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Three Way Run to the Title Tightens With Two Races to Go  by Polly Reid

The first two thirds of the event played out about as ideal as one could want in a tight points battle with the top three leading the way. It was a different story in final third with a bigger-than-life feel involving unexpected twists and turns. In the end, when the checker flag waved, it was Doug Coby of Milford, CT in the Mike Smeriglio owned, Dunleavy’s Repair/HEX Performance Chevrolet crossing the stripe to collect the NWMT NAPA Fall Final victory at Stafford Motor Speedway.

Ryan Preece of Berlin, CT followed for second, Timmy Solomito of Islip, NY third, Donny Lia from Jericho, NY fourth and Shawn Solomito of Islip, NY completed the top five.

Woody Pitkat of Stafford, CT leading the points by eight over Ryan Preece going into the NAPA Fall crossed the line 12th. The finish jumbled up the standings and with only one event left on the schedule, the Sunoco World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park October 18th, Coby and Preece head to the finale tied for the lead in points with 565. Pitkat, a solid threat for the title is only four back with 561.

“Buckle up,” said Coby when he heard about the tied points, “it’s coming down to the last race.”

While Coors Light Pole Award winner Doug Coby brought the twenty-seven car field to green it was Ryan Preece in the Ed Partridge owned, TS Haulers/East West Marine Chevrolet that made the move on the outside taking the lead. Coby in second, Timmy Solomito in third made it a three car break away. By lap twenty-five, while Preece held the lead and Coby a close second, Woody Pitkat starting tenth had gained several spots marching forward to the top five taking over fourth by lap 27. But the field was stretched out- Pitkat needed a caution which waved on lap 29 when Todd Szegedy spun in turn 4. That closed up the field for the restart on lap 35- Preece, Coby, Timmy Solomito, Pitkat and Bobby Santos the top five.

The restart appeared solid- Preece was again followed by Coby. Pitkat took over third from Solomito on lap 41 and from there, the three point leaders settled in that order for a green run.

At the half way mark, Preece continued to fend off Coby’s attempts to pass for the lead, Pitkat regained the one spot lost to Solomito without incident and now, in the preferred pit window time, it was a matter of waiting for the next yellow. Lap 94, Matt Swanson spun in turn two- the caution was out- it was time to come down pit road for new Hoosiers. James Civali was the first out. Preece and Coby next, wheel to wheel exiting the pits, Preece getting the edge, Timmy Solomito and Pitkat completed the top five.

Donny Lia and Ronnie Williams who had both pitted earlier, led the field to green on the lap 99 restart with Civali, Preece, Coby, Solomito, Pitkat, Justin Bonsignore, Ted Christopher and Eric Goodale the top ten. Just after the green, things went south.

On lap 100, one car up front got out of shape on the back stretch and Preece with no place to go, was collected up. The carnage stopped in turn three- the day was over for Williams, Patrick Emerling and Jeff Goodale. Preece was able to come down pit road but the crew was halted from making any repairs when the red flag came out for track clean up.

Seven minutes later when the yellow waved, crew chief Tommy Grasso and the TS Haulers team set to task getting Preece out of the pits without going a lap down. Unfortunately, NASCAR called a penalty for too many men over the wall and Preece lined up at ‘the tail end of the line.’

Lia at the point for the restart led Coby, Pitkat, Ted Christopher, Timmy Solomito and Chase Dowling the top five. Coby fired up solid at the green and moved around Lia on the outside to take the lead for the first time on lap 106. Pitkat in third didn’t stay there long passing Christopher for second and by lap 120 – Coby and Pitkat had pulled from the pack with Timmy Solomito third, Lia and Christopher the top five.
Preece had worked his way up to seventh.

A caution on lap 123 brought out another red flag when the motor blew on the Santos machine.
On the restart with twenty-one laps to go it was Coby, Pitkat, Timmy Solomito, Lia and Preece the top five. It appeared Pitkat spun his tires on the restart and Preece shot into third.
Three laps later, Christopher and Max Zachem spun through the infield on the front stretch both continued but the yellow waved setting up another restart on lap 136 with Coby, Timmy Solomito, Preece, Pitkat and Shawn Solomito the top five.

