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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen All-American Series



Icebreaker 2013

Icebreaker Victory to Stefanik

Polly Reid

For the race fans that braved the chilly temperatures on Sunday, they were treated to a great day of action, the Icebreaker 150 decision coming down to the closing laps. Mike Stefanik of Coventry, RI made the winning move passing Rowan Pennink on the low side with just under ten to go capturing the checkered flag in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway.

Pennink held off the challenges of Ryan Preece for second, with Ron Silk fourth and Ted Christopher fifth.

“This doesn’t get old, this was fun,” said Stefanik following his 73rd NWMT career win, his 10th over-all at Thompson. “It was a little frustrating in the beginning…I dug a little hole there and I wanted to charge back through because I was pretty aggravated but I couldn’t do it, I was a little free up off. Brad (Lafontaine) told me to hang out, ride for a while and bring it in for some adjustments.” Stefanik pitted twice during the Icebreaker, the first time with just under 50 laps on the board to tighten the car up. Feedback from Stefanik on the adjustments, Lafontaine told Stefanik the car would come around - it did. “I waited for the caution to come for the tires. 40 laps to go, sticker tires, knowing the guys ahead of you don’t have them. As long as you can get through the guys that did pit with you,” said Stefanik, “Ryan (Preece) was right beside me, I had the outside lane which worked out well with the three-wide deal on the front stretch. Once I was able to clear a few of those guys I knew it was ours to blow or try and take it away from Rowan. I knew Rowan had a strong car- he just didn’t have the fresh tires like we did and was able to get the position on him.” The seven-time NWMT Champion mentioned age, but at 54 years young, a win is still special. “This just doesn’t get old.”

The stats will show Stefanik in the Chris Our owned, Robert B Our Co and Canto & Sons Paving sponsored Ford ended his weekend where he started, first. What will not show up in the numbers is what it took to get from setting fast time on Saturday winning the pole to the taking the checkers twenty-four hours later.

At the initial green, Stefanik drove hard into turn one at the start then contract in turn four on the first circuit with Preece sent the Coventry, RI driver in the marbles and back to seventh. Top five by lap 20, Stefanik hovered in that vicinity until pitting on lap 47 for adjustments. At the half, Stefanik was third and held that spot until making his second pit stop on lap 111, the one he was waiting for- the one for fresh tires. 12th on the restart, Stefanik went to task and made his way to fifth by the next yellow on lap 127. Running second to Pennink at the final caution, Stefanik lined up on the inside and was able to make a move low leading his first circuits of the day as he became the final leader on lap 141.

2013 is Stefanik’s third career Icebreaker win, the other two coming in 1998 and 2006.

Pit strategy was key to putting Stefanik in the position to be a strong contender at the end. Crew chief Brad Lafontaine calls the shots for the Our owned modified. “This one here, right to the end, they were dicing it up,” said Lafontaine. “What I like to do when I’m on pit row is I try to listen at the beginning of the race, what the car is doing are make a decision from there- how I can I possibly win the show with the car that we have. Today, we chose to come in and make adjustments so that we would have a car that would drive good for him. Then when we come in for tires with the rest of the pack, we would have the better car because the adjustments were already made. We had a lot of pit strategies going but it depended on the caution. When the caution came out late like that, I had made the decision to put the tires on and make one more change. It worked. But it still could have been a better race car in my eyes. I think I gave him a 90% car, it wasn’t 100 percent.”

Putting together a cohesive team is a challenge - Lafontaine leaned on his experience to make that happen. “Some of the guys worked with Mike the last couple of years - the tire guy Dave Young, Skippy, then we ended up with Frank as the jackman - that was only a couple of weeks ago we knew that. We didn’t have tire changers. Johnny Kopec came to the rescue. He worked on the 79 car all weekend then helped us out.” The others - Eugene, Rich and the regular tire carrier Squid got the job done. “At Daytona, for days, we worked like crazy, but we had fun. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”

“Brad kept his composure on the car,” said Stefanik. “I fed him what was going on, he made the calls. We were patient, he told me it would come around, just ride for a while. We made some adjustments- final adjustments when we pitted for the second time- it felt good to have those fresh tires with 40 laps to go. It was like days of old when we would pit late and come from the back.”

