Spotlight Shines At Atlanta For Southern Modified Season Opener
When The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour begins its sixth season of competition Friday night, it will bring its exciting brand of short-track racing to the big stage: the quarter-mile oval at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It will be the first time the tour races at one of NASCAR’s oldest tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar — Atlanta is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season — and the inaugural visit will be part of the Georgia Power Pole Qualifying Night.
The 600-horsepower, open-wheel machines will navigate 150 laps around the tight loop located on the frontstretch. The distance is similar to that of Bowman Gray Stadium, a staple on the Whelen Southern Modified schedule.
Which means plenty of close-quarter racing and nerf-bar banging action.
It’s got drivers like Burt Myers (No. 1 Capital Bank Ford) champing at the bit to get racing.
“We all felt that when NASCAR took this series under its wing in 2005, it was going to work hard to help grow modified racing in the Southeastern United States,” Myers said. “I feel I can speak on behalf of the drivers that we appreciate everything NASCAR does to help our series grow, and I especially want to thank Bruton Smith and Ed Clark who have welcomed us to Atlanta.
“I also want to thank Mr. Smith for also hosting Whelen Modified races at Bristol and Charlotte later this season.”
Atlanta is one of four tracks that will host the tour for this first time. The 2010 campaign will feature 10 races in four states — North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia.
While the season begins at AMS, the season will conclude in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway at its quarter-mile track, nearly identical in layout to its sister track at Atlanta.
In between, the Whelen Southern Modifieds will visit Langley Speedway in Virginia and Tri County Motor Speedway in North Carolina, to round out the list of new tracks.
Andy Seuss (No. 47 Q Racing Oil/Rockingham Boats/MUA Dodge) won four races last year and finished second in the championship standings. The New Hampshire native is excited to visit new tracks.
“As a driver you always enjoy going to new tracks,” Seuss said. “NASCAR has done a great job in working hard to help our tour grow. I think we are going to put on a great show for the fans at these new tracks.”
Langley Speedway is no stranger to NASCAR touring events having hosted races for the Goody’s Dash Series back in the 1990’s when it was sanctioned by NASCAR.
The track, located near the Naval bases in Virginia, has a long history of NASCAR fans supporting racing, and the tour will make that part of the Labor Day weekend festivities in early September.
“I can’t want to get to Langley and race that track,” said Burt Myers. “When we get to that track I am sure the points standings are going to be close and that is a track you will have to be on your game when you get there because none of us have any experience there in a modified.”
Another new track will be Tri-County Motor Speedway. The track, located in the foothills of North Carolina, hosted the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East last season. The Whelen Southern Modifieds will run there for first time in late September, followed by the season finale on the quarter-mile at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like Atlanta, the Tour race at Charlotte will also be a part of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying on Thursday, Oct. 14.
Myers Hopes To Add Championship To Already Impressive Resume
Burt Myers (No. 1 Capital Bank Ford) has one goal for the 2010 season: Bring home that elusive championship.
Myers, who has been a part of the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour since its inception in 2005, is the career leader in Coors Light Pole Awards — his 21 is more than twice as many as his closest competitor — and is tied for fourth with six career wins.
But he’s watched as Junior Miller (2005 and 2006), L.W. Miller (2007), Brian Loftin (2008) and George Brunnhoelzl III (2009) have walked off with the biggest prize at season’s end.
As the new year begins Friday at Atlanta, Myers is keyed on making this his year.
“I am extremely hungry to win a championship for my sponsors, my team, my family and myself,” Myers said. “We have always seemed to start the season pretty well but run into issues along the way that keeps us out of contention for the title. We are doing everything we can this year not to have a lull during the season.”
Myers was second in points in 2005 and third in both 2007 and 2009.
“I’m ready to win it (title),” Myers said.
He finished the season strong with four straight top fives — including being credited with a win as the top finishing NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified driver at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway in the combination race with the Whelen Modified Tour. However, Myers suffered some setbacks during the season that kept him out of contention for the championship. It’s something he’s keen on making sure doesn’t happen again in 2010.
Myers knows starting up front will be one of the keys to running well at Atlanta, whose flat quarter-mile will be reminiscent of his NASCAR Whelen All-American Series home track of Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Among Myers’ record pole numbers is the fact he has won the award in four of the five season openers. He qualified second in the other.
Another reason for Myers’ confidence is the track configuration they’ll see on Friday.
Myers won track championships at Bowman Gray in 1999, 2001 and 2007. Atlanta’s layout similarities to a track that he’s acutely familiar with give him a feeling of added excitement heading into the opener.
“We (drivers) are so thankful Atlanta Motor Speedway wanted us to come down and race,” Myers said. “We are bringing our Bowman Gray car down here and feel real good about our chances to run well. I am sure we will tweak the car in practice because every track has its own tendencies and characteristics, but we feel pretty confident we have a chance to run pretty good.”
Myers has averaged a ninth-place finish in the previous five season openers and finished fourth last year at the opening race at Concord and feels he can improve on his finish at AMS.
“I feel we have a great car for this race and we know qualifying up front will be key,” Myers said, “so we are coming down there ready to go from Lap 1.”