At the green and down the backstretch, Pitkat moved high and Timmy Solomito with a nose on the outside ran out of room. Sudden calamity on the backstretch, the contact collected up Pitkat, Christopher, Zachem and Anthony Nocella. The field under red to clear the track, Pitkat was not allowed to move from the entrance of turn three which made a complete assessment of the damage a challenge. Once back to yellow, Pitkat circled around to pit road for a new tire and help with the toe out in the front.

Coby and Preece- first and second, Pitkat lined up 14th, the restart with only eight to go logged one more circuit when James Civali suffered a right front flat bringing out another yellow on lap 143.

Closing up again for what would be the final restart on lap 146- Coby, Preece, Timmy Solomito, Lia and Shawn Solomito brought it home for the top five with Chase Dowling in sixth, Matt Swanson seventh, Jamie Tomaino, Ken Heagy and Todd Szegedy the top ten. Pitkat ran out of time and crossed the line for 12th.
“I tell you, Ryan was very strong and the two of us were taking off in the first half of the race,” said Coby in victory lane. “I know he wanted to lead as many laps as he could for the bonus point and I just wanted to lead one. He drove his tail off to keep me behind him. You know, we did what we had to do- he had some problems on the restart and we didn’t so we got out front and here we are in victory lane, the first time ever in the Fall Final, it’s a special feeling to win this race – it’s been something I’ve been coming to since I was 16 years old and tried in so many different divisions to win. Great day for our team, the car was awesome all day. Ryan was strong, I tell you even a little stronger than us. The harder I tried to get him- I just couldn’t. But once we got out front, I know he had some issues, I saw Woody had some issues so I was just running my line and that was it. I can’t thank my team enough, they just work so hard – whether you’re a fan of ours or not, you can appreciate a car that comes to the racetrack well prepared every week and a team that does their job – they had a great pit stop – it’s not just about me driving this thing around the track against Ryan, it’s about this team really putting in a huge effort to try and win a championship, we’re really excited.”

“My team never gave up,” said Preece. “They worked real hard, they gave me a good change on that stop- then I drove it back to the front. Tommy Grasso and this TS Haulers team deserves as much credit as anybody, they do such a good job. Eddie and Connie Partridge, they give us everything we need. It looks like it’s going to be a dog fight there at Thompson.”

“The guys gave me a really good car all day,” said Timmy Solomito. “I hate that I spun them on that restart when we got to second. That outside lane like Ryan said felt like you couldn’t get any traction. Doug was kind of creeping to the restarts and he was like going a little bit before the go zone, he was kind of like rolling to it and that’s what caught me off guard so I see him fire and I jump on it and got kind of sideways and that’s what kind of killed us. Unfortunately, Woody had gotten underneath us and we just ran out of racing room down the back straight away. I was on his outside, I mean I was up against the concrete, I couldn’t go any higher- I hate to see that for him. I’m trying to race all these championship competitors with as much respect as possible and we just ran out of racing room. It’s not always roses and this year it has proved that, we’ve really had to work at it. I can’t thank the Flamingo Team enough- they’ve stood behind me, we’ve had bad races, we’ve had good races and we’ve had in-between races but they’ve never lost faith in me. They have asked me to come back again next year and I’m excited for that. I’m happy I’ll be back in such a good car with such a good team and hopefully we’ll have all our notes from the previous year and grow stronger next year. Eric Sanderson gives us the best of the best – I just can’t thank him enough.”

Car owner Mike Smeriglio III couldn’t be more proud of the way his team has pulled together to get them back in the hunt for the title. “I don’t know where to start,” said Smeriglio. "There’s no discussion about ever quitting. When you look at the performance of the 2 team this year, it’s better than last year. The stats speak for themselves, we just had a couple of issues that we put ourselves a little bit in a hole but Doug doesn’t give up. Phil doesn’t give up nor do the guys behind him give up. You can’t worry about what you can’t control, just do the best you can – Phil Moran’s taught me that- he knows I’m the accountant and I’m going to watch points but the way you get maximum points is leading the most and you win. We knew, in order to come back from a 32 point deficit from Bristol with four races to go, a second at Riverhead, a New Hampshire win, a Stafford win we’re going back to Thompson with a pretty dominant setup. MSIII Racing, we’re there.”

