OLD HAT: Mike Stefanik As Good As New At NHMS

Saturday, July 14, 2012

LOUDON, N.H. – So many cliches to choose from, so little time.

Like a fine wine, Mike Stefanik gets better with age. Mike Stefanik is only as young as he feels. Mike Stefanik has found the magic touch at the Magic Mile. And on and on and on...

But really, whittling down Mike Stefanik's success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway just isn't that easy. To wit: Before winning at the track last August, the winningest driver in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history had gone 21 races over a span of 13 years between Modified wins; he's since won two of the last three races contested here.

His eighth win in the division Saturday in the Town Fair Tire 100 was his eighth career Modified win at New Hampshire, the most by any driver in Tour history. Not only has Stefanik's career spanned decades, but so has his record of excellence.

Perhaps as much as ability, his on-track performance can be credited to a mindset. He hinted at his desire to win after the race.

“You hate to give (wins) away. They don't come enough,” said Stefanik, a seven-time Modified Tour champion. “I mean, some people might argue that point because we've been successful at a lot of tracks, but this feeling right here never gets old. I'm 54, but I still feel like I'm 21.”


In 1998, Stefanik won three of the four Whelen Modified Tour races at the track. He credits his success at New Hampshire in particular to having adapted to racing on the big track quickly after a career formed – like all of the competitors on the Tour – on New England's bullrings.

“It's a type of racing I just picked up on back in the 90s,” Stefanik said. “You put yourself in really good equipment and surround yourself with smart people, that's A-Number-One. You can't do it yourself.

“I like to overdrive the corner on entry, and this format of restrictor plate racing forces you to drive the car extra-hard into the corner and really have a ballet-type (exit). You want this terrific balance when you set the weight on the right side tires, so it feels so nice and easy. The cars, it just feels right.”

Having a good car is only part of the equation, of course. And Stefanik's ability to quarterback from the driver's seat is the other part of it.

When most drivers in the seven-car battle for the win the closing laps wanted to wait and make their move for the lead on the final circuit, Stefanik saw that coming and wanted to be ahead of the curve.

“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 (Silk). Then I'm like, 'I've got to hold this car off for three laps.' I did not want him going back by me.”

Stefanik's plan earned him the win by .003 seconds – the second-closest margin of victory in Modified Tour history at New Hampshire. It was the closest victory of his career, not just at New Hampshire, he said, but anywhere.

“I've lost them by a wheel or a half a wheel, but I was looking out the car trying to figure out who won,” Stefanik said. “I've never done that before in my career.”

So, in a career where he's done seemingly everything else at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, that was a first.

– TB