LOUDON, N.H. – When you've won as many NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races as Mike Stefanik has, you're always looking for new ways to keep things interesting.
Stefanik did that on Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, emerging from one of the fiercest battles the Magic Mile has ever seen to win the Town Fair Tire 100 off the final corner for his series-leading 72 career victory. The official margin of victory over runner-up Ron Silk was .003 seconds – about the width of the front nerf bar – and was the second-closest finish in Tour history at New Hampshire.
In 2008, Chuck Hossfeld beat Ted Christopher by .001-seconds.
“I actually physically sat up in my seat as much as I could and kind of peered over the front of my car and rolled my eyes over to see which bumper was ahead,” Stefanik said. “It's kind of funny that you would actually think about doing that, but I just wanted to win after such a hard-fought battle with Ronnie Silk.
“You hate to give (wins) away. They don't come enough.”
The win was also Stefanik's eighth career win at New Hampshire – also a series record – and his second in the last three events here.
“This is huge, man,” Stefanik said. “This is New Hampshire. It doesn't get any better than this in our division.”
Doug Coby finished third, a career-best effort at New Hampshire for the Whelen Modified Tour point leader. Eric Beers and Todd Szegedy finished fourth and fifth, respectively. A total of seven cars were in position to win the race with three-quarters of a lap remaining.
Silk made his move to regain the lead from Stefanik in Turns 1 and 2 on the 1.058-mile speedway, and it looked like it was going to pay off with a drag race down the backstretch and a look under Stefanik through the event's final two turns. But slight contact from behind courtesy of Rowan Pennink wiggled Silk just enough to break him momentum and allow Stefanik to hold him off.
“I don't know what it looked like from outside, but it was a lot of fun in the car,” Silk said. “I got a run on him and I even ran him up a little bit. He was able to hang onto it in the marbles a little bit and beat me back to the line. Congratulations to him and those guys, they did a great job.”
While Silk wanted the lead on the final lap, Stefanik's game plan called for a move to the front much earlier than that.
“Actually, with three to go was when I made my decision,” Stefanik said. “I didn't want to make it one to go because I thought they were probably going to pass me before that, because they would want to be leading with one to go.. I asked my spotter, 'What lap is it?' Going down the backstretch, she said, 'Coming around to five to go.'
“It's hard to actually think like that in the car, but I counted two more laps and I made the pass on Ronnie. Then I'm like, 'I've got to hold this car off for three laps.' I did not want him going back by me.”
Silk dominated the caution-marred first half of the race, leading all but a few laps before the midway break at the conclusion of 50 laps. He and Stefanik then traded the lead several times over the final half of the race – in large part working in tandem to keep air flowing through their radiators to give their engines relief from the heat.
Ryan Newman, who won this race last year before being stripped of the victory after failing post-race technical inspection, retired after just 48 laps with suspension issues.
Ryan Blaney's first career Whelen Modified Tour start was cut short after a crash on Lap 37. He finished last in the 33-car field.