And ‘keep digging’ has indeed taken on a new meaning for the winning team. After the incident in Bristol, a new LFR Chassis was unloaded at Loudon and that same car was used here at Stafford. “The first time that car was on the track was in practice at Loudon,” said winning crew chief Phil Moran. Today, the MSIII Racing team pulled off their sixth win of the 2015 season and Moran had only high praise for the team. “The pit stop was awesome. We had a great stop actually- we don’t get to practice that much- our practice is basically when we are at the race track because a lot of the guys live from three to five hours from the race shop- it’s tough to get them to come down there. They are awesome at what they do- they put their game face on. I try to be a little bit of a cheerleader when the car is coming down pit row and they hit it just right.”

Winning three races in a row at Thompson, Moran has planned and prepared for the season ending event putting MSIII Racing into the best possible positon for a fourth win- they will be using the same car that carried them to victory lane the first three times. “It’s a known car, I know what the car will do at Thompson- I saved the Thompson car for Thompson. We didn’t want to take a chance and bring that to Stafford even though it’s run really well at Stafford before, we didn’t want to take a chance and have something happen. We could have been in the same situation that Woody or Ryan was in.”

“After so many years doing this, it’s not that it’s routine, it’s just what we do,” said Moran about looking ahead. “Spot (Ron Ste Marie crew chief for the 88) is in the same situation. Tommy Grasso (crew chief for the 6) is in the same situation- you go in Monday morning- OK the weekend’s gone now we concentrate on the next race. It’s what we do, it’s what everybody does. The cream always rises to the top- you could see that today at Stafford- at what lap 60- Ryan’s leading, Doug’s second and Woody’s third. And here you are, first, second and third in points and it’s been like that all year.”

Moran has a philosophy etched from a seemingly lifetime of working on modifieds. “Hope for the best and expect the worse. Racing, it’s the cruelest sport in the world. You could be on the highest high and in two seconds you could be the lowest low. You go through the day optimistic but as a realist- deal with reality. We’ll go home- run through this car, figure out what we need- then bring two good cars to Thompson. Bring a good back up car and bring a really good primary car. We’re going to put all our best bullets in the gun.”

There is no question that every team will be working hard to be at the top of their game for Thompson. Each driver, crew chief, team member and car owner knows what they need on October 18th- a perfect day.

“We’re going to do some homework this week,” said Preece. “That seems to be the track we’re struggling with a little bit but I have all the faith in the world in Tommy (Grasso). I know we’re going to do everything we can to show up and be one of the fastest cars there. That’s what it’s going to come down to- it’s not about finishing anymore it’s about winning that race. We’ll see who is willing to drive the hardest and win that race. That’s what it’s going to take.”

“I’m excited to go to Thompson and hopefully deliver another championship for my guys,” said Coby. “This is the fourth straight season I’ve gone to Thompson with a mathematical chance to win the championship and that’s really neat. I’ve been there before, Ryan’s been there before- I know that he has additional pressure in terms of his career aspirations – take that aside, Ryan isn’t somebody who is going to crack under pressure and he’s certainly able to perform well. Woody has come a long way and after today it’s going to be important for him to just rebound mentally and get in the right state and certainly he can go out and win that race. It comes down to winning the race- if you win the race, you win the championship. That’s what we’re going there to do.”

“Strap in- boy, it’s pretty neat,” said Coby about Thompson. “It’s good for the fans, good for the series. I know Ryan has a lot of opportunity ahead of him and he deserves it. Regardless of Loudon- I speak very highly of Ryan. I had a really good relationship off the track- I don’t know if we still do- it’s one of those things, I said in one interview over the week that this is going on four years of us slugging it out and the previous three years it was I want to get as many points as I can, as many spots as I can. But this year, with Woody in the mix, it’s literally; every position on the racetrack is like gold. And you have to drive that way or you’re going to come up a spot short at the end of the year. I’ve tried my hardest all year to maintain every position I have to win races, run up front and the guys have tried their hardest to give me a good car – we’re leaving it all on the table right here- whatever happens, happens. If we don’t win it, we don’t win it but we’re trying our hardest and it’s making it interesting.”

“It’s going to be a barn burner at Thompson,” said Coby. “I hope everyone that was here today gets a ticket and goes to Thompson to support that race- it’s certainly going to be an exciting day up there.”

The NAPA Fall Final at Stafford will air on NBCSN Saturday October 10th at 4pm.

Look forward to seeing everyone at the Sunoco World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and if for some reason you can’t make the finale, tune in to www.thechromehorn.com Denise DuPont will have live updates all weekend. 
Source: Polly Reid / TheChromeHorn.com
: October 6, 2015

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