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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



by Polly Reid

It may not be clear cut who the champion will be with two races left to the 2011 season and only eight points separating the top two contenders. But it was crystal clear who had the car to beat today- in a green, white, checker finish, Ron Silk of Norwalk, CT in the T.S. Haulers/Calverton Tree Farm Chevrolet continued to do what he had been doing all day -hold off the field to capture the victory in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour New Hampshire 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Todd Szegedy followed for second, Justin Bonsignore third, Ted Christopher and Eric Beers the top five.

The win boosted Silk back into the points lead over Szegedy, the margin a mere eight points between the two title contenders, 2182-2174. Silk’ seventh NWMT career win, his third this year, it is Silk’s second win at the Magic Mile.

“The car was really great right from the beginning,” said Silk. “We didn’t make any adjustments at the pit stop, I was happy with the car- it was actually even a little bit better the second half of the race, I was able to get right back up to the lead. The 93 was really good all day I think we probably had the two best cars- I’m not sure what happened on the restart but luckily we were able to edge him out.”

The Coors Light Pole award winner, Silk may have led the field to green but was immediately challenged by Eric Beers and then Rowan Pennink. Pennink and Silk became ‘the show’ as the pair continued to swap the top spot.
It was all green flag racing until a rain shower moved in slowing the action with the first yellow of the day coming out on lap 38. As the rain continued, the red flag was displayed, Pennink in the Monk Mechanics Hand Cleaner Chevrolet led the field down pit row- the cars were parked and covered as the track drying process began.

Pit strategy was already playing out prior to the red -when the yellow waved, Szegedy, Bonsignore, Bobby Santos and a host of others came in for tires and adjustments. When the red flag was lifted, it was then that Pennink, Silk, Beers, Christopher and the majority of the field came in for service. Silk, Doug Coby and Pennink the top three first out, lined up for green with Woody Pitkat who elected not to pit your new leader.

Santos in the Mystic Missile trimmed to look like the famed Richie Evans machine, dove low going into turn 1 to nab lead from Pitkat only to have Pitkat return the move in turn three and as the field came around for the halfway mark, it was Pitkat, Santos, Szegedy, Eric Goodale, Silk and Matt Hirschman the top six. But two circuits later, Silk, wasting no time, used the low lane to pass Santos for the lead, the Ed Partridge machine back on his mark.

As Silk began to stretch his lead, the caution waved for Pitkat who had slowed then stopped at the end of pit row. Needing a push behind the wall, it was not the way Pitkat wanted to end his season with car owner Don King. It had been reported earlier that this would be the last NWMT event for King. Pitkat who scored a podium finish the last time out at NHMS in July, would end his day 27th.

Silk leading the restart on lap 65 with Christopher, Bonsignore, Pennink and Szegedy the top five, was quickly reeled back in when an incident on the front stretch, appearing to start with a car slow on the restart, set off a chain reaction- Richie Pallai, James Civali and Doug Coby getting the worse of it. While Coby would pit and return to finish, the day was over for Pallai and Civali.

A full restart, Silk began to pull away while Christopher battled with Bonsignore for second with Pennink back in the top three over Bonsignore, his sights set on Christopher in second. It was back to what it looked like in the opening circuits with Silk and Pennink- Pennink once again vying and taking over the lead with less than 20 to go.

Fifteen to go, Silk made his move in turns three and four and as the Silk and Pennink broke from the pack running nose to tail, the final caution on lap 95 waved for Ryan Preece who spun into the grass just out of turn two.

It came down to a two lap shootout - Silk picking the outside row, Pennink on the inside, Christopher third, Szegedy fourth, Beers fifth and Bonsignore sixth at the green, Silk commanded the lead with Szegedy taking over second as the inside row lost momentum. Suddenly, Pennink off the pace, continued to fall further behind, clearly off the pace as the field rounded the white flag lap for the checkers with Silk cruising across for the checkers, Szegedy, Bonsignore, Christopher and Beers the top five. Erick Rudolph sixth, Zane Zeiner seventh, Mike Stefanik recovered from a spin in the opening circuits was eighth with Matt Hirschman and Eric Goodale the top ten. Front contender all day, Pennink was scored 22nd.

“It was probably the wrong move to make to be honest,” said Silk about what turned into the winning pass. “If the yellow didn’t come out with there with a couple to go Rowan would have just passed me on the last lap, I’m sure that’s what he was waiting for. Sometimes you just can’t wait until the last lap because then if the yellow comes out you’re stuck on the bottom and that’s not where you want to be. We got lucky with that, but sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

“Second is a phenomenal finish for us” said Szegedy about his Wisk Detergent/A&J Romano Construction Ford, “but we certainly didn’t have a second place car - we have our homework to do. Ron was extremely fast, he walked right away from me. Even though it’s great, it’s fortunate we got that second place, I basically struggled and got lucky on that last restart in fourth. I had the momentum, I pushed Ronnie and I thought if I pushed him to the lead and if I had something for him I’ll make a move but I had absolutely zero for him. This is how you win a championship, you have to use your head, stay out of trouble, it got real dicey, there were times when I had guys body slam me, it was hard, I’m being nice to a lot of guys out here because I want to win the championship so a second place is definitely a phenomenal finish.”

