The SMART Modified Tour has seen six different winners in the first six races of the 2021 season.
The series crowned its newest winner last Saturday at Dillon Motor Speedway, when 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte scored an elusive victory after several strong runs throughout the campaign. In spite of missing the series’ July 3 stop at Caraway Speedway while competing in the Camping World SRX Series, Labonte’s performances have been strong enough to place him fifth in series points following the Dillon victory.
When the season started at Caraway Speedway in March, Matt Hirschman went to victory lane in a wild finish. From one of the most notable names in Modified racing in that race, the next win went to a relative unknown in rookie Caleb Heady driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Heady scored his victory as the series went to Florence Motor Speedway.
Ryan Preece won the third race of the season for the SMART Modified Tour, taking the checkered flag at South Boston Speedway in April. John Smith won round four at Franklin County Speedway, while Gary Putnam won in the series’ return to Caraway in July.
Winners this season with the SMART Modified Tour include Matt Hirschman, Caleb Heady, Ryan Preece, John Smith, Gary Putnam and Bobby Labonte.
So how likely is it this trend will continue at Carteret County Speedway this weekend? There are several heavy hitters who are still looking for their first SMART Modified Tour win of the season.
Just a glance at the top of the points standings reveal some title contenders seeking their first wins of the season. John Smith is tied with Jason Myers for the points lead, with Myers currently posting a best finish of third at Franklin County. Jason Myers has relied on consistency for his share of the points lead, with two top-fives and four top-10 finishes in the first six events.
As it turns out, both Myers brothers are looking for a SMART win in 2021. Burt Myers is currently third in points, just five points behind brother Jason as well as Smith. Burt Myers rattled off three top-five finishes to start the season, but has finishes of 11th and 13th in the last two events.
Sitting fourth in points is another Modified champion of the south, Brian Loftin. The North Carolina native claimed the 2008 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship, with 12 wins to his credit in that series. Interestingly enough, Loftin won two of the four SMART Modified Tour events in 2020, including its opening event at Caraway last August. Still, Loftin finds himself looking for that return trip in 2021.
Jeremy Gerstner has started every event of the 2021 SMART Modified Tour season and currently sits sixth in points. The start of the season was a challenging one for the Florida native, without a single top-10 finish in the first four races. Since then, Gerstner has finished eighth at Caraway and fifth at Dillon, building momentum as he heads to Carteret County.
While more entries will be announced throughout the week on the SMART Modified Tour social media channels, one name we already expect to challenge for the win after being announced is Brandon Ward. Ward finished second to Labonte on Saturday night at Dillon, matching his finish during the series’ trip to Florence last November.
A wild card in all of this is the track itself. Carteret County Speedway opened in 2015 and has only hosted one Tour-type Modified event, back during its inaugural season. For many of the drivers in Sunday’s field, it will be their first trip to the Swansboro, North Carolina facility, presenting a unique challenge to SMART Modified teams.
Fans unable to attend Sunday’s SMART Modified Tour event at Carteret County Speedway will be able to watch the race live on Speed51.TV by clicking here.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51 Director of Digital Content – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51 Photo / Will Bellamy