MODIFIED TOUR LEFTOVERS: STAFFORD  by Mike Twist and Denise DuPont
More From the Brothers Blewett, Steffy's Fast, Sesley is Smart & More
JIMMY BLEWETT REDEEMS HIMSELF

Lately, when Jimmy Blewett has raced with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford, he has been doing double duty in the SK Modified division as well.  But not this time.
Blewett was suspended for the rest of the season from weekly racing at Stafford after he planted Frank Ruocco into the turn one wall there recently.  The young New Jersey driver, who has never been shy about showing his anger at or on the track, has caught a lot of flack for the incident.  However his runner-up finish in the tour race served as redemption of sorts.

“It was my own fault that I got thrown out of here,” admitted Jimmy Blewett.

“Jimmy brings a lot of heat upon himself, but he is who he
is,” said his brother John Blewett, III.  “You’re not going to change him.  He’s a little rough around the edges, but when he gets that smoothed out there are going to be a lot of people in a lot of trouble on this tour, including myself.”

“I’ve really got to thank my crew and everyone who came here with us today,” said Jimmy.  “They are the best.  We’ve had a rough couple of weeks, but they’ve stuck together as a team.  I’d like to get one for them because they deserve it more than anybody.”

THE REG SEES ONE SLIDE AWAY

Reggie Ruggiero had one of the fastest cars at Stafford.  He stalked leader Jimmy Blewett early on and went for the lead on 63.
Jimmy Blewett in his #12.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
The Yuhas #6 car goes up in flames.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
“We figured that we might as well pit for tires [after the Blewett incident],” said Ruggiero.  “We just couldn’t get the right tires on the car.  We blistered the right rear twice after changing them.  It was just one of those things - one of those nights in racing.”

YUHAS OK AFTER HARD WRECK AND SCARY FIRE

After only two dozen laps, rookie Ron Yuhas saw his day at Stafford end spectacularly when he cut a right front tire on his machine.  That sent the bright green #6 hard into the backstretch wall.  The car bounced off and came to a rest in the middle of the track.  Within seconds a small fire appeared. 
Within a few more seconds, that fire was anything but small.  The crowd held their breath as Yuhas took a little bit of time to climb out of the car and then the fire was extinguished.

Yuhas was uninjured.

“I’m fine,” said Yuhas after the race.  “We cut a right front down.  The frame rail came in and knocked the fuel pump off.  Then I couldn’t get the fuel switch turned off.”

Having a battery of safety equipment was a mixed blessing for Yuhas.  It made getting out of the car more time consuming, but it also softened the blow of the impact. 
“The head restraints and the HANS device made it a little tougher to get out, but you’re glad that have it all when you need it.”

SOLID RUN FOR LITTLE HIRSCHY

Matt Hirschman’s second start for the Darling Racing team ended with a strong ninth-place finish.  In 2006, the Rookie of the Year Competitor is running a full season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour splitting his team between the Darling car and an entry fielded by car owner Ed Bennett.
“It was a good run for us,” said Hirschman.  “It was only our second time out with this car and this team.  We had a good run going at Thompson and should have finished in the top 10 there.  Now we did finished in the top 10 here, so it’s a good start.  

Hirschman sees even better things on the horizon as well.

“We’ll work on it some more.  Everyone is still learning the car and learning each other.  We should have some top fives in the coming weeks.”

For a portion of the event, Hirschman even got the chance to race with his father Tony.  The elder Hirschman, a five-
time Mod Tour champion, ended up with the bragging rights on the day though when he finished in the seventh position.

“Hopefully we’ll get to race together a lot this year,” said Matt Hirschman.  “It’s fun.  He got by us at the end there.  He wasn’t a whole lot better, but it was hard to pass.  I did the best that I could to run everyone clean and run where I could and that is where we ended up.”

BROTHERS BLEWETT PUT ON A SHOW

John Blewett, III had to pass his younger brother Jimmy to take the lead, and eventual victory at Stafford.

It wasn’t easy.

“My brother knows what he has to do to get around me,” said Jimmy Blewett.  “We race toe to toe every Saturday night at Wall Township Speedway. He knows if he is going to get around me it is not going to be easy, so he does what he has to do to win the race. In the closing laps of the race, I would have done the same thin if the tables were turned.”
Matt Hirschman (R) talks with his father Tony (L) before the race started.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
The King Racing team pushes their #28 to the infield.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
But it wasn’t to be.  Right at the 100-lap mark, Civali’s car coasted to the pits and never returned.  He was credited with a finish of 24th.

“We were running really well,” said Civali.  “We got the lead from [Jimmy] Blewett and the car went really nice in the clean air.  We were probably pulling away a little bit.  On the restart, he got by me and I was just going to ride behind him, but it popped at the end of the straightaway.  I switched boxes.  It broke the distributor.  When it popped, I figured that was what it was, but I tried anyways.”
SK EXPERIENCE HELPS BOTH BLEWETTS

There were a few things that the top two finishers had in common.  First, they were brothers.  Secondly, both John and Jimmy Blewett have plenty of recent SK Modified experience at Stafford.  Those laps probably helped both drivers.

Jimmy Blewett had been the regular driver of the Eddie Partridge-owned T&S Haulers machine at Stafford before getting suspended from the division several weeks back.  Since then, John has been driving the car.

“It has helped me because it has taught me to get into the corners at lot easier and to get off a lot harder,” said John.  “I have to thank Eddie Partridge it was a nice thing for me when he asked me to drive the car. I did not expect to be here on Friday nights.  I am a busy man right now. Between the Tour, here every Friday and Wall {the New Jersey track where he competes weekly in the Modified division] every Saturday, I am spreading myself a bit thin, but the extra racing is paying off.”

