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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour



by Polly Reid & Denise DuPont

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour kicked off the season with the traditional Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway and Ron Silk from Norwalk, CT in the Ed Partridge owned, Reynolds Auto Wrecking/ Schnitzer sponsored Chevrolet who was crowned the series champion at World Series finale last fall, opened the 2012 season with the win.

The Icebreaker was extended nine laps over the scheduled 150, the run for the stripe coming down to a green white checker finish. Leader Silk was lined up on the inside of Rowan Pennink with Ted Christopher third, Mike Stefanik fourth and Jimmy Blewett fifth. As the field rounded the turn for the final green, Pennink crossed the restart line before the leader and was immediately posted for jumping the start. While Pennink was clearly the car to actually finish first, the call from NASCAR officials placed Pennink 10th, the last car on the lead lap.

“He had me up in the marbles in turns one and two (on the prior restart) I’m not saying that’s right or wrong,” said Silk. “He didn’t give me a chance to even have a line down there. I don’t know, I shouldn’t have picked the inside on that last restart, I should have picked the outside, but it didn’t matter because you can’t beat the leader to the line and he beat me quite a bit. It’s in black and white (about the call), it’s not a judgment call, you can’t beat the leader to the line and if you do you have to lift and let him get at least partially ahead of you- I didn’t write the rule, I didn’t make the call. I’m just happy to win, I think we had a car that should have won and we did.”

According to race control, the penalty was for jumping the restart because Pennink went before the actual ‘restart cone.’ That is different than crossing the start/finish line first where Pennink may have been able to give the lead back. The original penalty was because Pennink restarted before the restart line.

The finish bumped Christopher to second, Stefanik to third, Blewett and Donny Lia the top five. Jamie Tomaino crossed for sixth with Patrick Emerling, Doug Coby and Wade Cole the top nine and Pennink tenth.

Christopher who was in third on the restart relayed what he saw about the final restart. “He definitely jumped the start. The rule is you can’t beat the leader to the start finish line, I don’t make the rules.” Christopher was pleased with his finish. “I think I have a car this year that is going to be really good once we figure it out. To go that long on a set of tires without pitting, we actually thought about not coming in but we did- unfortunately a lot of cautions at the end. It is a good run to start the season. We’ve got a good car, I can’t wait for the next race.” Christopher who started 12th earned the Featherlite Most Improved Driver award of the race.

“It’s good to get the first one over, that was a wild one,” smiled Stefanik. “I was just about in every mess that I could be in, it was a long day but the crew kept digging- we got out of here with a third, a lot of other guys got out of here a lot worse than that. There was a lot of action out there, some you couldn’t avoid. The car got damaged hard earlier in the race when someone spun out of two, a chain reaction, I knew I didn’t have any front bumper so I had to be more careful on restarts, I didn’t want to do any damage to the radiator. It’s nice to have a cushion on those restarts when someone misses a gear you have a little check-up distance, I had no room for error. The guys did a good job, I got to thank my team, car owners, for putting this program together and allowing me to go out and do something I love to do. It’s been really good.”

“We never had really good luck at the Icebreaker- last year we were flying through the air. The year before that, we were a top ten, the way the point structure is now, every little bit helps,” said Silk’s car owner Ed Partridge. “We lucked out on a few of those wrecks. You need Lady Luck on your team, I mean look at Ryan Preece- he was fast and he got caught up.”

Crew chief for Silk, Tom Grasso admitted those last restarts were, “nerve racking”. Obviously when you’re leading with five to go and essentially pulling away, you don’t want a caution but that’s when they always happen. And of course to get two or three green white checkers, we didn’t want any of them. Ronnie kept his head together.” Grasso continued, “It’s a brand new car, we bought it a year ago and we worked on it a little bit here and there. We put it together for the banquet and brought it there- decided to bring that one since it had a new body on it, brought it a show in Philadelphia then brought it home and got it ready to go, this is its first outing. I guess that’s pretty good for a brand new car to win the first race. The guys were concerned; they wanted to run the old car obviously because we won the championship with it last year. The old car is the now the back-up car. I told them, believe me, this car is going to be just as good.” Grasso smiling added, “I’m glad it worked out- it didn’t make a liar out of me.”

“This is the first time I’ve ever lead the points at the first race,” said Grasso. “We’ll enjoy that for the next two weeks, come back and we’ll see what we can do at Stafford.”

“A goal every season is to win a race,” added Silk. “So with that out of the way the first week, now the goal is to just go win more. We definitely have the team and the equipment to do it- we’ll see what we can get rolling here.”

Ryan Preece who set fast time to earn the first Coors Light pole award the day before, led twice for a total of 86 circuits. Pitting, the Berlin, CT driver was working his way to the front when he was caught up in a multi-car incident in turn three with just over 25 to go. While Preece was able to make it to pit row, radiator damage kept Preece from returning to the field ending his day 16th.

Jimmy Blewett was in the top ten during most of the 150 laps at the Thompson race opener. He crossed the start finish line in fourth place
with the Blewett family car in one piece. Blewett not only avoided accidents but ran with the leaders keeping pace to the end. “It is just a good start for us for the year. We have a new crew. Some of my brother’s old crew came out to help me here this week. I kind of threw everything together at the last minute for the most part. There are some of the guys that helped me when I drove the #14 car last year. And Kevin Crowley crew chiefing us I think is key. For the first race on the Tour this is good for us. The first race that he (Kevin Crowley) was with us we won the Turkey Derby Race. I am just excited to come out of this race so strong. We were only planning to run on a limited schedule but I feel if we keep this consistency and we are in the top five in points we may be able to run a couple of more shows then we had planned. My grandpa and a couple of sponsors I am sure will support us. We would do it but we just did not plan on it. We will see where the next couple take us and we will try to keep it focused.”

Two veterans beat the odds and have top ten finishes.

Jamie Tomaino

Jamie Tomaino finished the 150 lap Icebreaker in sixth spot after avoiding many incidents and driving cautiously to finish the race. “The last couple of years here the same thing has happened at this race. Unfortunately people drive over their heads and make mistakes. They think the race is 75 laps not 150.”
“The last couple of years I was actually caught up in some of the stuff myself. So this year when my car went away on us we started making adjustments and I told my son that is my crew chief: “We are going to just keep on making adjustments and hang out back here. It looks like nobody is going to become lapped today and we will wait until towards the end of the race. It seems like it all came into play for me and before you know with five laps to go we were running in the top ten. So I felt good I may not be as fast as a lot of guys but sometimes your brains are a little more important than your gas pedal foot.”

Wade Cole

Wade Cole was caught up in a few incidents, spun on his own but in the end ran a consistently paced race. Cole completed the Icebreaker 150 in nine place. “We are lucky to survive it. There were a lot of close calls and we made it out of them. I had trouble with the steering. It steered into the turns fine but then I could not straighten the car back out. There was no steering back to the right. So the car got me into trouble a couple of times. We will fix the rack and we should be good. We will review the car and make a few tweaks on it and this is a good way to start the year. We had a great day and it was beautiful race day.”

The NWMT makes their next stop at Stafford Motor Speedway April 29th for the Spring Sizzler.

  Source: Polly Reid & Denise DuPont / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: April 15, 2012

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