Donny Lia took destiny into his own hands Sunday at Stafford Motor Speedway as he captured the CARQUEST Fall Final checkered flag and left with the championship points lead with one race remaining on the schedule.
Lia (No. 4 Mystic Missile Dodge), who entered the day just one tally back of points leader Ted Christopher, took the race lead for the final time on Lap 115 and held on through multiple restarts and a green-white-checker finish for his fourth win of the season. As a result of his win, and a pair of accidents that relegated Christopher to a 31st place finish, Lia will take a 26-point lead to the season finale in two weeks at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway.
It marked the 15th career win for Lia, and his third at Stafford. Lia also earned the 15th Coors Light Pole Award of his career earlier in the day.
“It was a great day for us – we won the pole, won the race, and had a great race car,” Lia said. “We were able to get to the front and lead some laps, then we pitted and were fortunately able to come back through and get the lead again and just maintained the lead from there on out.”
Lia’s primary competition for the title in the season finale will be Ryan Preece, who challenged Lia for the lead on a couple of occasions in the later stages of the race, but crossed the line third to stay within striking distance of the championship. Now in his third full season, this will be his first shot at the Whelen Modified Tour crown.
“I had nothing for the 4 [Lia] at the end,” Preece said. “My best bet was to rattle him up and be very aggressive getting through traffic, but at the same time we wanted to finish this race, and we’ll carry it over to Thompson.”
Doug Coby was the race runner-up on Sunday. Following Preece across the line were James Civali, Chris Pasteryak, Rowan Pennink, Eric Beers, Mike Stefanik, Reggie Ruggiero and Erick Rudolph.
Christopher, who was involved in accidents on Lap 17 and Lap 23, slipped to third in the standings and is now 109 behind Lia. The 2008 Whelen Modified Tour champion had a 48-point lead after New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 19, but engine trouble at Martinsville Speedway the following week combined with Sunday’s result, has dealt in a damaging blow toward his bid to repeat.
“What are you going to do? Sometimes it happens,” Christopher said. “It all started last week at Martinsville. You end up having a bad day there and it unfortunately it rolled over to this week.”
Christopher had maintained the championship lead for 17 of the last 18 races dating back to last year before Sunday’s reversal of fortunes.
Todd Szegedy, fourth in points entering Sunday, remained in the same position with a 20th place finish and is now 113 out of first. Pennink also still maintains a mathematical shot at the championship, but in fifth place and 148 points out of first, he and Szegedy will both be officially eliminated from contention when Lia takes the green flag in the season finale.
As the attention now shifts toward Thompson, Lia will be gunning for his second title in three years. The Jericho, N.Y., native clinched the 2007 crown at the Fall Final with one race to go in the season, but it will all be on the line in this year’s World Series.
“This year it’s tighter,” Lia said. “I think this is what makes you a champion, even more so than 2007, because we’ve had to work [harder] for it this year. We’ve had to come from behind. We had some bad luck, but now we’ve put together a good run of finishes, and that’s a testament to this crew.”
Lia can clinch his second Whelen Modified Tour crown by finishing fifth or better at Thompson, but with Preece just 26 points out, there are a number of scenarios that will make every lap important in the season finale.
The World Series of Speedway Racing presented by Xtra Mart will commence with practice and qualifying for the Whelen Modified Tour on Saturday, Oct. 17. The 150-lap race is set to go green on Sunday, Oct. 18 at approximately 3:30 p.m.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour-CARQUEST Fall Final Unofficial Results
At Stafford Motor Speedway
Lap length: 0.5 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (4) Donny Lia, Jericho, N.Y., Dodge, 153 laps, 61.971 mph, $7,600.
2. (3) Doug Coby, Milford, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $3,200.
3. (20) Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $2,900.
4. (16) James Civali, Meriden, Conn., Pontiac, 153, $2,600.
5. (14) Chris Pasteryak, Lisbon, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $2,400.
6. (24) Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Chevrolet, 153, $2,750.
7. (21) Eric Beers, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 153, $2,100.
8. (15) Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I., Pontiac, 153, $2,000.
9. (19) Reggie Ruggiero, Rocky Hill, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $1,750.
10. (13) Erick Rudolph, Ransomville, N.Y., Chevrolet, 153, $1,650.
11. (26) Eric Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 153, $2,600.
12. (22) Ken Heagy, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 153, $1,518.
13. (17) Ed Flemke, Jr., Southington, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $1,500.
14. (18) Tim Arre, Toms River, N.J., Chevrolet, 153, $1,075.
15. (27) Glenn Tyler, Hampton Bays, N.Y., Chevrolet, 153, $1,450.
16. (8) Woody Pitkat, Stafford, Conn., Chevrolet, 153, $1,510.
17. (2) Richie Pallai, Jr., Yorktown Heights, N.Y., Chevrolet, 153, $985.
18. (31) Gary McDonald, Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Chevrolet, 152, $1,360.
19. (28) Wade Cole, Riverton, Conn., Chevrolet, 152, $1,335.
20. (10) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Ford, 149, $1,410.
21. (11) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 148, $1,280.
22. (6) Glen Reen, Wilbraham, Mass., Chevrolet, 147, out of gas, $1,450.
23. (29) Johnny Bush, Huntington Station, N.Y., Chevrolet, 140, $1,225.
24. (30) Jake Marosz, Middletown, Conn., Chevrolet, 130, $1,225.
25. (1) Eric Berndt, Cromwell, Conn., Chevrolet, 129, engine, $825.
26. (9) Keith Rocco, Wallingford, Conn., Chevrolet, 124, accident, $1,325.
27. (23) Rob Summers, Vernon, Conn., Chevrolet, 108, accident, $825.
28. (12) Joe Hartmann, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 106, engine, $825.
29. (7) Kevin Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 94, nerf bar, $1,225.
30. (25) Carl Pasteryak, Lisbon, Conn., Pontiac, 76, accident, $825.
31. (5) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 61, accident, $1,925.
32. (32) Renee Dupuis, Glastonbury, Conn., Chevrolet, 61, vibration, $825.
Time of Race: 1 hour 14 minutes 4 seconds
Margin of Victory: 0.273 seconds
Fastest Qualifier: D.Lia (96.884 mph, 18.579 seconds)
Caution Flags: 10 for 42 laps.
Lead Changes: 7 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: E. Berndt 1-27; D. Lia 28-56; J. Civali 57-58; J. Hartmann 59-64; J. Civali 65-82; D. Lia 83-113; R. Preece 114; D. Lia 115-153.
Standings: 1. D. Lia, 1860; 2. R. Preece, 1834; 3. T. Christopher, 1751; 4. T. Szegedy, 1747; 5. R. Pennink, 1712; 6. M. Stefanik, 1547; 7. C. Pasteryak, 1541; 8. E. Beers, 1536; 9. W. Pitkat, 1487; 10. E. Flemke,Jr., 1481.