“Being here at the beginning of the year and the end of the last year including the Fall Final gave me a little of an edge coming into the race,” said Jimmy.  “This is one of the toughest tracks on the Tour.”

SESLEY HAS SEESAW TOP END WITH TOP 10

Anthony Sesley had a real up and down day at Stafford.  He struggled in practice, barely got into the race with a provisional starting spot, used some savvy pit strategy to run as high as third and ended up with an eighth place finish.
John Blewett, III's #66  (Jim DuPont Photo)
“My car was working real well on the bottom all day,” said John.  “There was not a lot of grip on the top. I really did not expect to get in there that quick, but I think once I got to his bumper he tried to stay low on the bottom and it was slowing his speed up. We had a little bit fresher tire.” 

John passed Jimmy in turns one and two.  It was not where he was planning to make a bid for the lead.

“I figured that I would be able to do a run on him in the backstretch,” said John.  “Jimmy was loose in and tight off and I seemed to be able to get a lot of speed on him coming off. It just took one little slip up to get in there.”
The end result was a one-two finish by the New Jersey brothers.

“It is always nice to win a one two on a tour race with your brother,” said a smiling John after the race. 

HEARTBREAKER FOR CIVALI

James Civali led 25 laps at Stafford and looked to have a car that could win the race.  A victory would be his first of his rookie campaign and also the first for car owner Don King, who has a record of giving young talent a chance on the Tour. 
But a victory was not to be for the Reg this time out.  While going for the lead, his #41 and Blewett’s #12 made contact in the turn one and Ruggiero went sliding along the apron of the track.

“I got under the #12 car and he sort of came down a little bit.  We bumped and it hit right front tire and sent me to the infield.  The #2 car [Todd Szegedy] ran into me unfortunately.  But it didn’t hurt our car. 

Ruggiero tried to come back after the incident and managed to finish 10th, but just ran into too many barriers to get back up front.
Reggie Ruggiero's #41 gets caught up with Todd Szegedy's #2 Mod.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
“We went from using a provisional and being the slowest car here to finishing in the top 10,” said Sesley.  “This car was so bad that we were going to load up and go home.  We stuck with it and my buddy Eric kept making changes to the car.  If it wasn’t for him, I’d be home already.”

Sesley elected not to pit during the race after following the lead of someone who knows who to win Modified races – Donny Lia.

“When I got to the front, I realized that there was no racing there.  I was going to do whatever Donny was doing.  If he pitted, I would pit and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t.  I was going to run the lap times that Donny ran, the line that Donny ran and all of that.  Once you get up there, you have to try to stay there.
Anthony Sesley (L) hangs out with Steve Whitt (R) before the race started.  (51 Photo)
“After every caution, it was tough to get going on the first few laps.  Fresher tires were starting to prevail late there.  At the end, there was nothing that I could do but to try and keep it off the fence and in one piece.”

At the conclusion of the day, Sesley had a big smile on his face.

“This is my first top 10 finish and now we’re going to New Hampshire.  I’m excited.” 

LIA NOT PERFECT, BUT GOOD ENOUGH FOR THE PODIUM

Donny Lia claims to have been a little bit off  the pace at Stafford, but heads-up driving and a strategy of not pitting still led the Long Island driver to a solid third place finish.
“We just keep missed the setup for here,” said Lia.  “We did not have a car to win, but we are getting closer. We will just take what we can get and today was third. We will go into next week and eventually we will get a car that we can attack with. So far I have just been out there running around and just finishing the race.

“It was a good day for us.  We might have not had a top five car, but we pulled out a good finish.”

PITTING PROVES TO BE WAY TO GO FOR JBIII

John Blewett was the only driver among the top three finishers to pit during the 150-lap race at Stafford.  It worked pretty well too, since Blewett won the event.
Donny Lia  (51 Photo)
“I knew that I had a good shot because I pitted and a lot of those guys didn’t,” said Blewett.  “We did three tires and only two cars beat us out. We did a good job all around, in the pits and on the race track.” 

Blewett pitted on Lap #66 in his lucky car #66. 

“We were good right up to the pit stop and then we got loose and did not seem like the car settled down. I know I was racing hard with Mike Stefanik [who also pitted]. I knew I had to get ahead of him if I was going to win. I really had to lean on the right rear hard. We raced real hard for at least 10 laps. Finally a lane opened up for me and I had to be patient because I did not want to loose and positions. 

It just seems that the longer we went the better we got. We had a set of scuffs that we put on from Thompson, we figured that it would be hot and the track slick so they would help. Here and Thompson once you get spread out it is hard to make up the distance. Our strategy worked out today but you have to use so much of you car up to do it. Luckily things just seemed to all work out today.”

STEFFY SHOWS THE WAY IN QUALIFYING

Mike Stefanik has a reputation for being tough in race trim.  The Mod veteran knows how to pace himself through the course of a race no matter what the distance is.
Steffy showed his qualifying prowess at Stafford as well by setting fast time for the race.  The Bud Pole was the first that he has earned as the driver of the Eric Sanderson-owned #16 Modified.

“It certainly was unexpected because we were not all that great in practice,” said Stefanik.  “It was just nice to finally get a pole.  We think we made the right changes, but two laps are only two laps, 150 is another story.  I am really happy for all the guys, they have not had a pole in a long time and neither have I. As a group this is our first one so that is pretty good”





Mike Stefanik  (Jim DuPont Photo)