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   The Chrome Horn - NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour




Titan Roof

Polly Reid / Denise DuPont

The trip to victory lane at Bristol Motor Speedway is special. Turning your car up the ramp climbing to the top of the roof is one sweet ride. Seven time series champion Mike Stefanik of Coventry, RI in the Chris Our owned, Robert B. Our/Canto and Sons Paving sponsored Ford survived the determined challenges of Todd Szegedy on a green, white, checker finish to score one of the biggest wins of his distinguished career capturing the victory in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Titan Roof 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“This is so awesome,” said an energized Stefanik. “I’ve got to thank Chris Our for giving me the opportunity to be in this car. This is just a fantastic day for our team. We’ve had an up and down season, a tough day at Daytona as everybody saw, we bounced back with a win at the Icebreaker but we’ve been struggling. Todd Szegedy ran me really clean and hard. I’ve got to thank everybody- to my wife Julie at home, I know she’d love to be here for this- I’m just elated, relieved and elated.”

The Titan Roof 150 shortened to 135 laps because of time constraints, ended with one shot at a green, white, checker finish. Stefanik picking the outside lane on the final restart pulled to the green wheel to wheel with Todd Szegedy. Stefanik carried the momentum into the turns of the high banked half mile oval edging out Szegedy at the stripe to score his 74th NWMT career win.

Szegedy in the Mike Smeriglio III, owned UNOH/Dunleavy Repair sponsored Ford crossed for second with Ron Yuhas third, point leader Ryan Preece fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.

“I could get to him and that was about it,” said Szegedy about the final restart alongside Stefanik. “We need to be finishing in the top five’s. I’m never going to accept second as being good because I want to win but I’m going to have to accept it because that’s where I finished. I’ll be happy with it, but we won’t settle. We’ve had plenty of momentum, we just haven’t been getting good finishes, that’s all. We have not gotten the finishes we are capable of. We were able to pull off a good finish tonight, not without all kinds of issues- avoiding wrecks, flat tires- it didn’t surprise me but it was early, that was a good thing.” Referring to an unexpected flat tire in the early going, Szegedy had to surrender third place on lap 17 with a tire down. Szegedy methodically worked his way through the field after restarting in the back getting to 7th by the mandatory lap 75 caution.

Qualifying 18th, Stefanik cracked the top ten before 15 circuits were on the board and was a solid fifth by lap 50. But the show was being run by Coors Light Pole winner Donny Lia who had nearly a half a straight lead over Ryan Preece, Justin Bonsignore, Woody Pitkat and Stefanik at the half century mark.

The mandatory caution flag waved at lap 75- teams were able to adjust on their cars, fuel and put on fresh tires before resuming the final 75 circuits. During the stop, trouble for Bobby Santos developed- a fire on board the 44 ended the night for last week’s winner at Thompson- the Franklin, MA driver who was tenth at the break, concluded his Bristol run 32nd.

Lining up for the restart, Lia, was once again leading to the green with Preece, Bonsignore, Newman, Pitkat, Stefanik, Szegedy, Andy Seuss, Ted Christopher and Tim Brown the top ten.

After a caution on lap 86, the next restart became the Titan Roof 150 game changer. Coming to the stripe for a restart on lap 92, contact from behind sent the leader around – Lia and Bonsignore spun and while the rest of the field was able to take evasive action, Lia’s hopes of a second Bristol win was over, the Jericho, NY driver who set a new track record earlier in the day in time trials finished 30th.

Preece inherited the lead and with Newman, Stefanik, Szegedy and Seuss in his rear view mirror, paced the field to green on lap 96.
Preece was struggling with what was later thought to be a possible issue under the hood and his time at the point was short lived as Szegedy with Stefanik in his wake became the new leader on lap 103.

A caution one circuit later kept the field closed up as Szegedy, came to the green with Stefanik, Preece, Newman, Seuss, Christopher, Yuhas, Pitkat, Eric Berndt and Jimmy Zacharias the top ten.

Lap 114 the yellow came out again and this time, a call was made from NASCAR officials- there would be 10 to go when the field restarted on lap 119. In addition, because of the time constraint, should it be needed, there would be only one attempt at a green, white, checker finish.

Szegedy was on the wheel with Stefanik, Newman, Seuss, Pitkat, Yuhas, Preece, Christopher, Zacharias and Berndt the top ten as the green dropped with ten to go.

Szegedy and Stefanik pulled away from the pack and as the final circuits ticked off, a wiggle by Szegedy in turn two was all Stefanik needed who dove low for the pass. “Todd just got loose and I got underneath him- raced him off the corner then cleared him down into three,” said Stefanik after.

The drama escalated as Szegedy fighting back for the lead, was shut down when an incident in turn four involving Christopher, Berndt, Seuss and Chuck Hossfeld brought out the tenth and final caution.

Stefanik chose the outside row for the one and only attempt at a green, white, checker. Szegedy had one more shot at the trophy. Newman, Yuhas, Pitkat and Preece were all there in case something happened to the leaders.