A season that continues to be on the upswing, Bonsignore of Holtsville, NY in the M3 Technology Chevrolet followed up his podium finish at Lime Rock last weekend with another at Loudon. “Luckily that last restart we had the preferred groove up on the top and I guess something happened to the 93, me and Teddy mixed it up on the last lap and we were able to come away third which was pretty good, we’ll take it.”

“Since we’ve won back at Riverhead we haven’t finished worse than 11th,” continued Bonsignore. “We’ve been right there going tit for tat with these two, it’s just a shame that at the beginning of the season we got so far behind with the motors. We’re building now for next year, we still have an outside chance for a top five in points which is still going to be a huge accomplishment considering we were 27th at the beginning of the season. We’ve been trying to dance around with some crew guys, try and get some permanent guys for next year- a lot of people tend to forget we’re only a second year team, I’m only a second year driver. I think people kind of overlook that and think this team’s been around for a long time. I’m really proud of what we’ve built. My car owner just got into this sport last year, he didn’t know this sport at all and to me, contending for wins here at New Hampshire, Lime Rock, Bristol, all these tracks, it’s really cool to do and I’m pretty proud of that.”

The 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title will be played out over the final two events - Stafford and Thompson, tracks that both Silk and Szegedy have won at.

“It would be awesome to win the championship,” said Silk. “But it seems like me and Todd are neck and neck, like I said, I thought I had gained some points on him today and then I looked up and he was second. Well, I thought, at least we gained some. It’s going to go right down to the wire. It would be awesome for my car owner Eddie Partridge and all the guys that come and work on the car to win it and for me also. We’re just going to keep going and try to win.”

A modified tour car owner for ‘ten years or so’, Ed Partridge maintains a realistic outlook. “We’ve been up at the top of the points last year, this year. We had a little bit of a mess over at the road course and that put us behind but you know, we’re keeping a look at it that it’s really the last two races, Stafford and Thompson, that’s when you really have to look at it and we’ll try and do the best we can do. I mean if lady luck is with you- everything needs to fall into place. You just don’t win these things - I mean it took the 4 car forty years to win the first one.”

It is clear that Partridge is proud of his team and what they’ve accomplished. “Tommy Grasso, he does everything. He keeps the cars in CT, he drives the truck, he maintains everything, he does a fantastic job. He’s very through, takes care of the motors, he and his brother maintain everything then we have the crew that comes in on the weekends, they do a great job, there isn’t anymore you could ask for. Everybody’s having a good time- we’ll see how it plays out. The 2 car, with Phil (Moran) back, I mean it’s going to be close. It could go either way.” Nodding his head in the direction of the 2 car owner, Mike Smeriglio, Partridge stated, “They’re first class people, we’re tying to do the same.”

Calling the shots for Partridge for the last four or five years is crew chief Tommy Grasso. “The last two times here we made a lot of changes to the car,” said Grasso. “We came back with our set up from July, that we left with in July and it worked out good. We tried a few things just to see if we could make it a little better and we ended up pretty much taking that all back out and coming with what we brought. It was a real good car.”

“We didn’t want to worry too much about points but it’s getting towards the end of the season- it’s going to be a fight all the way. Todd’s got a good car, he’s been running real well, we’ve had some problems, crashed at Lime Rock, that set us back a little bit - we have two more good tracks- Stafford we’re good at, Thompson we’re good at, Ronnie’s won at both places, so we just have to go out there and win the race- try and get the pole, lead as many laps as we can, get as many bonus points as we can and see if we can’t win.

Eddie’s the best car owner I’ve ever had- I can’t say enough good things about Eddie. He gives us the parts, the pieces that we need, never gets upset about the things that go on with the race car, the ups and downs- I’m just glad we got a win for him today.”

A crew chief carries the weight of the car and team on their shoulders, add a tight points battle and you have flat out stress- the key is to manage it. “I called up a couple of crew chiefs who’ve been through this before,” said Grasso. “They said it’s rough- that it’s really bad. I said “Good”, I thought I was the only one who felt that way - it’s stressful, there’s no doubt, but you try to put that in the back of your mind and just do your job. Do what you’ve been doing to get here and if you do that you’ll probably have a good outcome.”

Modified fans were treated to season high 17 lead changes among five drivers at the Magic Mile this weekend. The results setting up for a barn burner of a showdown for the title. Stafford Motor Speedway will write the next chapter of season when the Tour heads there for the CARQUEST Fall Final next Sunday, Oct 2nd.

  Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: September 26, 2011

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