Continuing our analysis of the 2018 Speed51.com Short Track Draft presented by PFC Brakes, we shift our focus to the open-wheeled ground pounders of the nation’s asphalt short tracks, the mighty Modifieds.
Whether you drive with big 15-inch tires or the narrow eight-inch tires, you compete in the Northeast, Deep South, Midwest or desert Southwest, you will find all the young Modified stars on this list.
Keep in mind that not all Modified racers are eligible for the Short Track Draft. Drivers must be under the age of 25 as of April 1, 2018. Additionally, if they lose their rookie status in any of NASCAR’s top-three series by the end of the 2018 season, or if they run more than 10 races in one of NASCAR’s top three series, they are no longer eligible.
#1 – Patrick Emerling (Pick #38) – Tour-Type Modifieds
Emerling took the top spot among the rising stars of the Mod squad, being the only driver to make the third round. The 25-year-old Upstate New York driver became a Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series champion in 2016 and has slowly become a major threat to win everywhere he races. This point which was proven when he beat Doug Coby for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2017. Emerling started 2018 strong with his first Tour-type Modified win at New Smyrna Speedway’s World Series in February.
A younger Upstate New York star on the Race of Champions, Catalano has been recognized for the great potential he has shown these past couple of years, with 2017 being his strongest yet. While consistency netted him a fourth-place finish in the RoC standings, the 20-year-old celebrated championships in the RoC Sportsman Modifieds, RoC Late Models, Holland Speedway Pro Modifieds and Spencer Speedway Sunoco Modifieds over the past few season. Catalano has also broken new ground for himself in 2018, making his debut on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
#3 – Tyler Rypkema (Pick #61) – Tour-type Modifieds
Making it a clean sweep for the Upstaters is the 21-year-old Rypkema, who is coming off a year of firsts in 2017. He shocked the Modified community by winning his first major Tour-type Modified event during the World Series at New Smyrna before carrying that momentum onto the RoC Series where he captured his first win at Lancaster National Speedway last June. Rypkema will look to continue what he started in 2018.
#4 – Chase Dowling (Pick #63) – Tour-type & SK Modifieds
The highest of Connecticut’s new batch of talent that has been bred in the state’s SK Modified ranks, Dowling is a man on a mission in 2018 on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He has been in contention in each of the first three NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races of the season as he looks for his first win.
Dowling hopes to build on a strong 2017 season, a season which featured his first Tour-type Modified in the Modified Touring Series at Monadnock Speedway (NH) and multiple SK Modified victories at Stafford Motor Speedway, where he will also compete once again in 2018.
#5 – Craig Lutz (Pick #71) – Tour-type Modifieds
While technically a member of the famous Long Island Brigade, Lutz chose to cut his teeth in Modifieds to the north of Long Island Sound in the SK Modifieds at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl (CT). After moving with his family team to the Whelen Modified Tour in 2016, Lutz got his big break in 2017, teaming with fellow Islander Jeff Goodale. It has paid off with a batch of consistency and contention to start 2018, both at New Smyrna and on the NASCAR Tour.
#6 – Anthony Nocella (Pick #89) – Tour-type Modifieds
While many Modified drivers are considered ‘underrated’ in the national picture, Nocella is probably at the top of this particular category, especially after his 2017 season. The 25-year-old Massachusetts ace became a champion on the Valenti Modified Racing Series with five wins in 2017, bringing his career total to 12. He also made a reappearance in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, this time with his family team, looking to get just that much better. Nocella has also made numerous Midget appearances on both asphalt and dirt, including an appearance at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
#7 – Matt Swanson (Pick #91) – Tour-type Modifieds
Sticking with the Bay State, Swanson came out of nowhere it seemed when in 2014 at age 14, he became a Modified track champion at Star Speedway (NH). Following a year in Stafford Speedway’s SK Lights, Swanson made the jump to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. After winning Rookie of the Year in 2016 and a consistent 2017 season, Swanson has had to back down to part-time in 2018, but is set to compete in the Tour’s most stacked fields in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
#8 – Ronnie Williams (Pick #94) – Tour-type & SK Modifieds
Our second Connecticut Yankee on this list continues to maintain his home state connections in 2018, still competing as he has since 2014 at Stafford in the SK Modifieds. But in 2017, everything changed for the 21-year-old as he joined forces with the Long Island-based Gershow Motorsports. Since then, Williams has been in contention multiple times both last year and this year on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, nearly snatching a win at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in April.
#9 – Taylor Miinch (Pick #98) – Open-Wheel Modifieds
In a list dominated by the Northeast, we now go all the way west to the Lucas Oil Modified ranks for another underrated champion. Steadily climbing to contention the past few seasons, California’s Miinch broke out big time in 2017, winning four races on the way to the 2017 Lucas Oil Mod championship. Miinch is off to a good start for title defense in 2018, sweeping the first three Lucas Oil races of the season.
#10 - Kyle Tellstrom (Missed the Cut) – Open-Wheel Modifieds
Rounding out the Mod Squad top 10 is another star of the Golden State. Tellstrom has also done well all over the West, particularly in the Lucas Oil Modifieds, where he has three career wins and a fourth-place finish in points in 2016. But 2017 became a year of drifting for Tellstrom, making part-time appearances in both the Lucas Oil Series and North State Modified Series. He made the most of it collecting a win in both series.