With the first day of the Icebreaker at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) in the books, the 2017 racing season in the Northeast is officially under way. While Saturday was just a practice day for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Pro All-Stars Series, it was an eventful day for a few teams.
Woody Pitkat is pulling triple-duty this weekend, running in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 150-lap event, as well as the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sunoco Modified and Late Model features. Pitkat’s Saturday ended with his No. 46 NWMT Modified receiving a tow back to the garage area after a spin.
“I haven’t really figured out what happened yet,” said Pitkat at the end of the day. “I still have to talk to my guys. I don’t know if I ran something over when I was going around the mountain or if something happened to the rim or what. I don’t know. Just a crappy ending to the day.”
Fortunately for Pitkat, he managed to keep his car off of the wall and from receiving any further damage.
However, Nick Sweet was not as lucky during the Pro All-Stars Series heat races earlier in the day. Sweet brought a new Super Late Model to Thompson, and it didn’t take long for it to receive some nose damage.
Travis Fisher went around in turn one after slight contact from Derek Griffith. Fisher slid up the track and into the path of Griffith, Ben Rowe and Sweet with Sweet suffering the most damage to his white No. 40 machine.
“That’s racing,” said Sweet. “A guy on the inside had a terrible restart and he ended up being the one that spun out. It’s too bad he came up. I should have known he would be coming up, but the problem is I was already up there so there was just nowhere to go. We’ll keep working on it and as long as we get it fixed we’ll be here tomorrow.”
One driver that did have some luck in the PASS heats was Garrett Hall who won the PASS feature at the Icebreaker one year ago. Hall backed up that performance with a win in his heat race on Saturday afternoon.
“Today gave me quite a bit of confidence going into tomorrow,” Hall told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We’ll be starting third tomorrow, and it’s a little bit deeper of a field than last year, so we’ll just play it by ear and see what we’ve got.”
Justin Bonsignore has been one of the most dominant Modified drivers at Thompson Speedway over the past few years. Just last year, Bonsignore won half of the races at Thompson and this weekend he arrived with a new weapon in the arsenal.
“It was really good,” said Bonsignore, who was 11th fastest in both practice sessions. “You’re always a little hesitant when you’re unloading a new car off the truck. We weren’t able test it with how the weather worked out this year. But we got the brakes worked in over the first two or three laps and then hauled it off in there. The guys did a really good job unloading a really good car like we always do here. It had really good speed. We didn’t post a big lap, but I think we should be able to qualify really good and that should make our day easier. (This car) is even, if not a little bit better than what we’ve had here.”
Another driver who is always strong at Thompson, and everywhere else for that matter, is four-time champion Doug Coby. Coby paced the first practice session with a lap of 18.852 seconds. Coby was second fastest in final practice.
“We kind of feel like we’re back to where we were in 2015,” said Coby. “We were just a little bit off last year setup wise. Phil (Moran, crew chief) tried a couple of new things this year to get us back to where we were, and I feel like we’re close. I think we’re going to have a car that can go a really long time before it starts to fall off.”
After finishing 13th in the season-opener last month at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway, Coby couldn’t have a better track to head to in hopes of a rebound than Thompson.
“We had a really good car there at Myrtle Beach. We probably could have squeaked out a top-10 finish at the end of it if we didn’t get caught up in some of that mayhem at the end. I made some mistakes too. I made a mistake in qualifying and on pit road. It happens. But I don’t think this weekend needs to be over analyzed. It’s a Thompson race, which is important. Yeah, we have to have a good run, but it’s definitely do or die.”
The only driver to post a lap faster than Coby on Saturday was third-year driver Chase Dowling. The young driver paced final practice for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with a time of 18.769 seconds.
Dowling is running a partial schedule this year with a new team in the LFR house car, and the Icebreaker this weekend is their first race together.
“That was a really big confidence booster for me personally,” Dowling said. “It’s kind of like an Alex Bowman-deal in the Cup Series. I’ve still got something to drive and it’s really good. I just hope we can keep it up there and not fall off from practice. Hopefully we can qualify up front and stay there in the race.
Speed51.com had live Trackside Now coverage presented by Spafco Race Chassis and Parts from Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Saturday. For an on-demand replay, including full results from both NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour practice sessions and the PASS heat races, click here.
Sunday’s Trackside Now coverage will begin at 11 a.m. ET. on Speed51.com.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Duane Canfield