John Smith (No. 25 Tutterow Surveying/Rick’s Home Improvement Chevrolet) has reason to be excited heading into this season. Smith has been a regular competitor on the tour since its inception in 2005 and while he has yet to claim a winner’s trophy, he feels that first win could be the first of many more.
“We have a new car that we started using near the end of last year and we have had a couple of races last season to get it dialed in,” Smith said. “I think we have all the pieces needed to get a win.
“We brought our new car to Atlanta and plan on having it at Caraway this weekend.”
The first win is always the toughest and often is the first of several if you run up front consistently, which is what Smith feels his team can do now.
Smith brought his brother, Mike, on board last season to work on the car, giving crew chief Jody Utt more time to focus on the tires. The addition helped the team, according to Smith.
The changes paid off by the 2009 season-ending race at Caraway in October. Smith came up just about 10 feet short of his first win.
“I think when we get that first win, it won’t take us another 40-some races to get another one,” Smith said.
“We have a great car owner and crew who all work hard to give me a great car to drive,” Smith said. “We all sat down over the off season to regroup and look at how we could all get better.”
With Utt and Mike Smith together, John Smith’s runs improved in the second half of 2009. He led 102 laps at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., before mechanical issues ended his night on Lap 145. He was also in the top 10 most of the race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway before being collected in an accident late in the race.
“We have led a lot of races and just haven’t had the finishes we should have had,” Smith added.
Another move made by the team was picking up a new motor.
“Grady (Tutterow) got us a Glad Precision Built motor and it has been a good move.”
Smith opened the season with a top-10 finish last weekend at Atlanta, coming home ninth on the lead lap.
“We hoped to do a little better but we finished on the lead lap and in the top 10 so it was a pretty good day,” Smith said.
“I am looking forward to getting back to Caraway and hopefully we can use our momentum from last season to get us a trophy.”
Smith has 41 starts since he began competing on the tour after several seasons running in the weekly Modified division at Bowman Gray. He won twice at the historic quarter-mile track as a rookie in 2001.
The Mt. Airy, N.C., native has collected 24 top-10 finishes and picked up three of his five career top-five showings last season.
Smith has 20 career starts at Caraway with 11 top-10’s and three top-five finishes with all of the top fives coming last season.
“We have really picked up performance at Caraway and we feel good about what might happen this weekend,” Smith said. “If we can get a break or two we will have a lot or reasons to celebrate Sunday afternoon after the race.”
Rookies: Norman, Butcher Signed Up For Sunoco Rookie of The Year
Two drivers have already signed up for the Rookie of the Year program on the tour sponsored by Sunoco, the Official Fuel of NASCAR.
Mike Norman (No. 12 Comb’s Wholesale Produce Ford) won the award from the Atlanta 150 last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Norman started competing last season on the tour and plans on a full-time effort this year.
“I want to thank Sunoco for sponsoring this award,” Norman said. “We appreciate Sunoco’s support of the Whelen Southern Modified Tour and I can really use the bonus money they pay each race. Our goal is to win rookie of the year this season and I am happy we were able to get the first one of the season.”
Greg Butcher (No. 0 Butcher Racing Chevrolet) was the only other registered rookie in the field last weekend. Unfortunately for Butcher, he suffered mechanical problems early in the race and was forced to the garage on Lap 12. Both drivers are expected to race at Caraway.
After Successful Season Opener, Tour Returns Home To Caraway
After kicking off the new season last weekend making history for the tour at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour teams head to the “home track” of the division – Caraway Speedway.
The historic .455-mile oval in Asheboro, N.C., has hosted more tour races than any other track and this weekend’s Spring Classic will be the 30th time the open-wheel machines take the green flag at Caraway.
This Sunday’s race will be the first of three visits to the track this season. The tour will return on Friday, July 2 and Saturday, Aug. 28.
Most drivers will tell you that running well at Caraway is crucial if they want to be considered a championship contender.
Junior Miller established early dominance with five wins in 2005 and 2006. He took home the championship each of those seasons.
L.W. Miller (No. 36 John Baker Plumbing & Utilities Pontiac) set the standard by winning four times in one season during his 2007 championship season. The Dushore, Pa., native has six of his 10 career wins at the track.
Brian Loftin (No. 23 QMF Metal Solutions Chevrolet) has enjoyed the most success of any driver on the tour as he has visited Victory Lane seven times at Caraway, including four of those wins coming during his title season in 2008.
“We wouldn’t have won the championship without the strong finishes we had at Caraway that year,” Loftin said. “Caraway is a place that can really make or break your season.”
Burt Myers (No. 1 Capital Bank Ford) 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.
“We have been to Caraway and tested already this year,” said Myers. “We were very happy after our test and feel we have figured some things out on our car that will help us in race conditions at the track next week.”
A total of five different drivers (Tim Brown, Loftin, Miller, Myers) expected at Caraway this weekend have accounted for 16 wins. But there will also be some new faces ready to contend for the win.
Last week’s race winner, Corey LaJoie (No. 19 Hill Enterprises Pontiac), hopes to make it two-for-two when he and teammate James Civali (No. 79 Hill Enterprises) arrive on Saturday for practice and qualifying. The race is schedule for Sunday at 2 p.m.
Frank Fleming (No. 40 Jerry Hunt Auto & Truck Centers Ford) is coming off a strong third-place showing at Atlanta and hopes to carry that over to Caraway this weekend.
“We have had some great runs at Caraway and except for the night we got caught up in some incidents on the track, we have had a chance to finish in the top five every race,” Fleming said.
Tim Brown (No. 83 Hayes Jewelers Chevrolet) finished second to LaJoie at Atlanta and feels he had a win get away from him at Atlanta.
“We had the best car at Atlanta but things didn’t work out for us there,” Brown said.
Ted Christopher, the 2001 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion and 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, is the defending race winner of the Spring Classic 150.
Next Race: Spring Classic 150
The Place: Caraway Speedway, Asheboro, N.C.
The Date: Sunday, March 14
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
Track Layout: .455-mile paved
Race Purse: $28,420
2009 Winner: Ted Christopher
2009 Pole: George Brunnhoelzl III
Schedule: Saturday, March 13
Practice 1-1:45 p.m. Time Trials: 4 p.m.
NEWS & NOTES
The Race … The Spring Classic 150 will be the second of 10 races on the 2010 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour Schedule. This will also be the first of three races for the series at Caraway Speedway this season.
The Procedure … Starting positions 1-23 will be set from time trials. The remaining three will be filled through the provisional process. The race is 150 laps (68.25 miles).
The Redraw … Fastest qualifier will draw to determine redraw of top 6, 8, or 10 cars.
The Track … The .455-mile track at Caraway Speedway is a semi-banked oval located in the heart of modified country in the southeast. Caraway features long straightaways and tight turns, which highlight the speed and power of the modified cars.
The Schedule … The 150-lap NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race will be the only race on the 2010 schedule to be held on a Sunday afternoon. Drivers will practice and qualify this Saturday afternoon. Practice will begin at 1 p.m. with qualifying slated for 4 p.m. The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 2 p.m. Sunday with a driver’s autograph session scheduled for 1:15 p.m. on the track.