THOMPSON, Conn. — official release by Jason Cunningham, NASCAR — Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
Doug Coby has captured three of the last four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championships, and during that period has won one out of every four races.
When laying out the odds for 2016 championship contenders, his dominance begs the question: Do you take Coby or the field?
Ryan Preece has been Coby’s chief competitor during that run. He won the 2012 title and was runner-up to Coby the other three seasons. But Preece is running full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season and his Whelen Modified Tour participation will be limited to non-conflicting dates.
On the surface, the loss of that head-to-head championship match-up would appear to widen the gap for Coby — but it also provides an opportunity for others to step up.
Based on his 2014 performance, Justin Bonsignore has the potential to lead the pack of contenders. He was in the championship mix until the next-to-last race of that season and finished third. For a 2016 title run, he would have to avoid another frustrating first half like the one that plagued him a year ago.
After two seasons getting used to running on the Whelen Modified Tour, Timmy Solomito also appears ready to challenge. He finished 2015 strong with two podium finishes, but will need to prove he can win races to hang with Coby.
A trio of past champions also hopes to get back in the mix. Two-time titlist Donny Lia averaged a top-five finish across the last six events of 2015 while Bobby Santos’ team is reenergized following a switch in chassis and engines. Ron Silk has joined a new team with aspirations of running all 17 events, and they already have a win together from Speedweeks.
Is Eric Goodale ready to contend? Will Rowan Pennink return to winning form? Can Jimmy Blewett knock off the rust and run up front right away? These and many more questions will start to be answered this weekend as the season gets underway with the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The Race: The 32nd season of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competition will commence with the headlining event of the 42nd Annual Icebreaker weekend. The Icebreaker 150 will be the first of four events in 2016 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field per the official entry blank is 36 cars, including provisionals. The first 31 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 the largest in New England for five decades. Thompson has played host to 130 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 previous 31 years of competition.
Race Winners: There have been 34 different race winners at Thompson, led by Mike Stefanik’s 15 victories. Doug Coby swept all four events there last year.
Pole Winners: There have been 44 different pole winners at Thompson, led by Tony Hirschman’s 13. Bobby Santos maintains the tour’s track qualifying record at 18.237 seconds (123.376 mph), set on April 10, 2011.
Icebreaker 150 Notes
For Openers: Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park will play host to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opener for the 15th consecutive season and the 20th time overall. The last track other than Thompson to hold the Whelen Modified Tour opener was Virginia’s South Boston Speedway in 2001. The tour has opened at eight different venues since its inaugural 1985 campaign.
Coby’s Quest: Doug Coby matched history a year ago when he became just the third driver in Whelen Modified Tour history to sweep a season of events at Thompson. In this week’s Icebreaker 150 he’ll have an opportunity to go where none have gone before. Coby is one of six drivers that have won four straight tour races at “Big T,” but no one has ever extended the streak to five. He’ll also look to become the first driver to win four consecutive overall races since Mike Stefanik in 1997.
Same Face, Different Place: Each Whelen Modified Tour offseason traditionally features a musical chairs-like scenario of ride swapping. The 2015-16 winter months were no different.
The following are the notable changes:
Chase Dowling moved from the Tomaino Motorsports No. 9 to the Berkley Auto Racing No. 9; Rowan Pennink switched from his own No. 93 to the Boehler Racing Enterprises No. 3; Woody Pitkat moved from the Buzz Chew Racing No. 88 to the Kevin Stuart Motorsports No. 85; Ron Silk changed from the Rob Fuller Motorsports No. 15 to the Watts Motorsports No. 82; Todd Szegedy moved from the Mystic Missile Racing No. 4 back to the RFM No. 15. Idle in recent seasons, Jimmy Blewett (Mystic Missile Racing No. 4) and Rob Summers (KLM Racing No. 64) have also returned to the tour to fill vacant seats.
Rookie Race: Following a deep competition for Sunoco Rookie of the Year in 2015, this season’s class is taking shape. After both tested the tour waters with a handful of events last year, Craig Lutz and Matt Swanson will take their programs full-time in 2016 to compete for the rookie crown. New Jersey newcomer Andrew Krause has also thrown his name into the mix and will run the full schedule while Nick Salva has a tentative slate of seven events.
Last Race for “The Voice”: This week’s Icebreaker will mark the last event for the voice of Thompson, Russ Dowd, who is retiring after serving as the track’s public address announcer for more than three decades. Dowd, who has also served as general manager and director of operations at Thompson through the years, has been behind the mic for all 130 previous Whelen Modified Tour races at “Big T” since 1985.
Air Titan Returns: Last fall Thompson became the first NASCAR Home Track to enlist the help of an Air Titan 2, when it had one on hand for the Sunoco World Series. The track has once again assured attendees that it will do all it can to get the scheduled events completed in a timely manner by bringing the track-drying technology back for this weekend’s Icebreaker.
Home Tracks: Pitkat Enters Thompson as Reigning Track Champ
Woody Pitkat will enter the 42nd Annual Icebreaker weekend as the defending NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track champion at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Pitkat averaged a podium finish across eight Sunoco Modified division features in the No. 6 Chevrolet owned by Stan Mertz to take down his second Thompson title last year with a 15-point margin of victory in the final standings over Ryan Preece.
Pitkat will be fighting against recent history in an attempt to earn back-to-back titles in 2016. The last driver to accomplish the feat at Thompson was Roger Godin in 1999-2000.
CREDIT: NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications