NOTEBOOK: Doug Coby teams with Tommy Baldwin Jr. for NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour return

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The champ is back.

Doug Coby, a six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, is making his return to the Tour this weekend at Riverhead Raceway in the Miller Lite 200 (6 p.m. ET on FloRacing).

The native of Milford, Connecticut, will make his first Tour start of the season aboard Tommy Baldwin Jr.‘s No. 7. He‘ll be the third different driver to pilot Baldwin‘s car this year, following Mike Christopher Jr. at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway and Jimmy Blewett at Richmond Raceway.

Earlier this year, Coby announced he would be scaling back his racing efforts on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour after being a regular with the Tour as far back as 2003.

Initially his schedule was set to include four Tour races, including events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and Martinsville Speedway.

Saturday‘s Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead Raceway was not initially part of that schedule, but it‘s as good a place as any for Coby to make his first start this season.

Of his 31 Tour victories, Coby has won twice at Riverhead. Those victories also happen to be his two most recent Tour triumphs, both of which came last year.

Based on his recent success at Riverhead, it would be hard to bet against Coby when the green flag waves Saturday night at the quarter-mile Long Island bullring.

Jake Johnson ready for Tour debut in Ole Blue

Donny Lia, driver of the #3 Propane Plus — SYP, during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia on April 1, 2022. (Sanjay Suchak/NASCAR)
Donny Lia, driver of the #3 Propane Plus — SYP, during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 150 for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia on April 1, 2022. (Sanjay Suchak/NASCAR)

Boehler Racing Enterprises is going from a veteran to a rookie for the third race of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season Saturday night at Riverhead.

After having the returning Donny Lia pilot the Ole Blue No. 3 at the most recent Tour race at Richmond in April, the team will welcome rookie Jake Johnson to the seat for Saturday’s Miller Lite 200.

Johnson, a 19-year-old native of Massachusetts, is best known for his efforts in a Late Model mainly in the Northeast. He’s enjoyed a bit of fendered success, including winning the 2020 edition of the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

However, he’s fairly new to Modified racing.

“We never really had any plans of going Modified Tour racing,” Johnson told NASCAR.com. “We bought a Modified last year to run some open races because to travel with the Pro Late Model stuff is getting a little challenging. We figured the Modifieds were closer and we’d give it a go.”

He made his debut in a Modified last October at Massachusetts’ Seekonk Speedway, finishing third in a 100-lap race that featured a stacked field of drivers, including Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore and Matt Hirschman, among others.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about Riverhead Raceway

It was that result that caught the attention of Boehler Racing Enterprises owner Michael Boehler.

“As far as the experience standpoint and his age and what he’s done to this point have really impressed me,” said Boehler. “At Seekonk last October, starting in the back and working his way up, being smooth and staying out of trouble and finishing third was kind the deciding factor for me.”

Not only will Saturday’s race be Johnson’s Tour debut, but it will also be his first time competing at Riverhead.

He said he’s been studying video in preparation for Saturday’s race and believes a top-10 finish is a reasonable result for his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.

“I’d say there are a lot of unknowns going into the first race,” Johnson said. “I don’t know exactly what to expect in my first NASCAR race in general. I think I’m surrounded by the best people I could be doing it with.

“I feel like I’ve got a pretty good understanding of how the places races and how I need to be going into it. My expectations … a top-10 would be a real good day.”

The Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead is the first of eight scheduled races for Johnson in the Ole Blue No. 3 this season.

Kyle Soper, driver of the #15 Eastport Feeds Ford, during qualifying for the Miller Lite 200 for the Whelen Modified Tour at Riverhead Raceway on September 18, 2021 in Riverhead, New York. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Kyle Soper, driver of the #15 Eastport Feeds Ford, during qualifying for the Miller Lite 200 for the Whelen Modified Tour at Riverhead Raceway on September 18, 2021 in Riverhead, New York. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

Locals ready to give Tour drivers a run for their money

Riverhead Raceway is well known for its local contingent of Modified drivers.

That local contingent will be well represented during the Miller Lite 200, with defending and three-time Riverhead Raceway Modified champion Kyle Soper leading the charge.

Soper has made 13 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starts dating back to 2016, with more than half of them coming at Riverhead. He’s scored three top-five finishes with the Tour, all at Riverhead. His best finish with the Tour was a third-place finish in 2017.

Another local competitor on the entry list is Roger Turbush, who finished third in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competition last season at Riverhead. It was his best Tour finish in eight starts, seven of which have come at Riverhead.

Other local competitors entered in the Miller Lite 200 are Dylan Slepian, Tom Rogers Jr., John Beatty Jr., Matthew Brode and Dave Brigati.

Notes:

  • Eric Goodale and Tommy Catalano enter the Miller Lite 200 tied at the top of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings after two of 16 scheduled races. Tyler Rypkema, Jon McKennedy and Ron Silk are third through fifth, respectively.

  • Timmy Solomito, a nine-time Tour race winner, makes his first start of the season in his family-owned No. 66 at Riverhead. Of his nine previous series victories, three of them have come at Riverhead.

  • After making his Tour debut at New Smyrna Speedway, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race winner Joey Coulter will make his second Tour start at Riverhead.

  • Justin Bonsignore, the most recent Tour winner at Richmond Raceway and the defending Tour champion, is ninth in the Tour standings ahead of Saturday’s race at Riverhead. Eight of his 32 Tour wins have come at Riverhead, second only to his success at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, where he has 12 wins.