Mike Stefanik is not ready to give it up just yet. The seven-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion wrote another historic chapter in his already stellar career when he scored the victory in Sunday’s Made In America 200 feature event at Martinsville Speedway (VA). Stefanik took the lead with 20 laps to go after making a pass on the outside to score the win at the paperclip-shaped track.
“It sure is nice to win at 51 years old and it’s a little sentimental to win here at Martinsville again,” said Stefanik. “As long as we don’t do this too much I think we’ll get a lot of congratulations from other drivers.”
The strategy that helped Stefanik overcome a 16th place starting spot was a call on pit road. Where most teams made two stops, one for tires and one for gas, Stefanik’s team never came back in for fuel, thus giving him his first win of 2009.
“I have to thank my team for choosing the proper strategy for not coming back in to get fuel,” said Stefanik. They gave me a great handling car. I don’t know how much is left in the tank, but there is plenty left in my tank.”
Stefanik said the early part of the 2009 season was difficult because they were struggling. Things had really turned the corner in the last few weeks and a victory just shows the capability of his team.
“We didn’t feel we could do anything right early on this season,” said Stefanik. “It’s probably a little less fun then it used to be because we have been struggling a bit this year. It’s frustrating and I don’t want to go out on the end of my career struggling. I want to go out competitive and lately we have been competitive. It’s not a surprise to our team, but the way the season was going it is a surprise.”
For Stefanik, the win was his 70th career victory in the Modified Series and his fifth career one at Martinsville. Despite all his success, Stefanik doesn’t really look at the stats very often.
“I don’t keep track of that stuff, but it sounds real good,” added Stefanik. “Yeah, we got three of those spring races here. This one is just as sweet as any of them. I was a lot younger back then, but Martinsville has always been Martinsville. You’re going 700 miles from home and when you can get a win it means a lot for the ride home. I am just happy to bring home a clock for my car owner Eric Sanderson. I told him he had better have tall ceilings.”
Late Yellows End Szegedy and Preece’s Chances at Victory
As Todd Szegedy and Ryan Preece rounded out the top three behind Stefanik, they were both left wondering what might have been. All the late races yellows in the final 30 laps crippled both drivers’ chances at victory.
“Too many cautions, too many wrecks,” said Szegedy. “We knew the only way we were going to get up there was by track position. Therefore, we didn’t fill up on fuel and that helped us to get second-place.”
Preece was asking for one more yellow at the end of the race, until the restarts went single-file.
“I needed a caution so we could race double-file, but when we went single file, I was done,” explained Preece. “I thought maybe I could have gotten Todd, and I maybe could have had a chance at Mike. I know he was really fast.”
North Point Battle Heats Up
Three Former Champions and a hotshot youngster are about to square off for one of the most intense championship battles in Modified history. Thanks to defending champion Ted Christopher’s engine troubles at Martinsville, TC, 2007 champ Donny Lia, 2003 champ Todd Szegedy and young gun Ryan Preece are now only separated by 37 points with two races to go. Lia is second in points - just one point behind Christopher.
“It will be close,” said Lia. “We have had some real good races recently and I wouldn’t call today bad luck, but it was good. We have been in the point battle before. It’s going to go right down to the wire.”
Preece is the odd man out when it comes to experience, but he won the most recent race at the up coming Stafford Motor Speedway (CT). He’s all pumped up to be in this title fight.
“I am here to win this championship,” said Preece. “We’re not gong to throw this opportunity away. You never know if your going to get a chance like this again. Teddy had problems and Donny was behind us, today was good, but we’ll have to be on our game at Stafford.”
South Points Battle Snoozes Up
As the northern title fight tightens, the south battle has widened. George Brunnhoelzl, III has really put a hurting on the NASCAR Whelen South Modified Tour. Thanks to three wins, and seven second-place finishes he’s practically locked up the title with two races to go. Brunnhoelzl heads to Ace Speedway with a 140-point lead over Andy Seuss.
“We’ll still go to the next two races and try and win them,” said Brunnhoelzl. “We came out of here in one piece so we are thankful for that.”
Because of the projected car count for this weekend’s race at Ace Speedway (NC), Brunnhoelzl would likely just have to log another solid finish to essentially lock up the title. Andy Seuss has decided to just focus on wins as things are starting to get out of reach as far as the title goes.
“Unless Georgie doesn’t show up, he’s got it,” said Seuss. “Were just going to go out and do everything we can to win those last two races. We are just going to shoot for six wins in 2009.”
Myers Redeems Himself With Top Five Finish at Martinsville
Burt Myers made the south proud once again as the top finishing driver at the Martinsville Modified combo event. After running near the front all day, Myers dodged some late race wrecks and posted a fifth-place finish.
“Track position was important today as it has ever been up here,” said Myers. “Everybody’s cars are so equal and the rubber gets built up on the track. It makes passing almost imposable without being aggressive with a guy. For the most part the Capital Bank Ford was good. First southern car in nice, but we wanted to leave here with a clock.”
For Myers, the chance to run well again at Martinsville was big after last year’s overall victory was taken away after a tech infraction. Many are still buzzing about that, as others are ready to see it put behind the young driver.
“There are a lot of politics in racing,” said Myers. “You know from Cup all the way down to the bottom. We won the race here last year. There might be some officials or some Cup guys who said we didn’t, but we won. We came back with the same package today and had trouble overcoming track position.”
-Kevin and Eric Goodale made Riverhead, New York fans proud after they both logged top 10 finishes at Martinsville.
-Ted Christopher’s shot at victory ended early when he had motor trouble early in the race. He would come back out to salvage a 30th place finish.
-Ron Silk followed up his New Hampshire win with a pole position and a fourth-place finish at Martinsville.
-Rowan Pennink was impressive during the middle stages of the race as he led 77 laps. A late race wreck left 16th in the standings.
-200 or 300? This year’s modified show was shorted by 100 laps so that the NASCAR Whelen All-American Limited Late Models could share the track with the open wheeled ground-pounders. Roger Parish Jr. won the race.