It's Wednesday again. Time to take the ol' Mini Stock out of the garage and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...
IF THERE WAS ever a stock car racing adage that was true, it was on display last Saturday night at Waterford Speedbowl when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returned after a six-year absence.
As the old saying goes, you've got to lose a bunch of races before you can learn how to win them.
Example A: Ryan Preece.
Example B: Doug Coby.
On paper, Preece very well could be running away with the Whelen Modified Tour championship himself after five races this season. He's been among the fastest cars in virtually every practice session, and he won three consecutive pole awards to open the season.
But Preece has won just once – at Monadnock Speedway – a place where track position is as vital to a driver's success as it is anywhere on the circuit.
Preece, of course, isn't running away with anything. In fact, it's Coby who is threatening to beat his Tour competition into the ground before the season even reaches its halfway mark. Coby picked up his third win of the young season at Waterford and now holds a comfortable 20-point lead in the standings over reigning champion Ron Silk and a 23-point advantage over Preece in third.
Coby seems to have learned what Preece hasn't, at least not yet. Coby hasn't finished outside the Top-2 since finishing eighth – with a damaged race car, no less – in the season opener at Thompson International Speedway in April.
“I grew up racing. I started racing when I was six,” Coby said. “The feeling of winning – whether you're six (years old) in a quarter-midget, or you're in a Tour car or an SK Modified or a Pro Stock for the first time – it's the same feeling. Not to say I'm used to it, but when we come to the race track, we expect to be in a winning car.
“To win is what we came here to do. We accomplished our mission and our goal, and it's really satisfying to do that, but the next goal is to go out and win Loudon. You can call it stringing these finishes together – but to our team, every race is separate.”
Coby has won three of his last five Whelen Modified Tour starts. Prior to this season, he'd won only twice in 116 starts.
The difference, Coby says, is maturity.
“There were a lot of races in those first 116 that I thought I could have won,” he said. “In the 77, we had a race at Stafford where we led the whole thing and got a caution with four to go, and Teddy (Christopher) and Chuck Hossfeld got past us. There were a couple of races at Loudon. The Thompson 300 – a certain one of those that could have been in the bag. We've had a lot of good cars.
“It takes a lot of luck to win on this series, and it starts with good preparation and it goes to being smart with your battles. I said it at Stafford: You pick and choose your battles. You choose who you want to battle with. I could have battled with Ted earlier (at Waterford), but Ted's car started to go away, so I battled with Ted when his car wasn't at full steam.”
Coby also pulled a veteran move on Preece on a green-white-checkered restart. Instead of waiting to race Preece's car when the two leaders hit the first corner, Coby allowed himself to wash up into Preece ever so slightly as the two prepared for their corner entry.
The move caught Preece by surprise, and it opened enough room for Coby to easily pull away from his challengers off of Turn 2. Preece ended up third.
“It was a green-white-checkered (restart),” Preece said. “What are you going to expect? I wouldn't wreck somebody, but I'm going to run them just as hard as Doug did us. They worked hard, just as hard as we did.”
Preece has had fast cars all season, fast enough to have won more than one race in all likelihood. But he hasn't gone on a tear where it matters most – at the end of the race – to string victories together.
He's not sure if it's luck or approach that's keeping him from cashing the big checks more often.
“It's a fifty-fifty deal,” Preece said. “If you're smart and you watch out, you're going to miss the wrecks. In the wrecking aspect, you make your own luck. In the restart order and where you are (on the track), I feel like that's all luck. We could have been anywhere (at Waterford). We had a really good car.
“I know what I've got to do. I've got to start winning some races so I can catch up to Doug. We're having a good time, and if we just keep doing what we're doing we'll have fun. When you've got a great car and a great crew chief and a great car owner, how can you not have fun?
“I'm like a little kid at Six Flags.”
Unfortunately, for that little kid at Six Flags, it's Coby's team that meets all the criteria – not just most of it – for the “must be this tall to ride” requirements.
“We got a little bit of luck, and so far this season, luck has been on my side,” Coby said. “I haven't had a whole lot of that in my career. I'm going to ride the wave while I can.”
HERE'S AN INTERESTING statistic from last Saturday's ACT Late Model Tour race at White Mountain Motorsports Park: The Top-4 drivers in the standings all finished inside the Top-5 in the White Mountain 150.
With five points races in the books and five left to go – none until July 28 at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine – it's becoming increasingly difficult for the drivers chasing leader Wayne Helliwell Jr. to make up any ground.
That orange No. 27 Ford so reminiscent of Dynamite Dave Dion's classic rides around the northeast just won't let up.
“Every race you're hoping you're gaining more points than (the leaders) are,” said eight-time ACT champion Brian Hoar, winner of the last three titles in a row. “That's just how it is. We know every year going in, we absolutely have our work cut out for us. Wayne and those guys are raising the bar. That's part of it.”
Hoar said he suspected prior to the 2012 season that things were going to be as difficult as ever for any team that wanted to hoist the championship trophy this season – including his own RPM Motorsports team.
“We are working hard to try and make (the car) even better, but kudos to Wayne and his team,” Hoar said. “I've always enjoyed racing with him, he's a great racer, and I've always had a lot of respect for Joey (Polewarczyk). Austin (Theriault)'s a great racer, too. They've all raised the bar. Good for them.”
ROAD RAGE?: How long will NASCAR fans stand for road course races looking more and more like Formula 1 events each season?
I've always thought that it NASCAR is going to do road racing justice, it needs to hold at least six road course events each season instead of the current two. It's an unfair predicament for teams to find themselves in – entire road racing programs, a fleet of cars and engineers – to have to place so much focus on such a minute section of the big picture.
And as the teams get better at managing road racing and its strategies, the races are becoming less and less interesting.
To wit: All eight drivers to finish in the Top-8 on Sunday at Sonoma started inside the Top-8 on the grid.
Formula 1, anyone?
It's not just the lack of passing, though. It's the way teams are tackling the races that scream “F1!” No longer are they trying to adapt oval strategies for fuel and tire runs. Instead of racing until the fuel and tires can't any longer, they've employed a “backwards” strategy – calculating when they need to make their final stop for fuel and then working backwards from there.
I like road courses. I really do. But it would be more fun, and less a separation of the haves and have-nots, if Sprint Cup Series teams were asked to compete on them more often. Then we'd really see which drivers, crew chiefs and engineers truly are the best at their respective crafts.
IF YOU HAVEN'T noticed, Corey LaJoie is getting serious about this whole NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship thing.
With his win at Langley Speedway in Virginia last weekend – his second win in the last three races after going 0-for-his-first-two-full-seasons – LaJoie inched to within one point of leader Chase Elliott in the standings.
Elliott may have a bigger operation behind him (Hendrick Motorsports) than LaJoie does, but LaJoie has the grit and wherewithal to just outrun the 16-year-old Elliott when it matters most.
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