Four drivers. Five races. 11 points. That’s the battle for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2017 as the division heads to New York’s Oswego Speedway on Saturday. You can insert whatever adjective you’d like to describe the situation and you’ll have a hard time doing it justice. It’s been a while since the tour has had a championship battle like this.
For much of the season, it was a two-man race between Timmy Solomito and Rowan Pennink, two drivers that are seeking their first NWMT championship. Four-time champ (and three-time defending champion) Doug Coby was stuck just inside the top 10 in points. 2013 champion Ryan Preece had been hanging around, but he’d been playing catch-up after missing the race at Langley Speedway (VA) for his wedding.
Then the Tour went to Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) and things started to get crazy. Coby finished second, Preece finished fifth, Pennink finished seventh, and Solomito left Thunder Valley with a 17th-place finish after a crash. Solomito’s points lead was a slim two-point margin over Pennink.
Then things got even crazier last weekend at Seekonk Speedway (MA). Coby and Matt Hirschman made contact and it resulted in big damage to Solomito’s car. Coby went on to win.
So now here we are we with five races left on the schedule and amazingly Ryan Preece leads the standings by two points over Coby, three points over Pennink and 11 points over Solomito, meaning that it will most likely be a three-man race for the championship at Thompson (CT) in October unless Preece goes on an insane run (Preece will be missing the 9/23 race at New Hampshire to make a NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Kentucky Speedway).
“The beginning part of August started out well and then, unfortunately, Bristol and last week at Seekonk didn’t go so well,” Solomito explained to Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We’ve had fast cars at both races. Just wrong place, wrong time.”
Someone that hasn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time, at least not lately, has been Coby. Earlier in the season that was the case, but not lately.
“I would say yes and no,” said Coby when asked if he thought he could get back in the points race. “Yes, because I figured we would be able to pull off a bunch of good finishes in a row. And then also no because I know typically how it works is one or two guys just don’t have bad finishes. That just hasn’t happened this year. It’s a different season. You’ve got Ryan leading the points and he hasn’t even been to (all of the races). So what does that say?”
Pennink, who won the second race of the season at the Icebreaker at Thompson, has basically just hung around. If he’s had trouble, most of the time so have the other contenders. When he doesn’t have trouble, he’s posting strong enough finishes to stay in the mix. He said that’s pretty much the plan for the rest of the season.
“We’ve had some really good races and some not-so-good ones this year,” Pennink said. “We’re still in the hunt, so we really just need to put together some strong finishes from here on out to give ourselves a shot to win the championship.”
As Coby said, 2017 has been a different season for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. All four of these drivers have given themselves a shot. Now it’s time to see who can capitalize in the final handful of races.
2017 has already been a crazy season. It’s a safe bet that it’s going to get even crazier.
“When I was younger my dad told me to go out and win races and let the points fall where they may,” said Solomito. “I run as hard as I can and try to win as many races as I can. Sometimes it works out in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com / Rick Ibsen