DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo — Deuces are wild for Doug Coby, who will look to drive the No. 2 Mike Smeriglio III Racing Chevrolet to his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title this weekend in the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Coby enters the 2014 finale with a cushy 28-point lead on his nearest challenger, Ted Christopher. With a finish of 24th or better on Sunday, Coby will add a second championship ring to the collection he started in 2012 when he drove for Darling Racing. Should he wrap it up at Thompson, it would be the first title for the No. 2 since team owner Mike Smeriglio joined the Whelen Modified Tour in 2006. MSIII Racing was twice the championship runner-up with Todd Szegedy behind the wheel, in 2007 and again in 2011.
Coby, a 35-year-old from Milford, Connecticut, has strung together a campaign consistent enough to be championship-worthy. Although the 12 races to-date have featured just one victory, Coby has already recorded a career-high nine top-fives and he’s the lone competitor to finish every race inside the top 10. He’s also the only driver to complete all 1,862 laps contested on the tour this year.
Once the green flag drops on Sunday, only Christopher will have a mathematical shot to ruin Coby’s coronation. Like Coby, the 56-year-old Christopher will also contend for his second Whelen Modified Tour crown, the first having come in 2008. While the largest starting field of the season will benefit Christopher in potentially making ground on Coby, the Plainville, Connecticut, veteran would need a podium finish coupled with severe misfortune for Coby to stand a chance.
When it comes to the Thompson World Series though, anything can happen. Christopher’s best motivation will be to reflect on what transpired in the 2011 finale. Under the old points system, Ron Silk brought a seemingly insurmountable 54-point advantage into the event on Szegedy, only to see the points lead switch back and forth multiple times as the race progressed. In the end Silk held serve, but the memorable event stands forever as an example that nothing will be settled until the checkered flag flies.
The Race: The Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart will be the 126th all-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, and the final of three events this year at the famed northeastern Connecticut oval.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field is 32 cars, including provisionals. The first 27 cars will have secured starting positions based on two-lap qualifying. The remaining five spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race is scheduled for 150 laps (93.75 miles) and the tire change rule is three tires, any position.
The Track: A .625-mile high-banked oval that opened in 1940, Thompson was the first entirely asphalt track in the nation, and was the largest in New England for five decades. Thompson has played host to 125 Whelen Modified Tour races all-time, more than any other track, and is one of two facilities to welcome the tour in each of its 30 years of competition.
Race Winners: There have been 33 different race winners at Thompson, led by Mike Stefanik’s 15 victories. Rowan Pennink is the defending Sunoco World Series 150 winner and Justin Bonsignore was victorious in the first two events there this year.
Pole Winners: There have been 42 different pole winners at Thompson, led by Tony Hirschman’s 13. Bobby Santos earned the pole for this race last year and he also maintains the tour’s track qualifying record at 18.237 seconds (123.376 mph), set on April 10, 2011.
Thompson Race Notes:
Tour Finales at Thompson: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park will play host to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season finale for the 15th time in the last 16 years, and the 21st time in 30 seasons of tour competition. The first time the .625-mile oval held the season-ender was 1989, and the tradition began in earnest 1992 with only three exceptions since.
Bonsignore Goes for Thompson Sweep: Following victories in the Icebreaker 150 on April 6 and the Budweiser King of Beers 150 on Aug. 14, Justin Bonsignore will go for the Thompson season sweep in the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart. No longer a championship contender after mechanical failures the last two times out, the Long Islander still has plenty to shoot for on Sunday as he can become the first Whelen Modified Tour driver to record a sweep at “Big T” since Mike Stefanik won all four races there in 1998. Steve Park, who also took the checkered flag in all four 1996 events, is the only other competitor to accomplish the feat.
Last Chance for a Win in 2014: The Sunoco World Series 150 will be the last chance for some pretty big names to enter a tally in the win column for 2014. Past champions Ted Christopher, Donny Lia and Ron Silk top the group without a checkered flag. That list also includes multi-time victors Matt Hirschman and Rowan Pennink, whose last win came in last year’s World Series. Christopher has 13 all-time triumphs at Thompson, but is in the midst of the second-longest winless drought of his distinguished career.
Final Ride for Silk in the No. 6: TS Haulers Racing owner Ed Partridge announced last week that the Sunoco World Series 150 would be the team’s last event with Silk behind the wheel of the No. 6. Silk drove to six wins and 54 top 10s in 72 points races for Partridge in a five-year stint that was highlighted by earning the 2011 tour title. Silk has four career wins at Thompson, including the 2012 Icebreaker in the No. 6 TS Haulers Chevrolet.
Solomito Looks to Make History: Timmy Solomito has already clinched the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, but he has a shot at history on Sunday. The highest a Sunoco Rookie of the Year has finished in the Whelen Modified Tour final championship standings is seventh, a record held by both Todd Szegedy (2002) and James Civali (2006). Solomito ranks ninth entering Thompson, but is only 20 points behind Woody Pitkat in seventh. While getting up to sixth isn’t possible – Ryan Preece is 42 points ahead in sixth – Solomito can match Szegedy and Civali if things fall his way.
Civali Set to Return: A full-time competitor from 2006-11, Civali’s last Whelen Modified Tour appearance was the 2011 Thompson World Series. His absence will end this week as he’s entered in No. 29 Coors Light Pontiac as a teammate to rookie Spencer Davis for Hillbilly Racing, the same team he made 30 starts with from 2009-11. Civali has a win (2007 Icebreaker) and nine top 10s in 21 career Thompson starts.
Long Island Invasion: To complement the corps of six drivers from Long Island that compete full-time on the tour, the Sunoco World Series 150 has attracted a field of entries that will double that number. The Long Island additions include: John Beatty Jr., Kyle Ellwood, Davie Sapienza, Shawn Solomito, Frank Vigliarolo Jr. and Danny Watts Jr.
Robust Entry List: As of Monday, the Sunoco World Series 150 entry list included 37 cars. If that number holds, it would be the largest field of entries for a stand-alone race since there were also 37 at Thompson for the 2010 Icebreaker. In addition to some of the previously-mentioned names, the list also includes multi-time Thompson super late model division champion Derek Ramstrom looking to make his second tour start, and the first northern appearance for NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour competitor David Calabrese, a New Jersey native.
Home Tracks: Preece, Rocco Vie For Thompson Title
Thanks to a sweep of twin features on Sept. 4, Keith Rocco has pulled to within 10 points of leader Ryan Preece entering the Sunoco Modified division’s finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Oct. 19. Rocco will challenge for his fifth career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track title at Thompson while Preece is in the proverbial driver’s seat to secure his second. Rocco has four wins this year to Preece’s three.
Last Time Out: Stafford
The 12th race of the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season took place on Sept. 28 at Stafford Motor Speedway. Here are some highlights from the NAPA Fall Final 150:
- Ryan Preece ended a year-long winless drought as he led the final 79 laps en route to victory. It was his 10th career victory overall, third at Stafford, and his first in the Fall Final.
- Ted Christopher crossed the line second to match his best finish of the season while Ron Silk finished third for his third podium of 2014.
- Bobby Santos earned his 16th career pole prior to the event and finished 12th.
Next Time Out: Touring Awards
Following the season finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, the next engagement on the calendar will be to celebrate all of the NASCAR regional touring series champions at the 2014 NASCAR Touring Awards. The annual postseason event will take place in the Crown Ballroom at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Dec. 13 in Charlotte, North Carolina.