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With less than a month from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opener – and return to historic Martinsville Speedway after a decade away — a handful of drivers used midweek to lay down some laps on the half-mile.
Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece tested ground-pounders Wednesday morning at the .526-mile oval. Both of them are set to race in April when the Tour runs at Martinsville for the first time in 11 years. Newman will be racing for Gary Putnam in the No. 77, while Preece is set to be behind the wheel of the No. 6, owned by Eddie and Connie Partridge. Jon McKennedy, who finished second on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020 for car owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., also turned some laps Wednesday.
Newman has long been excited by the Whelen Modified Tour. For years, he‘s made a point to race in the series when he‘s at the track with the Cup Series.
“It‘s just fun racing against these guys,” Newman said. “They do it quote-unquote for a living, right? We‘re all hobby racers, but they do it for a living. They‘re the best, and it‘s fun to come out and race against them.”
While Preece‘s focus has been on the Cup Series since 2019, he, like Newman, hops into a Modified whenever he gets the chance.
“Your ultimate goal is to get to NASCAR‘s Cup Series,” he said. “That‘s where it is. That‘s where you want to be. But at the same time, I know where my roots are. I know where I‘ve cut my teeth, I know where I put many hours in the race shop to go and win races, and I enjoy racing these race cars.”
Martinsville is a special place for Preece.
The 2013 Tour champion got his first career Tour victory at Martinsville after Burt Myers was initially crossed the finish line first but was subsequently disqualified after failing post-race technical inspection.
“I want to race,” Preece said. “That‘s what I‘m concerned about.
“It‘s really awesome that NASCAR and the Whelen Modified Tour have been able to put this all together, to come to Martinsville, and go to these premier racetracks because it‘s a great opportunity for guys like myself, Ryan Newman, but other drivers that wouldn’t necessarily have the opportunity to run at a historic race track like Martinsville.”
While Preece came to the Cup Series from the Modifieds, Newman was drawn to Tour competition thanks to their doubleheaders with Cup. Since his first Tour start in 2008, Newman has proven himself more than capable behind the wheel of a Modified. In 27 starts, he has four wins, 14 top fives, and 16 top 10s with seven poles. He also won the 2014 All-Star Shootout. All of those starts, however, have come racing at Bristol and New Hampshire.
This won‘t be Newman‘s only Tour start of the season. He also plans to race at both Richmond and New Hampshire, when Modifieds and Cup will be at the track the same week.
Newman‘s big takeaway from the test: Modifieds sure haul around Martinsville.
“My quickest lap time this morning in our session was an 18.80… at least a half-second quicker than the Cup pole, and we‘re not even in qualifying trim with a Modified,” he said.
“Every aspect of a Whelen Modified makes it go faster, and the end result is it doesn’t necessarily go faster at the end of the straightaway, it goes faster in lap time, and that‘s what matters.”