For the second race in a row and the third time this year Donny Lia earned a trip to Victory Lane with his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour triumph Thursday night in the Budweiser 150 presented by New England Dodge Dealers at Thompson International Speedway.
Following a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 19, Lia once again had a dominant car at Thompson. The Jericho, N.Y., native led three-different times Thursday night for 49 laps and got past Ted Christopher for the final time on Lap 140 after an intense back-and-fourth battle to earn his 14th career win.
It was a highlight film run for Lia, who continued to try to climb back into the championship picture with his Tour-high third win of the year. Earlier in the evening the Long Island driver nabbed his first Coors Light Pole Award in two years, and the 14th of his career. Lia came up unlucky in the re-draw of the top 10 qualifiers, however, and had to start the 150-lap race ninth.
It took just 17 laps for Lia to get into the top five and by Lap 41 he was apply pressure to season points leader and front-row starter Ted Christopher to mark the beginning of what would be a battle to the finish just like the previous race at Bristol. On Lap 48 Lia got past Christopher entering Turn 3 for the lead, a move that he would find success with later in the race as well.
After a cycle of pit stops, Lia and Christopher found themselves once again battling for the lead on a Lap 98 restart. Lia got the advantage at the line and held it with Christopher applying the pressure and eventually getting by Lia on Lap 104.
The battled remained tight until the pair made contact and Lia went spinning between Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 108. Lia only slightly grazed the wall, however, and was able to drive off. He rejoined the field in 16th, but just more than 40 laps remained and it appeared that the race would come down to Christopher and Todd Szegedy, who was running in third at the time the caution came out.
Lia, the 2007 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, promptly started to charge his way back toward the front.
“It was kind of a ‘take no prisoners’ deal,” Lia said. “I was on a mission and I drove pretty hard. I might have used a couple of guys up, but when you’ve got a car to win and you want to put a show on, you drive through the field. You’re here to win the race and if you have a shot – especially if you were leading and got spun out – you’re on a mission.”
In a matter of 14 laps he had moved back into the top five, and after getting a good jump on the Lap 138 restart, he was back in Christopher’s rearview. It took only one more lap for Lia to get his nose under Christopher again entering Turn 3 for the decisive pass.
“It was just a great day for us,” Lia said. “To come out and win the pole, lead a bunch of laps in the race, then get spun out but come back through the field. We had a car that could win the race and we weren’t going to let it slip away.”
The Budweiser 150 checkers were the third of the year for Lia who also won this year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – site of the next race on the schedule – in addition to Bristol. Thursday’s win was the second of his career at Thompson.
With the win, Lia moved up to third in the season standings and is now 72 points behind Christopher.
Christopher, who led a race-high 51 laps, settled for a second-place finish and extended his season points lead to 34 on Szegedy, who crossed the line third Thursday night. In addition to his two wins to start the season, Christopher has now finished as a runner-up four times this year while Szegedy remains the only driver to record a top-10 in each of the season’s first nine races.
Rowan Pennink crossed the line fourth for his seventh-straight top-10 finish and Keith Rocco finished fifth in just his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.
Eric Beers, Eric Berndt, Bobby Grigas III, Glen Reen and Erick Rudolph brought home the top 10.
Berndt’s seventh-place effort was a career-best finish. He also led 18 laps during the race, the first in his 31 career starts.
Ryan Preece entered the race just 32 points behind Christopher in the standings and led eight laps early on Thursday as he ran up front with Christopher. His recent string of success was halted, however, as he suffered two spins during the middle stages of the event and had to settle for 18th place.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will hold its 10th race of the 2009 campaign at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 19. The New Hampshire 100 is set to go green at 1 p.m.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour-Budweiser 150 pres. by New England Dodge Dealers
At Thompson International Speedway
Lap length: 0.625 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (9) Donny Lia, Jericho, N.Y., Dodge, 150 laps, 78.966 mph, $7,900.
2. (1) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 150, $4,000.
3. (14) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Ford, 150, $2,900.
4. (13) Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Chevrolet, 150, $2,600.
5. (11) Keith Rocco, Wallingford, Conn., Chevrolet, 150, $2,300.
6. (27) Eric Beers, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 150, $2,800.
7. (12) Eric Berndt, Cromwell, Conn., Chevrolet, 150, $1,450.
8. (21) Bobby Grigas, III, Marshfield, Mass., Chevrolet, 150, $1,725.
9. (5) Glen Reen, Wilbraham, Mass., Chevrolet, 150, $2,350.
10. (8) Erick Rudolph, Ransomville, N.Y., Chevrolet, 150, $1,550.
11. (7) Richard Savary, Canton, Mass., Chevrolet, 150, $1,525.
12. (20) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 150, $1,488.
13. (17) Chris Pasteryak, Lisbon, Conn., Chevrolet, 150, $1,575.
14. (3) Glenn Tyler, Hampton Bays, N.Y., Chevrolet, 150, $1,450.
15. (18) Andy Seuss, Hampstead, N.H., Chevrolet, 150, $1,036.
16. (28) Joe Hartmann, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 150, $1,000.
17. (10) Ed Flemke, Jr., Southington, Conn., Chevrolet, 150, $1,475.
18. (4) Ryan Preece, Berlin, Conn., Chevrolet, 149, $1,450.
19. (32) Ken Heagy, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 147, $1,325.
20. (29) Eric Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 132, accident, $1,600.
21. (22) Woody Pitkat, Stafford, Conn., Chevrolet, 132, $1,375.
22. (31) Gary McDonald, Ronkonkoma, N.Y., Chevrolet, 124, $850.
23. (30) Jake Marosz, Middletown, Conn., Chevrolet, 120, $1,225.
24. (23) Tony Ferrante, Jr., New Hyde Park, N.Y., Chevrolet, 107, accident, $800.
25. (26) James Civali, Meriden, Conn., Pontiac, 107, carburetor, $1,190.
26. (16) Tim Arre, Toms River, N.J., Chevrolet, 98, suspension, $750.
27. (19) Rob Summers, Vernon, Conn., Chevrolet, 92, accident, $750.
28. (6) Renee Dupuis, Glastonbury, Conn., Chevrolet, 92, accident, $750.
29. (15) Kevin Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 92, accident, $1,150.
30. (24) Johnny Bush, Huntington Station, N.Y., Chevrolet, 91, accident, $1,150.
31. (25) Doug Coby, Milford, Conn., Chevrolet, 77, clutch, $1,150.
32. (2) Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I., Pontiac, 32, accident, $1,150.
33. (33) Wade Cole, Riverton, Conn., Chevrolet, 26, axle, $1,150.
Time of Race: 1 hour 11 minutes 14 seconds
Margin of Victory: 0.573 seconds
Fastest Qualifier: D.Lia (119.847 mph, 18.774 seconds)
Caution Flags: 7 for 35 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: T. Christopher 1-29; R. Preece 30-37; T. Christopher 38-47; D. Lia 48-73; E. Berndt 74-91; D. Lia 92-103; T. Christopher 104-111; T. Szegedy 112; T. Szegedy 113; T. Szegedy 114-136; T. Christopher 137-139; D. Lia 140-150.
Standings: 1. T. Christopher, 1432; 2. T. Szegedy, 1398; 3. D. Lia, 1360; 4. R. Preece, 1339; 5. R. Pennink, 1288; 6. E. Beers, 1190; 7. W. Pitkat, 1172; 8. E. Flemke,Jr., 1146; 9. C. Pasteryak, 1132; 10. M. Stefanik, 1070.