Stefanik nailed the restart, Szegedy, side by side, came around for the white flag- Yuhas made a move into third and at the checkers it was Stefanik by .092 of a second over Szegedy, Yuhas in close pursuit third with Preece fourth and Newman fifth.

“We got a break getting the lead back when we had to go back to the last completed lap,” said Stefanik. “I know they shortened the race, but I had a great race with Todd Szegedy – a classy driver. We bumped and rubbed but nothing we couldn’t handle- just wheel to wheel, it’s a fast race track, it’s a game of not even inches, its hundredths of inches trying to stay off of people but still do a good job for your team.”

“Our car was decent on the short run, but it got tight on the long run,” said Szegedy.“ The balance was there, just a little off but all and all it was a good car.” Szegedy admitted he wasn’t sure he would have been able to pass Stefanik back had the race gone the full distance. “Probably couldn’t because the car would have gotten tighter- I needed to get him immediately.”

Ron Yuhas, Jr crossed for a solid third in the Mike Murphy owned, Fast Track Electric/Hughes Motors sponsored Chevrolet - a season high finish for the Groton, CT driver.

“We were good all day,” said Yuhas. “In the first half, the car started marching forward so I was like we have a good piece under us again this year, then about half way through that first run it just went super tight and I was like Oh boy, we’re in trouble now and everything we picked up before, we lost. We came into the half way break which I was hoping was like 20 laps sooner and made wholesale changes – we left the stagger the same but took a bunch of cross weight out just trying to free the car up- the changes just woke the car up- it was good the whole second half.” Yuhas with the best seat in the house just behind the leaders wasn’t sure the full distance would have changed the outcome for the 64. “We could have gotten bogged down on the inside like the 16 car. We had a good run on Todd going down into one then we got a little bit free and kind of lost that- at that point it was a green, white checker- so hold on. I knew the finish was going to be interesting.”

“It’s awesome, just to get a podium finish here,” continued Yuhas. “To get a podium anywhere with the caliber of guys that race on this level – doing it with this team it’s pretty cool and Mike Murphy gives us anything we need to do it. We hope we can keep the momentum going.”

“Our car was driving good in practice,” said Stefanik. “Brad (Lafontaine) asked me if there is anything he could do to make my job easier- I said not really. Obliviously we had a good driving race car and that’s what it took to win this race. Our car was decent in the first half but exceptionally strong in the second half. The track completely changed. I ran on the bottom of the track for the first 30, 35 laps, I was a little free loose. Then I just moved up – when I moved up the car came right in then the car got tight. First I was complaining it was loose, then at the end of the run I’m complaining that I’m tight so I said, ‘Brad, I’m glad you’re the crew chief because on the bottom I’m loose, on the top I’m tight.’ He knew we had to run the top to win the race. Brad adjusted the car on what it was doing on the very end of the first run- he made the right call. Our tire guy Dave Young hit the stagger perfectly and I told them on the radio we have a fast race car. Our car was good- it’s nice to be able to say that, our car was good because now I can go to work, I have all the tools I need.”

“Chris Our has given us everything we possibly need,” said crew chief Brad Lafontaine. “He’s by far one of the best car owners I’ve ever worked with and we need to produce for him. I feel like I’ve let him down and I feel like I’ve let the team down lately because I couldn’t get a grasp on it. Now that we came here to Bristol, yea, we didn’t put a number up on the board in practice but like Mike was saying, there was nothing I could do to make the car any better for him. When I asked he said, ‘nothing, just make it drive like this in the race.’ I’m really happy for the whole crew, they hung with me, they are a bunch of tough guys, I can’t say enough about all of them- they are by my side, I’m really happy about this Bristol win.”

“A win at Bristol- what a good one to win,” said car owner Chris Our. “We’ve always had a good car but we’ve been struggling with luck. Brad has been fighting hard to get us back up where we need to be. I think this definitely puts the team in a better spot moving forward.”
Asked about the shortened distance, Our replied, “I was fine when they shortened the race because we were second at the time – Mike knew he had to get that lead quick. Mike actually had the better car, the 2 car was getting tight and our car was getting a little better- but it’s still hard to get around somebody- it’s so fast- you have to be ginger in the corners at that speed. Mike had the lead when the final caution came out so he had lane choice to start, that was important. We had a Billy the Kid motor that you could see really helped going down the straight away- that gave him a little bit of a yank that helped him follow through on the corners. Mike did an excellent job- his restarts were great, he was really up on the wheel.”

“I’m very thankful to be driving for Chris Our. Robert Our Construction, along with Canto Paving, they give us a lot of support,” said Stefanik. “The team works extremely hard – for me, I’m so elated to win here in Bristol, but it’s also a relief – it’s nice to just win. This is why we do this game- that’s the only reason why you should do this game. This game is so intense, so emotional and so frustrating. Then when you have a day like today it just makes it easier to understand why you put up with all the rest of the stuff.”