Atlanta Field Features Some Familiar Names, Faces And Cars
The 2010 season opener will feature some familiar faces — three of the four champions in series history have filed entries — as well as some new faces that fans will recognize.
Modified racing legend Junior Miller, who won the first two titles on the tour in 2005 and 2006, is expected to return to full-time competition on the tour for the first time since 2007.
Also entered for the race are 2007 champion L.W. Miller (No. 36 John Banon Plumbing & Utilities Inc.) and 2008 champion Brian Loftin (No. 23 Qmf Metal & Electronic Solutions/L&R Transmission Chevrolet).
Loftin enters this weekend as the leader in all-time wins with 11. Both Millers are second with 10 each, respectively. Loftin enters this weekend as the only driver of the past champions to win in 2009. He visited Victory Lane at Caraway Speedway in August.
Junior Miller competed in only one race last season as he concentrated his efforts on competing at Bowman Gray Stadium for the track title.
The Walnut Cove, N.C., native is expected to return to the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour full time in 2010, and is expected to once again be in the thick of the title hunt.
L.W. Miller finished 2009 without a win for the first time since he started racing full time on the tour and is hungry to get back to Victory Lane. The Dushore, Pa., native enters this season with a renewed focus.
Two of the drivers that will make their tour debuts at Atlanta will be Gary Putnam and Corey LaJoie (No. 19 Hill Enterprises/La Bleu Water/Hawke Performance Pontiac).
Putnam will pilot the No. 7 Chevrolet that he and Kevin Manion operate. Putnam is the car chief and Manion the crew chief for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jamie McMurray.
They helped McMurray to the win in this year’s Daytona 500 and plan to run the No. 7 — which is painted to honor the old No. 7NY Modified driven by the late Tommy Baldwin — with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman at the Modified combination event at Bristol Motor Speedway as well as the two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Putnam is also planning on being in the car for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Charlotte in the Fall.
LaJoie, 18, is the son of two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie. They plan on a limited schedule of NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour races.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver James Civali (No. 79 Hill Enterprises/La Bleu Water/Hawke Performance Pontiac) will be LaJoie’s teammate and make his third career Southern tour start.
In addition, Greg Butcher (No. 0 A.E.S. Chevrolet) and Mike Norman (No. 12 DMC Auto Exchange Ford) have already signed up for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year program.
Race Recap: Brunnhoelzl Closed Out 2009 In Victory Lane
The last time the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour was on the track, George Brunnhoelzl III was in Victory Lane as the race winner and tour champion.
Brunnhoelzl needed only to start the season-ending Fall Classic 150 at Caraway Speedway to clinch the title.
He wound up putting icing on the proverbial cake, holding off a hard-charging John Smith over the closing laps to collect his fifth win of the season.
Jason Myers ended the year on a strong note with a third-place run, followed by Frank Fleming and Burt Myers.
Andy Seuss finished sixth in the race and wound up second to Brunnhoelzl in the points standings and will lead the charge of drivers contending for the 2010 title as Brunnhoelzl will concentrate his efforts on running the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
Zach Brewer, Brian Loftin, Jonathan Brown and Bryan Dauzat rounded out the top 10 at the Fall Classic.
News & Notes
The Race … The Atlanta 150 will be the first of 10 races on the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Schedule. This will also be the only stop for the series to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Procedure … Starting positions 1-19 will be set from time trials. The remaining three will be filled through the provisional process. The race is 150 laps (37.50 miles).
The Redraw … Fastest qualifier will draw to determine redraw of top 6, 8, or 10 cars.
The Track … The quarter-mile track at Atlanta Motor Speedway is the paved oval on the frontstretch. The surface is essentially flat, with a slight banking when the cars are on the frontstretch — which also serves as the start-finish line area for the 1.54-mile track the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs on. The backstretch for the quarter-mile loop is the pit-road area.
The Schedule … The 150-lap NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race will be held in conjunction with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during Georgia Power Qualifying Night. The tour will hold two 45-minute practices. Qualifying will begin at 5:15 p.m., with the race scheduled to take the green at approximately 8 p.m.
Up Next: Caraway
After the new adventure of running Atlanta, the drivers will return to familiar grounds on Sunday, March 14 when the second race of the season takes the green flag at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C.
The .455-mile oval has hosted 29 races in NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour history — the most of any venue.
The track has often been the key to winning the championship.
Brian Loftin has been the most successful driver there, winning seven times. He had four wins and two runner-up finishes during his 2008 championship season.
Likewise, L.W. Miller has six wins and four of those came in his 2007 title run.
Junior Miller established early dominance with five wins in 2005 and 2006. He took home the Tour championship each of those seasons.
And George Brunnhoelzl won there three times last year, including the season finale, as he claimed the crown.
This year the Tour will travel to Caraway three times this season: March 14, July 2 and Aug. 28.
Burt Myers has won 10 of his record 21 Coors Light Pole Awards at Caraway. But only once (April 9, 2005) has he been able to turn that into a win.
Ted Christopher, the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion and 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, is the defending race winner.