This will be the first full season on the NWMT for car owner Chris Our. “We’re very lucky, it was a good race. Brad with the set-up, Mike driving and our motors with Billy The Kid, that’s the best. Our, from Cape Cod, ran weekly at Riverside Park in the early 90’s then gave it up for a while. 18 months ago, after helping out someone, Our was in. The original plan back then was to run a few smaller shows at Monadnock for the weekly series- then Our got together with Lafontaine. “Brad and I kind of hit it off.” The rest is history. “Brad and I were able to put a team together, we called up Mike and we got things going.” Our will be running the full Tour. “I’m very fortunate with the people we have. The goal is to run only the Tour.”

Pennink of Huntingdon Valley, PA led the most laps, more than half of the 150 but in the end, the driver of the Mark Pennink owned, Monk Mechanics Hand Cleaner sponsored Chevrolet settled for second. “Stefanik came out of the pits, came through the field pretty quickly and ended up getting us there at the end. I think if the cautions had fallen a little different we might have had a better shot- congratulations to Mike and the 22 team. Thanks to all my guys on this 93 team, they did an awesome job with this car.”

Starting on the front row alongside Stefanik at the green, Ryan Preece of Berlin, CT led the opening laps. A battle with Pennink, Preece slipped to second, the duo breaking from the pack. Preece inherited the lead when Pennink pitted on lap 55.

At the half way mark it was Preece, Jimmy Blewett, Stefanik, Timmy Solomito, Ted Christopher, Chuck Hossfeld, Pennink, Doug Coby, Ron Silk and Todd Szegedy the top ten.

As the green run continued, Preece was as much as half a straight from Blewett but Pennink was moving forward and just as Pennink took the lead, the caution waved on lap 109 when rookie contender Brian Schofield spun in turn two bringing out the fifth caution of the day. Pennink then inherited the lead back from Preece when the remaining field of cars including Preece, Stefanik, Blewett, Silk and Christopher came in for fresh Hoosiers on lap 111.

Pennink, Hossfeld, Doug Coby, Todd Szegedy and Justin Bonsignore the top five came around for the restart on lap 113.
The final yellow waved on lap 135 and with ten to go, Pennink brought the field around for the dash to the checkers with Stefanik, Silk, Coby, Szegedy, Hossfeld, Blewett, Preece, Woody Pitkat and Christopher the top ten.

Stefanik side by side with Pennink when the green waved made his move becoming the final leader with nine laps remaining while Pennink held off Silk. With the white flag in the air, Preece passed Silk for a podium finish while Christopher crossed for fifth.
Pitting early, the strategy nearly paid off for Pennink. “We just didn’t need those cautions there with about 20 to go. The cautions will start falling our way sometime. The cautions took away the track position we gained on them, but that’s how it goes. The car was good, we didn’t make any adjustments. It is a gamble, it could go either way and today, it went the wrong way for us, we ended up second, not bad at all. Congratulations to Mike. We’ll go for a steady run at Stafford and go from there.”

“This East West Marine, Diversified Metals, Flamingo Motorsports Ford was unbelievable,” said Preece. “This car was unreal. I never got a break coming through traffic but when we did, we showed it - we’ll be back at the next race and be even better.”

“We had a great car, I think we showed that when we moved to the bottom, it was just unreal. And when we did get a break, it was just too late. I can’t wait to come back here, that was the best car I’ve had here, I’m looking forward to it.” Indeed, Preece could not catch any breaks over the final circuits. “Every time I thought my lane was going to go, the guy would slip. Being patient wasn’t the key today. You had to be aggressive and move your way to the front, you couldn’t wait for it to happen. I was happy, everyone knew we were coming. There are a few World Series, an Icebreaker I’ve lost to Teddy, but this one hurts the most just because of how good a car we had. I can’t wait to go to Stafford.”

Blewett, Coby, Bonsignore, Hossfeld and Solomito followed for the top ten.

If the first race of the season is any indication of what kind of year it’s going to be, stay tuned. The Spring Sizzler at Stafford on April 28th will live up to every inch of its storied billing.

Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: April 15, 2013

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