“We made some changes on the car-wedge and stagger- four tires,” said Lafontaine about adjustments made at the mandatory pit stop to the Northeast Race Car. “Mike was totally happy with it. We needed to be 100% or we would not have been able to win this race. Szegedy was real tough, he ran us nice and clean. We were just a little better than him- he was good for a few laps on the restarts then he would get tight as he would go on. We just worried at the end when they said 10 to go and there was going to be only one chance at a green, white checker. We were fortunate we had the lead and got to pick the outside lane. We’ve been hanging in there, we’re third in points. The season is not over- we keep gaining all the time.”

“This is huge,” said Stefanik who hinted that after 37 years of racing, he has been thinking about walking away on his own terms. “It’s not the size of the track- this place is so dynamic- it’s Bristol. The highest banked track in all of the NASCAR series, it’s the quickest half mile- this is the epitome of short track racing. When you tell somebody you just won at Bristol, they know you have to be a decent driver. This win is way up the ladder- you have some firsts back when you’re really young and I’m sure I was excited – I’m being cool about it right now but I am like freaking out inside right now, I’m really excited. I have such a smile on my face- it’s going to be a wonderful trip home. I’m going to really try and savor this- yes, this is a huge, huge victory.”

Doug Coby was the victim of racing circumstances in the early going getting caught up in someone else’s tangle. Coby salvaged a 23rd place finish- enough to keep the Wayne Darling owned, Furnace & Duct sponsored Chevrolet second in points.

Woody Pitkat who took a hard hit in the morning practice and was forced to go a backup car crossed the line sixth, Eric Goodale seventh, Justin Bonsignore, Burt Myers and Jimmy Zacharias rounded out the top ten.

Preece will carry a 28 point lead to the next event as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour makes their second and final trip to Riverhead Raceway on September 14th.
The only combination race of the season for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour- Denise DuPont caught up with two NWSMT finishers.
By Denise DuPont

NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Driver Burt Myers was the lead southern car when the race shortened event concluded. He finished ninth after moving up several spots when lead contenders were taken out during the last race caution on lap 126. “I am really glad that we were able to do that in the grand scheme of things. We came home ninth. Still a top ten with the good competition we had here is still not too bad.”

Myers was surveying the front right of the #1 modified in the pits after the race. The car was ill-handling for a good portion of the race and Myers was curious why. “We just found out that we have a major problem with our rear end, something was bent really bad. And that explains a lot about the handling problem that we were fighting here. Last year at this time, we were loading a car up that had the whole back end demolished on it. I do not think that we have a scratch on it on the outside this time. So now we are going to rest a little bit.”
“With the handling problems I was having today, they could have cut the race ten more laps and I would have been alright with it. The car was just a handful to drive. In practice this morning we had a really, really good race car. So that is why I sound a little bit disappointed, because this morning I know that we had a car that could have run a top three easily. But all in all with everything that we had to endure to come home ninth and be the top southern car we have some stuff to keep our head up about.”

“It was a good point’s race – We made a really good surge at the stadium. The #28 (George Brunnhoelzl) and the #25 (John Smith) had problems and we were able to close a lot of the gap. I do not think that we gained a lot but we are making baby steps.”

NWSMT driver Andy Seuss certainly deserves the “Hard Luck Race Award” for his efforts. He started the race mid-pack and made a hard chargeto the front after an early race spin. Racing with the top five Seuss clearly looked as though he would soon be a contender for the lead. Then as luck would have it, George Brunnhoelzl, III spun bringing out a late race caution on lap 114. With four minutes to go to the timed race, a call was made to limit the race to ten more laps. Soon after the race leader, Todd Szegedy got loose and veteran driver Mike Stefanik deftly took advantage of the situation and passed for the lead. With the swapping of the leaders and the hard charge to the end of the race, a caution occurred that took out Seuss who was running in fourth at the time. Seuss was put up high into the fourth turn wall with Ted Christopher and Eric Berndt also involved. Seuss was cleared in the in-field care center and went back to his pit area to review the #11 car damage. He ended up with a disappointing twenty-fifth place finish.

“We had a great car,” said Seuss from the pits. “We did not have the best draw in qualifying, so we had to start mid-pack. We started making our way up and got spun out when a caution came out. I checked up. A rookie did not – a rookie mistake. This mistake cost us probably a shot at the win. So we went back, started last and we made our way back up to ninth by the half way break. Eddie Harvey and the guys did a great job. They made all the right calls and adjustments. Ya know, I guess it was just not meant to be. We were going back and forth there between fifth and fourth position. Every time it seems that we passed a car a caution would come out and we would lose a spot. Sitting in fifth on one of the restarts and somebody jacked me up. I went through the infield and came out the other side in eighth. I was glad that we did not wreck. But that basically put me back with the out of control guys and I just got caught up in another guys mess.”

The NWSMT will head next weekend to Langley Speedway to race on Saturday, August 31st.

Source: Polly Reid / Denise DuPont / TheChromeHorn.com
Posted: August 23, 2013

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