest leader on lap 94- Civali, Szegedy and Newman making it a three car break away from the pack. The ninth and final caution on lap 104 changed the complexion of the top ten when contact between Ron Silk and Eric Goodale set off a chain reaction collecting up the hard charging Brown and Stefanik. Brown and Stefanik joined the growing list of teams that would collect DNF’s for the event.

The double file restart with 38 to go lined up with Civali leading, Szegedy, Newman, Seuss and Bonsignore the top five. With 22 to go, Civali and Szegedy still out front, Newman timed his move to become the new and final leader on lap 128.
“Civali got tight- he was good on the restarts, really fast, then he would get tight just past the center of the corners. Szegedy was on older tires so I wouldn’t say he was a sitting duck but we had an advantage over him in respect to just the tires themselves,” explained Newman. “Todd did a good job sneaking around the 79 while I was trying to work the bottom - I got around the 79 at the same time - Todd got a little tight off of turn four and I just timed it right going underneath him - it got me a head of him at the start finish line and so I just went a little extra harder going into turn one and got the lead.”

From there on in it was a race for second. On the move, Bonsignore had worked his way into the top three, his sights on Szegedy making the pass low on the front stretch for second with 14 to go.

As the green continued, the top four spaced out their run with Newman keeping a solid distance from Bonsignore to score the win, Szegedy worked to keep up with Bonsignore as his handling faded for third while Civali hung on to a somewhat distant fourth. Meanwhile Emerling recovered to score his best rookie finish of the season at fifth.

“It was just really a fun race,” said Newman. “The yellow flags at the start of the race kind of slowed everybody’s thoughts but getting back to green flag racing I thought we saw some really good racing. We had some really good restarts, at least from my standpoint. I think I came from 8th to 3rd in a lap and a half. It was all fun- I have to thank Aggressive Hydraulics, Menards and Chevrolet for all of there help - this race car, it’s a lot of fun to come out here. Like I said on one hand we redeem ourselves after Loudon on the other hand starting all over to prove we can do it.”

“We had a pretty good day- we had an early draw for time trials which killed us, we qualified 19th,” said Bonsignore. “The first half of the race we avoided some wrecks we should have been in, got lucky getting through those- a couple of guys pitted and on the restarts, we were on the outside, our car was really good on the top. We got up to fifth or sixth there and decided to pit when the leaders did - the guys had a great pit stop, we were the first ones off of pit row which I’ve got to thank my guys for that, that was the first time we’ve done that as a team. We were buying our time after that, picked them off one by one.” On the final restart, Bonsignore did have to start on the bottom. “That allowed Newman to get further away from us than I would have liked. He just got too far out in front of us then. I got past Todd with 20-something to go - the car was good but I had knocked the toe in around lap 100, 110, the car got too tight in the center. I don’t know if Newman was playing with us, he just took off the last 15 laps and we just kind of salvaged what we could. I’ve got to thank my guys, M3 Technology- since our first win we’ve been able to turn our season around, show we can run up in the top five every week.”

The day started memorable for Todd Szegedy, the Mike Smeriglio owned Ford topping the speed chart in the first practice. The rest of the day however was a head scratching struggle for crew chief Phil Moran and the rest of the MSR team but when the checker dropped, crossing the line third had to feel like a near victory.

“The day started off real smooth,” said Szegedy. “The car was real fast, we were fastest in the first practice but we were only quick for a couple of laps then the car would go right to tight, it was odd, different than what I’ve ever felt. It would be so tight I could come out of the corner and crank the wheel to the left and still be going straight. Exiting the corner I had the wheel turned to the left and still be going straight it wouldn’t be turning towards the infield like you’d think it would, that’s how tight it was- that was baffling. The second practice we came out pretty decent but at the end of practice I noticed a skip, something weird in the engine but I didn’t know if it was any cars around me because I was still going fast, I didn’t really feel the engine loose it’s power. As a per-caution, we checked the ignition, changed the spark plugs on it, thought it was running a little lean and put a little jet in it, then we went to do our qualifying run and it was absolutely terrible. We had to swap the engine.”

Changing motors after qualifying put Szegedy to the back of the pack for the initial green flag. An in-car camera on the UNOH/Wisk Detergent Ford, the Speed viewers had plenty to see. “I was just biding my time, passing on the outside but we got involved in a bunch of wrecks- just in the middle of them I don’t know what people were doing, they were wrecking on the straight away, in the middle of the corners, they were everywhere. Then a spark plug wire fell off, I couldn’t believe it- we pitted for that, went a lap down, meanwhile I was just taking it easy back there then drove hard. We waited for a caution to come out, it did, we got our lap back, made another run, decided to pit early, take tires then rode the wrecks and made our way to the front. We ended up too tight, that killed us. If we didn’t tighten up the car so much we would have had something for Newman.” Szegedy continued, “Man, we have such a phenomenal team, words don’t explain it, the guys work together so well, we’ve got the best team on the Tour, there’s no question about it. The wins will come, the championships will come if we keep this up.”

“You get such a good head of steam going here, we got within five or six car lengths but the car was just getting tighter and tighter as the track rubbered up,” Bonsignore added. “I might have been a little too aggressive wanting to tighten the car up on our pit stop- they left that up to me - I feel I might have over compensated then I got the toe knocked in so it made it even worse. We had the second best car on new tires. I knew we could get Todd and James (Civali), they raced me really clean, I knew they would. It was a really good day, we’ve really turned our season around it seems since our first win. We’re contending every week now which is were we feel we should be. It’s just a shame we got so far behind in the beginning of the season. We’re building towards next year because we think we can contend for championships like Ronnie and Todd and all those guys.”

