STAFFORD SPRINGS, Conn. — Going into the 44th annual NAPA Fall Final this weekend at Stafford Motor Speedway, Doug Coby leads the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship standings by a scant 13 points.
Coby is chasing a third consecutive championship on NASCAR’s oldest touring series behind the wheel of his Dunleavy Truck and Trailer Repair/LFR Chassis No. 2 Chevrolet, and his season-to-date already has him well deserving of the crown.
In the first 15 races, Coby has four wins, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. In the three races that he didn’t finish inside the top 10, he had a problem that was out of his control.
He finished 11th at Thompson in June, when some pit strategy and late race scrambles didn’t go his way. Then at Stafford on Aug. 5, Coby ran out of fuel while leading the event and handed the win to Jimmy Blewett. At Riverhead in August, Coby was involved in a wreck and went a lap down, finishing 15th.
But other than in those three races — Coby has been just about money.
He started his season with a win at the Spring Sizzler and his second win came at Stafford in June. Then, Coby went to the prestigious New Hampshire Motor Speedway and scored the win in July Loudon scramble.
His fourth win of the year came in the first appearance at Oswego Speedway in decades — again showing the team can visit a new track and be right on the top of their game. Arguably, he has been the car to beat for the last three years on the tour and there is no reason to believe he won’t be the car to beat for years to come.
In addition, his qualifying is just about lights out.
Coby has collected eight pole awards in 2016 and has qualified inside the top five a total of 12 times, meaning his team prepares for both the race and qualifying extremely well, knowing track position could be the difference.
But Coby isn’t the only NWMT driver who has been on the top of his game this season.
Going into Stafford, Justin Bonsignore — driver of the SPAFCO Chassis/Phoenix Communications No. 51 — sits 13 points from the top of the standings.
And Bonsignore has been right on Coby’s tail for much of the season.
In the 15 races, Bonsignore has three feature wins, 11 top fives and 12 top 10s. He has more top five finishes than Coby, and has equaled him in top 10s. But in the wins column, he’s one short of the defending three-time champion.
Bonsignore won his first race of the season in August at Thompson, then followed it up just two weeks later by grabbing the checkers at Riverhead — his home track. His third win came last time out in the second stop at New Hampshire, where he was at the point for the most laps of anyone and was the one who captured the win.
But if Bonsignore is to lose the championship over the final two races of the season, he will look back at three races from this season that will have made the difference. At New London-Waterford Speedbowl in May, Bonsignore had an overheating issue and finished 17th.
Then, just two races later at Thompson in June, Bonsignore was involved in a crash and finished 20th, while Coby finished 11th.
At the annual stop at Bristol Motor Speedway in the middle of August, Bonsignore was running second when something broke in the right front suspension, sending him smashing into the outside wall and done for the night.
Strike three and you’re out? Not just yet.