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After being pushed back three times due to rain, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams were finally able to complete the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
Five-time series champion Doug Coby added to his already historic Stafford resume, winning his 12th career Whelen Modified Tour race at the Connecticut half-mile, but it didn‘t come without a fierce battle to the finish.
Craig Lutz scored his best career finish with a runner-up finish in his near victorious effort, while former series champion Ron Silk continued his early-season success driving for Kevin Stuart Motorsports.
All of that and more in the Rapid Rewind from the fourth race of the Whelen Modified Tour season.
Coby‘s Stafford Experience Shines Again
Doug Coby may not have been the fastest car on the track all weekend, but he found himself in a familiar place when the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 finally took the checkered flag.
The Milford, Connecticut, driver was inside the top three in all three of the practice sessions for the prestigious event, and qualified second, grabbing his third front row start in the first four races of the season.
When the green flag dropped, Coby ran the outside of polesitter Justin Bonsignore early, leading the first lap, but he quickly settled in for second, riding the back bumper of Bonsignore before the two leaders pitted and Chase Dowling took control at lap 65.
From there, it was a see-saw like ride for Coby, as he pitted during a caution on lap 78 for an adjustment, and multiple other times throughout the race to take fresh Hoosier rubber and Sunoco race fuel. He was at the point from laps 144-150, but after getting shuffled back in traffic following another pit stop, Coby regained the lead on lap 189, and never looked back.
It was Coby‘s 30th overall win at Stafford, placing him tied for 18th on the all-time wins list with Fred Desarro. He‘s been winning races at his home track for 20 years.
But this one wasn‘t easy. Coby passed Lutz for the lead on lap 189, but the rising star didn‘t go away easily, as Coby had to look in the rear-view mirror in the final circuits and hold his charge off.
“He is super aggressive, I watch him in traffic a lot and I was ready for him to sail it in,” Coby said of Lutz. “I drove really, really hard to keep him behind me.”
With the strategy in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 one of the more difficult to master in Whelen Modified Tour competition, Coby wasn‘t exactly sure what the race was going to bring. Teams can only take one tire per pit stop and can‘t take any fuel in the same stop that they take tires; that required multiple stops during a caution if a team wanted more than one tire or tire and fuel. Fuel is a must in the 200-lap marathon.
“The car was good, we made a bunch of adjustments over the race and we took tires there at the end and all of the cautions were eating up laps, and I was thinking we weren‘t going to have the time to get up front,” Coby said. “But we picked up three or four spots on a restart when Woody (Pitkat) and Timmy (Solomito) got together and once we got to the top five, it was no friends. I told my spotter that we had no friends… I didn‘t want to wreck anyone, but we had tires, and we were coming. The car was as good as you could hope for.”
PHOTO GALLERY: NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 in Photos
For Coby, winning the Sizzler for the fourth time is likely something he will never forget. He moves into a tie with Mike Stefanik for second all-time, trailing only the late Ted Christopher‘s six Sizzler victories.
Coby won his first Sizzler in 2006 driving for Curt Chase, and in 2012 for Wayne Darling. The rest of them have come for Mike Smeriglio III Racing — a team he has now won four championships with in the last five years.
Right now, he‘s off to a good start on his path towards returning to the top — leading the early championship standings by 17 points at the quarter-way point of the season.
“My guys did a great job on pit road, we came in a few more times than we wanted to in order to make adjustments and I stalled the car a few times down there, they will make fun of me for that,” Coby joked. “It‘s really special to win the Sizzler. This is my home track. This is where I grew up racing, and it‘s extra sweet to win races here.”
Lutz Comes Close To Breaking Through
Close, but no cigar quite yet for Craig Lutz.
The Miller Place, New York, driver showed speed throughout the entire NAPA Spring Sizzler 200, and was in prime position to score his first Whelen Modified Tour win, in the lead in the final laps. After being passed by Coby, he didn‘t give up, but couldn‘t quite get the run he needed.
It was the third time Lutz has been a bridesmaid in Whelen Modified Tour action — two of them coming in the last two events at the historic half-mile.
“Doug Coby is one of the best here, and if you are going to lose, that‘s the guy you want to get beat by,” Lutz said. “It‘s probably the most disappointing second place because I felt like everything played out and fell into our lap.”
Even though the run is certainly a confidence builder for Lutz and his entire Goodie Motorsports team, they already knew they could get the job done, they just felt like they needed a little bit of luck. Saturday, they had the luck they needed, and a strong LFR prepared Modified on their side.
“It was a really good rebound for my team,” Lutz said. “We struggled for the first few races to start the season.”
Dowling Falls Late After Dominating Middle Stage
Chase Dowling knew returning to Stafford Motor Speedway was going to be one of his best shots to return to Victory Lane.
He finished second at South Boston Speedway in March, and was quick to point out that his day at the Virginia oval was a shakedown to get the car ready for Stafford‘s Spring Sizzler.
At the end of the day, that shakedown almost paid off.
Dowling started fourth, and ran third for the early stages, but when leaders pitted, Dowling stayed out and took control of the race, leading from lap 65 to 128, before it was time for him to make the move down pit road for tires. He took three during the caution for Chris Pasteryak wrecking on the backstretch, and then quickly blasted his way back through the field and took the lead back with ease from Ron Silk.
From there, the questions were swirling in the pit area about whether Dowling had another Sunoco race fuel to go the 200-lap distance — a task many didn‘t think was going to be possible. In the end, Dowling rolled down pit road at lap 165, where many thought he would be taking fuel. But crew members took a dive under the car, looked at the left-rear, and sent Dowling back to the track.
It wasn‘t just a few mere seconds later that Dowling was pulling down pit road and taking his race fuel, putting him in position to charge back through the field and try to blast back to the point.
But he didn‘t have the chance.
Dowling quickly pulled down pit road, and behind the wall just after the green, while others crashed in turn four. The day was done for the Roxbury, Connecticut, driver.
“Class of the field today, we were fast,” Dowling said just after climbing from the car.
“I just felt something vibrating apart,” Dowling he told Short Track Scene. “Ronnie Silk was behind us and reported to us that something was coming apart… If I had stayed out, I would‘ve lost a tire, lost the rear and killed the race car for no reason. There‘s no reason to do that when you‘re part-time.”
NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 Race Notebook:
Ron Silk, the 2011 Whelen Modified Tour champion, continues to shine driving the Kevin Stuart Motorsports No. 85. Silk was in prime position to grab his second win of the season, leading with just 17 laps to go. But after giving up the top spot, Silk was able to settle for third, adding his third straight podium in competition.
In his return to racing, Max Zachem showed no signs of having slowed down. After sliding under the radar much of the race, Zachem rolled through the field late because of his tire strategy, and took the No. 20 machine to a fourth-place finish. All of his efforts at the Sizzler were in memory of close friend Cliff Nelson, who recently passed.
Patrick Emerling, who finished seventh, scored his fourth top 10 finish in the first four races.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, and current leader, Sam Rameau, notched his first top 10 with an eighth-place finish.
For the first time since 2007, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams will return to Wall Stadium in Wall Township, New Jersey, for the Jersey Shore 150 next Saturday evening.