The latest round of the Speed51 Elite Modified Tour on iRacing brought the field to Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) for 100 laps of ground-pounding racing around "The Big T." It was a night of chaos and tricky handling for all who were on track including the front runners.
Of the 30 cars that qualified from the 37 that took time, only four would taste the lead, with pole sitter Matt Gruenberg leading from the start before being caught from behind by Blake Near. Near would lead until the halfway break for pit stops when Brandon Wilkinson won the race off of pit road.
But it all came crashing down for both Wilkinson and Near when contact in turn three on Lap 56 sent Wilkinson slamming into the wall and tumbling over, with Near pulling to pit road.
That opened the door for Long Island native Ryan Lutz to take the lead for good, holding off Pennsylvania Modified star Austin Beers and then Jonathan Tracey on the last restart with two laps to go.
For Lutz, the large field and tight times reminded him of his visits to the real world Thompson supporting his older brother and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular, Craig Lutz.
“It was a stacked field, it actually reminded me a lot of helping my brother Craig on the Tour at Thompson. It was so tight, qualifying you had one mishap you were going to be tenth. In practice we were fast time, I knew we had a good car. We just had to be smart, because there was a lot of carnage up there,” Lutz told Speed51.
The first part of the night was hardly a cakewalk for Ryan Lutz, as he struggled to come to grips with his No. 46 in getting the right setup.
“Started out really tight, the car bottomed out a lot in the corners, so I knew if I got enough practice and good enough track position, I knew if we were there at the end we could have had a shot to win it. Honestly, we did. Thought we had something in the beginning, but I wasn’t really turning it on yet.”
After picking up positions at the halfway break on pit road and making improvements to the car, he decided to play it safe the first few laps of the restart as Wilkinson and Near battled for the lead. That was a decision that Lutz was glad he made.
“I got off pit road third, then the two leaders got together. I saw it coming for a couple laps before that. So, I knew if I just ran my own race and kept a clean front bumper, I knew we could really be there at the end, and that’s what the results showed.”
In the end, Lutz knew that keeping his nose clean over the caution-filled race most likely was the biggest key to victory.
“You knock a right front in the wall, you’ll be junk the rest of the race. I think that’s what happened to Austin there, he really struggled to get going on the restarts, and on the outside there’s grip out there, and that’s what we needed to get it done.”
Jonathan Tracey got one shot at Lutz with one to go after taking second from Austin Beers with two laps to go, but time just wasn’t on his side.
“Just being on the outside was pretty pivotal tonight, Austin Beers on the inside, I was hoping he wouldn’t slide up or slide me in turn one on the restart. He didn’t, he ran me clean, and I got a good run on the outside, and got a chance to go after the leader,” Recalled Tracey.
After falling to fourth, behind Joey Bailey, Austin Beers could only give Lutz his compliments, and lament his early troubles.
“He’s just really good and my car was pretty much damaged. I was in a couple of predicaments tonight and it was kind of a crazy race, but he’s just really good,” Beers said.
An on-demand replay of Tuesday night's 100-lap race at Thompson can be viewed now by clicking here.
Next up for the Speed51 Elite Modified Tour will be the season finale next Tuesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. A live video stream of that race will begin at approximately 7:45 p.m. ET on Speed51.com.
For more information on the Speed51 Elite Modified Tour, including updated point standings and more, visit www.eliteracingleagues.com/elite-modified-tour.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor