1. Will we see Matt Hirschman or Chuck Hossfeld on the Tour at some point?
The economy and stagnant purses have taken a toll on the Modified Tour. Right now, to be considered for most big-time rides, it helps to be able to bring some cash or sponsorship along.
That means that neither Matt Hirschman or Chuck Hossfeld, who both finished in the top five of the 2008 Modified Tour standings, are entered in this weekend's Icebreaker. Neither driver has even a limited schedule ride lined up for the season, but once the silly season starts, it would be foolish to think that either driver wouldn't be seriously looked at for any available seat on the Tour.
Also, don't be surprised to see either racer end up in the H&H Motorsports #98 Troyer “house car” at some point - especially for the New Hampshire races. Both Hirschman and Hossfeld have strong ties to the Troyer organization.
2. What kind of a race will Bristol be?
Before the season has even started, there is one event that everyone is already talking about - and it's a race that won't take place until August.
That will be when the Mod Tour takes to the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway. The race will be held on the Wednesday leading up to the summer Sprint Cup race at Bristol, so that offers the Mod Tour a great chance of exposing itself to a ton of new race fans. Early concerns about the cars holding up at the track might be unfounded too. The minor problem of bottoming out was discovered in the first of two closed test sessions there and teams will want to make sure they bring their best hubs to the facility, but it looks like the Modifieds will hold up on the high banks.
The big question at this point involves restrictor plates. Mods were tested with and without the plates and most drivers favor not running them there in August. With the plates, drivers can run the track wide-open, which could lead to a freight train race with a lot of incidents. NASCAR has yet to decide on the matter.
3. Can “TC” Mean “Twice (a) Champion”?
Ted Christopher is on top of his game right now and on paper appears invincible when it comes to repeating as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. Since the last time that the Tour raced, he has won a few indoor midget races, the New Smyrna Speedweeks championship and the opener for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
Can he be beat for this year's Tour title? Well, races aren't run on paper and anything can happen…so although 2009 could be another TC blowout, it could also be filled with interesting events and occurrences that keep him on his toes all season long. Only time will tell.
4. Who pose the biggest threats to TC?
With his strongest competition from 2008, Matt Hirschman, out of the picture and top five point man Chuck Hossfeld on the sidelines as well, this year might be a cakewalk for Ted Christopher…right?
Ronnie Silk has been right in Christopher's shadows during the off-season Mod races. He was strong at the Southern Mod Tour opener that Christopher won at Concord, he put on a great battle for the Richie Evans Memorial 100 with Christopher at New Smyrna and he was also stout against Matt Hirschman in the ASA Modified race at Orange County. Silk could be the darkhorse in the title fight this season.
Todd Szegedy is as smooth as ever and 2009 could be the season when he records his second tour championship. Szegedy only won one race last season, but if luck had played out differently, he could have visited victory lane three or four times easily.
Ryan Preece became the youngest Modified Tour race winner in history in 2008 and with another year of experience under his belt, he could step up to be a title contender.
Jimmy Blewett sure knows how to win races on the Tour, could 2009 be the year he learns to fight for a championship too?
2009 could be the season for Bobby Grigas, III to shine too. With an experienced crew chief in Kevin Crowley on his side this season, he could creep up through the standings. Title contender? Probably not quite yet, but you never know.
You can't count out veterans Eric Beers, Mike Stefanik or Eddie Flemke either.
And then there is Donny Lia, who skipped defending his 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title but is coming back for the 2009 season with the same team who he won the title for.
5. How will Donny Lia's homecoming go?
Chuck Hossfeld finished in the top five of the Tour standings last year driving for the Mystic Missile #4 team, but he was still replaced before this season. Who could possibly be better qualified for the ride? How about the driver who won the team its only Tour title in decades of trying?
That would be Donny Lia, who left Mods last season to run in the NASCAR Truck Series. Lia won at Mansfield in that discipline and is now back on the Modified Tour. One can only expect him to return as a more experienced and well-rounded driver. Expect him to be a serious championship contender.
6. When will Stefanik get to #70?
Eight-time Modified Tour champion Mike Stefanik had an “off” year in 2008 when he finished seventh in the standings. Yet he still managed to win a race. This year, his Flamingo Motorsports team will roll out a new car according to the word on the street. Stefanik doesn't play around either and he's still able to get the job done. Expect him to notch down his 70th career victory soon rather than later in the season. #71 and #72 might not be far behind either.
7. Who will be the next first time winner?
One of the coolest things in racing is watching a first-time winner break through. While there are no sure bets to do that in the ultra-competitive world of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing, there are quite a few who are up to the task and could capture that elusive first victory this season.
Bobby Grigas, III might have the best chance of everyone. Entering his third year on the Tour, the Massachusetts driver has been very quick at times and led laps on the Tour. He's also had more than his share of bad luck, but experience helps to overcome some of that too and Grigas has definitely stepped up his game. For 2009, Grigas will also have veteran crew chief Kevin Crowley working on his #09 Modifieds and that could be a big boost.
Rowan Pennink has an ambitious season of Tour races and True Value Modified Racing Series events planned and he's been stepping up his game to meet that challenge. Last month, Pennink finished second to Ted Christopher in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour opener at Concord, so he could make the leap to Tour winner this year.
Glen Reen has shown plenty of improvement in one season of Tour racing. He went from a cautious rookie to a regular face in the top 10 during the 2008 season. He also earned the Tour's Rookie of the Year title. That progression should continue steadily this season as well and having Jimmy Fuller on the #17 team to crew chief can't hurt his chances either.
Kevin Goodale showed speed during Florida Speedweeks, now can he win on the Tour? Maybe.
Woody Pitkat will enjoy his first full season of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour racing in 2009 and he'll be driving for a team that is very friendly to young talent - the #28 operation owned by Don King. In the past, the #28 ride has elevated the careers of Doug Coby, James Civali and others. Now, Pitkat could have that chance that he has been working towards for several years. A win or two is definitely not going to be a surprise from that bunch.
Erick Rudolph is the newest young star on the Modified Tour and if you don't know his name yet, you will soon. He's won in a RoC Modified and he's got plenty of talent. Don't count him out.
2008 True Value Modified Racing Series champion Chris Pasteryak is going to run a limited schedule of Tour races in 2009 for the Darling Motorsports team. The driver has plenty of experience and the team does as well. They could be a strong combination together.
8. Who could experience that winning feeling again?
There are a number of drivers who have won on the NASCAR Modified Tour, but not in recent years. The most likely one to break through again to victory lane might be “The Reg.” Reggie Ruggiero hasn't won in a few seasons, but he is just as racy as ever in his limited schedule ride aboard the Dick Barney Modified.
It's been since 1994 since Jamie Tomaino has won a race, but he's got a new car this year and was quick when he entered the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour opener at Concord last month. It's been a couple of years since Doug Coby won as well, but he gets a pass for not having a full-time ride. He's got a close-to-full-time opportunity in the #19 Modified this season, so a return to victory lane is a good bet.
We're not sure how many races Charlie Pasteryak might run this season, but we know he was quick in the ASA Modified show at Orange County Speedway (NC) earlier this year, so he could be looking for his first Tour victory since 1994. Yes, it would be a bit of an upset but as personable as the Connecticut veteran is, we know that it would be a very popular victory.
9. What will Ryan Newman's impact be?
Sadly, there are plenty of fans and media members who ignore the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. It's too bad for them as they are missing some great racing, but the appearance of Ryan Newman in a few shows this year might shift the spotlight over to the Tour for a little bit.
Newman will wheel the #7NY Modified owned by Kevin “Bono” Manion and Gary Putnam in races at New Hampshire and Bristol. He's already won a Tour pole with the car at New Hampshire and a Florida Speedweeks feature with it at New Smyrna.
Newman isn't just here to play, he's here to win. He'll be strong in every race he enters. The attention for the Tour will be strong too.
10. What is the excitement level heading into the Icebreaker?
It's been a long off-season without racing and everyone is itching to go. After two weekends of open practice for the Icebreaker at Thompson, it's almost time to go racing. The excitement level is high, so pack your sweatshirts and head out to the track this weekend. You won't be disappointed.