Crew member of Newman’s 77, Gary Putnam talked about their day from his perspective. “We were a little too tight in practice. We got it where he was pretty happy with it and we were trying a couple of different things just to build up our notebook a little bit better. We thought we would have a decent shot at the pole, then we missed the autograph session, that was my fault. It was on the entry blank, mandatory, Ryan missed it so we only got one lap for qualifying, that’s probably what hurt us. We still got a good starting spot, kind of paced ourselves for the first half of the race. We went into the deal with thinking anything past half way we’ll come in and change tires.” Putnam continued. “There’s always a concern when you pit, some guys stay out and you’re back in the pack. It took both Civali and Todd a long time to get back up through the field and ultimately it took the rest of the field to pit for them to get up there. For whatever reason this year it was hard to pass cars, for everybody, I mean even if you were a fair amount quicker than the guy in front of you, it was tough. Then we got an awesome restart right after the pit. He cleared all the mess, that helped a tremendous amount.”

Like the elephant in the room, Putnam offered a few words about the disqualification at Loudon. “The whole deal was just unfortunate, it was an oversight on someone’s part. We all paid the penalty, it wasn’t good for us, it’s not good for the division, its not good for anybody, we felt really, really bad about it. We worked on getting ready for here, read the rule book for the 3rd time, make sure everything else was right.” Putnam, whose wife Marcy is listed as the car owner of the 77 added, “We want to show people we can win races. It was the first race on that motor, it was brand new built. I’ve been telling people for the last three years, it’s the guy in the seat. There’s a reason why he is 8th in the Cup points.”

The 77 will be at Loudon in September. “That was the plan all along. He loves driving there, he loves driving here and he really wants to try Thompson.”

Coors Light pole winner Bobby Santos became one of several engine failures of the day as well as outside pole starter Erik Rudolph. His first trip to Bristol Motor Speedway, Doug Coby adjusted well to the high banks of BMS, starting his day ninth, the Milford, CT driver was running as high as fourth at the half before motor issues sidelined the Reynolds Auto Wrecking machine with 95 laps complete.

With Ryan Newman representing the north and taking the lead spot, the first car for the southern tour received credit for a NWSMT win. The surprised victor was series regular, Frank Fleming, who managed to avoid mishaps and used a late race pit strategy to give him the win. Fleming has had a lot of race wins but this was his first ever modified tour win. Having his first tour win occur at Bristol was a major accomplishment for the small family race team.

For the past two years at the Bristol combo race the Fleming race team battled an ill handling race car. This year the team finally found the right combination that helped them be where they needed to be during the final laps of the race.“In practice I have come up here for two years and I drove the race as loose as I could be,” Fleming said from his hauler. “I turned some good times in practice and even had a top ten car in practice. But in the race I would be so loose that I could not drive it. I told Chris today we have to keep it from bottoming out and get this car where I could drive it in the corners and not be loose. So we worked on it during practice all day. Everybody thinks that my car got faster, but it didn’t. I did not put my new tires on until fifty to go and that helped me."

"My car was good all day long. I could drive it in the corners hard without it being loose. I just think that we made the right calls for the chassis. I do not know what we could have done to qualify better but these other boys just seem to know how to do it. Guess I will just keep hunting.”

All smiles as he continued to work with officials to get the car through post race inspection Fleming had the reality of the day’s accomplishment finally sink in. He not only had a top ten finish but a win on the southern modified tour. And just when he did not think it got any better, he realized that the team’s performance was nationally televised. “We got the southern win. This is a combination race with both the north and the southern cars. I really love to run the northern cars but they always have an edge on us for some reason or other and I do not know why. I like a lot of competition and man it was here today. I was sitting here looking at that field of cars over there and those are the best field of cars in the country. And I finished eighth out of the thirty-four or thirty-five cars that started this race I think that is terrific. We were the first southern car in the race and that will put my name in the NASCAR books. I have won a lot of races here in the south. I probably won sixty or seventy races all together but I have never had a NASCAR tour win. Now we have one to our credit and we had live TV on Speed.”

Southern modified driver Andy Seuss made his way up through the field and after a great pit stop found himself among the top five. Cars with fresher tires though soon pushed Seuss back further in the top ten. In the end Seuss managed to pull off a ninth place finish and was only one spot shy of a southern modified win. “I really wanted to run in the top five in the whole race but I am happy to come out with a top ten for the whole race. We had a really good car and after that whole pit stop situation shook out we got back up to third. Then we got real, real tight. We will put that in our notebook and figure it out. Nothing changed on the stagger or anything the tire just got tight. We are thinking that maybe the stagger closed up or something but we are real happy with a second. It was a good point’s day and we managed to stay pretty clean throughout the race. Somebody got my rear though when the field checked up to avoid accidents. But overall we real happy and the car is in one piece.”

Seuss has had an up and down time since loosing his car owner late last year. But it now looks like things have stabilized and are finally going in the right direction. Seuss has joined George Brunnhoelzl on the Harvey team and things are working out good for the new team. “This year has been unreal. The second that I walked in the shop, the only thing I could think of was if you want to be real serious with a modified this is the place where you have to do it. In the shop you could eat off the floor. You could even eat off the cars. I did not know how a teammate situation would go. I have never been in one. And they are more helpful than I ever would have thought. I am having a blast. If it were not for a late race wreck at Bowman Grey, I would have three top fives in out first three races. So I am real happy about that and just want to build on it.”

The NASCAR Whelen Southern Tour heads to Caraway Speedway Friday night, August 26th while the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour goes international with a trip to Delaware (Ontario) Speedway September 4th..

  Source: Polly Reid & Denise DuPont / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: August 26, 2011

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