Three drivers. 150 laps. One championship. Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Thompson, Connecticut is the ring where this heavyweight title bout to decide the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship will take place on Sunday afternoon.
In one corner, driving the No. 2 machine is the two-time and defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby, who has won the last two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) to claw his way back into the championship picture after a tough mid-season stretch.
In another corner, driving the No. 6 machine is the 2013 NWMT champion, Ryan Preece, who sits tied atop the championship standings with Coby. Preece has been right in the thick of it all year, but a crash at Loudon as a result of contact with Coby had him playing catch-up at Stafford two weeks ago.
And in the other corner, driving the No. 88 car is Woody Pitkat, who sits four markers back of Preece and Coby. Pitkat has won just once this year, but was a model of consistency until bad finishes at Loudon and Stafford put him on the ropes.
All three drivers have had run-ins with each other at some point this season, whether in NWMT competition, or in another Modified race. Pitkat and Coby at Thompson in August, Pitkat and Preece at Stafford in SK Modified competition, and most notably, Preece and Coby at Loudon in September where Preece was leading in turn one on the final lap, but a shove from Coby led to Preece spinning, a multi-car crash ensuing, and Coby celebrating in victory lane.
The old adage of “race your competitors the way they race you” comes to mind as they head to Thompson one last time this year with the biggest prize of them all, the season championship, on the line.
“I’m sure the line will be tested and possibly crossed by all three of us if we have to,” Coby told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I’m certainly able to take what I can dish out. This is for the championship. I’m game for anything.”
Preece echoed Coby’s sentiments, saying that whatever it takes is what he’ll do on Sunday.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get another one,” said Preece. “At the same time, my parents raised me to race a certain way. I don’t think I’d go beyond the boundaries. You have to just see how a race plays out. I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m going to move someone out of the race. But there’s a lot of things that a lot of people will do to win that championship so we’ll just have to find out on Sunday.”
This year’s battle is one of the closest in the history of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. In the past few years, Preece and Coby have had to finish somewhere around 15th or better to clinch their championships.
But this year that isn’t the case. They all know that they have to be on their game to get the job done at the end of 150 laps on Sunday.
“If you go in thinking you’re going to top five that race well you aren’t going to win the championship,” said Preece. “That’s just a given at this point. Whoever wins this race (out of the three of us) wins the championship. You can’t look at it any other way.”
On paper, that should give Coby the upper hand as he’s won all three races at Thompson so far this season, leading the most laps in all three of them too. Coby just needs to do that one more time to earn himself the title “three-time NWMT champion.”
“That’s what we’d love to do, but I know everybody has been working hard to chase us,” Coby said. “I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to have a good car, but we have to be on our game. I know that my guys are ready to go. (The car) is going to be fast. It’s just a matter of if it’ll be as fast as the other three races.”
Even if it is as fast as it was in the other three races at Thompson this year, Preece said that he’s not worried at all about Coby or Pitkat or anyone else for that matter.
“I’ve seen a lot of people go out and win three races at Thompson and then not win the World Series,” Preece said. “So I’m not worried about what Woody or what Doug are doing. I’m worried about my car and getting it where it needs to be. If we do that then things will take care of themselves.”
So what happens if this race comes down to a green-white-checkered finish with Coby, Preece and Pitkat all fighting for the win together?
“It is what it is. We have to go for a win,” said Coby. “Everybody has to understand that there’s a lot on the line here. I think the fans will be on their feet and the fastest car may not win the race. It’s going to be an all out battle between the three of us for every spot we can get.”
If those aren’t fighting words, then what are?
Ring the bell.
(Editor’s Note: Read Pitkat’s comments on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title fight here.)
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount