The winter season lasts the same amount of days every calendar year, but this one between the 2014 and 2015 racing season felt like it would never end. Thankfully it finally has, the snow has melted, the ground is thawing and now it’s time for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to break some ice at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) with the season-opening Icebreaker 150 on Sunday, April 12.
With that being said, it’s time to place your bets on who you think will be holding the 2015 NWMT championship trophy high above their head after the season finale at Thompson in October.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas have been working feverishly to figure out who the favorites are going to be for the 2015 NWMT championship. Okay, maybe the bookies in Vegas haven’t been calculating it, but we here at Speed51.com powered by JEGS have broken down who we think has the best shot to take home that big trophy when the season ends at the World Series.
Of course, we mean no disrespect to any particular driver or team with these odds. These are calculated based off past performance and any changes that may have been made in the offseason that could impact their performance in 2015.
With that being said, here are Speed51.com’s odds to win the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in the tour’s 30th anniversary year.
5 to 1: The Favorites
Doug Coby, Ryan Preece
There’s no surprise here. Coby and Preece have finished first and second in each of the last three years, with Coby coming out on top twice.
But the interesting thing will be watching how offseason changes affect their performance this year, whether positively or negatively. Coby is remaining with Mike Smerigilio III Racing for 2015, but the team has switched from Troyer Chassis to LFR Chassis and they’ve also switched from a built motor to a NASCAR Spec motor. Preece left Flamingo Motorsports (the team he won the championship with in 2013) after winning the final two races of 2014 to head over to Ed Partridge’s TS Haulers No. 6. Preece’s team is also running a NASCAR Spec motor this year, but they’re using the new Troyer TA-2 concept chassis. They had great results at New Smyrna Speedway in February, winning four races and the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing championship.
It’s nearly a lock that these two will be fighting it out for the championship once again.
7 to 1: The Front Runners
Justin Bonsignore, Woody Pitkat, Bobby Santos III
These three drivers combined for eight wins last year, with Santos and Bonsignore taking three apiece, but they just couldn’t seem to find the consistency that is needed to compete for the championship all season long.
Santos is still looking for his second championship after winning his first in 2010. Early last year it appeared as if Santos would be a contender all year long, but his early strength started to fade in late summer. That said, if Santos and his team find a way to keep their strength all season long they’ll be right there in the thick of things.
2014 was a breakout season for Bonsignore who proved he can contend for a championship. Bonsignore scored three wins and was battling with Coby all season long until he got hit with some bad luck at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway in September which effectively ended his chances last year.
Pitkat scored his first ever NWMT win at his home track of Stafford in August, and added to that with a huge win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September. He and his Buzz Chew Racing team had a lot of speed throughout the season, but need to find some consistency as he had five finishes of 19th or worse.
9 to 1: Keep an Eye On
Todd Szegedy, Ted Christopher, Eric Goodale, Timmy Solomito
The grouping here is a bit odd, and we are aware of that. Szegedy and Christopher are both former NWMT champions, meanwhile Goodale and Solomito have combined for just one NWMT win. So why are they grouped together?
Like we said, we’re taking past performance into account, but racing is very much a “What have you done for me lately?” sport. Szegedy only ran part time last year in the LFR Chassis house car for Rob Fuller Motorsports. Christopher didn’t win a race in 2015, but surprised many people with his fifth-place finish in points. However, he did enter the final race in second in points. Goodale scored his first win at his home track of Riverhead Raceway in June, but couldn’t find the consistency to contend for the championship. Solomito won Rookie of the Year honors last year, and is now jumping into the seat vacated by Preece at Flamingo Motorsports.
All of these drivers could certainly have a shot to contend if things fall into place.
12 to 1: Decent Money
Rowan Pennink, Donny Lia, Spencer Davis
2014 was not a good year for Donny Lia, and he’ll readily admit that. And that’s why he’s in this category, because honestly, he shouldn’t be. But he finished 11th in points with just three top fives, and that prompted him to make a change at the end of the year. Lia left the Mystic Missile owned by Bob Garbarino to head to Mark Sypher’s race team to take over the seat from Glen Reen. Lia will now be in a LFR Chassis powered by the NASCAR Spec engine, so it will be interesting to see if he can get back to his race-winning ways.
Pennink could possibly be higher up the list, but last year was a disappointment for the driver from Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. After ending 2013 with a win at Thompson in the World Series many expected big things out of him in 2014, but he failed to deliver and even skipped a couple of races during the season.
Davis, 16, won Rookie of the Year Honors with the Southern Tour last year and is hoping he can build off of that this year. He currently lacks in Modified experience, with just one year under his belt, but he’s going to have plenty when the year is done as he bounces back and forth between the Northern Tour and the Southern Tour.
15 to 1: Would Pay Off Well
Shawn Solomito, Anthony Nocella, Chase Dowling
Nocella is a 22-year-old rookie this year, but he has plenty of experience behind the wheel of a Modified. He’s raced with the Valenti Modified Racing Series for the past three years, and scored a win at Seekonk Speedway (MA) in 2013. Nocella is going full-time NWMT this year, filling in for Ron Yuhas who was injured in a crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway back in September.
Solomito is a bit older than Nocella at 26, but has already made a few Whelen Modified tour starts. Most of those have come at his home track of Riverhead Raceway where he won the track championship in 2013. He’s also entering the ride that his younger brother, Timmy, ran to the Rookie of the Year title. Shawn is racing for Wayne Anderson, the 1994 NWMT champion, with a NASCAR Spec engine under the hood.
Dowling may be the next big thing in Modified racing, but we’re going to wait until he goes out onto the track against NWMT competition and proves it. Last year, Dowling became the youngest SK Modified feature winner at Stafford Motor Speedway competing against many of the drivers he’ll compete against on the Tour. By this time next year, Dowling could jump up to 5-1. But like we said, we’ll wait until he proves himself before putting him ahead of those already proven.
20 to 1: Big Money Bets
Jamie Tomaino, Wade Cole, Ken Heagy, Melissa Fifield
Tomaino, a former NWMT champion, will be back in the driver’s seat of his No. 99 this year while offering assistance to his teammate, young Chase Dowling. He could be capable of turning in a few top-10 runs but we wouldn’t consider him a championship contender this year.
Cole, Heagy and Fifield are all drivers that would need to show improvement in order for us to move them up any higher on the list in 2015.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor & Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor
-Photo credit: Speed51.com