THOMPSON, Conn. – Doug Coby did all that he had to do on Sunday at Thompson International Speedway, turning in a smart – if unspectacular – performance to finish sixth in the Sunoco-Town Fair Tire World Series 150 to clinch the 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
Ahead of him, Bobby Santos III took the lead with 21 laps remaining and held off Ryan Preece and Todd Szegedy to win his second consecutive race to close out the season in a victory that, coupled with Coby's championship, highlighted the efforts of two of the smaller teams on the Tour.
“I don't feel like I drive like a Modified driver.,” said Santos, the 2010 Whelen Modified Tour champion. “I feel I'm an open-wheel style driver, and I try to race really clean. The way this Modified racing is right now, you have to be really aggressive and you've got to use the nerf bars a little more. I hate doing it, but I did it a couple of times in today's race where I would normally never do that.
“But if you want to win in this series right now, the way it is, you have to race like that.”
Santos ran inside the Top-3 for most of the day, content to watch as Preece, Donny Lia and Todd Szegedy took turns at the point ahead of him. Victimized by the inside line on several restarts, he finally got the opportunity he'd been waiting for on a Lap 128 restart, scooting from fourth to the lead in the outside lane in just three laps' time.
From there, it was smooth sailing for Santos, who also won at Stafford Motor Speedway two weeks ago for his part-time Tinio Racing team.
“I felt horrible,” Santos said. “I was just talking to (third-place finish Todd Szegedy), and he said, 'That's nothing what you did to me.' I guess I'm just kind of out of my league with this racing. It's just not my style. I always feel like I'm the one getting shoved around, but today I had too good of a race car to let people push me around. I just did what it took to get to Victory Lane.”
Mike Stefanik finished fourth, and Eric Beers rounded out the Top-5.
Coby settled in to 13th early in the race, quietly steering clear of the traffic and bump-and-runs taking place around him. He slowly worked his way toward the Top-5 before all the lead lap cars pitted just past halfway, and then used the same approach to inch up to sixth over the second half of the race.
Despite Preece finishing second and leading the most laps, Coby unofficially won the title by 11 points. Ron Silk, who was the only other driver mathematically eligible to win the championship heading into the final race of the season, finished 11th.
“It's never easy out there. Everybody's fighting for every inch,” Coby said. “We had a decent car all day today, not a winning car, but a car that could race for a Top-5 finish. That's all we really needed out there today.”
Coby, who was running his first full season for a single car owner since 2006, was emotional in Victory Lane.
“When you have a team with a lot of people, everybody has an individual story and then there's the team's collective story,” Coby said of the Wayne Darling-owned No. 52, which was competing full-time on the Tour for the first time this season. “I know a lot of their individual stories and the personal battles they've fought in racing and out of racing. I know my own story, obviously... Our team has a lot of history behind it and a lot of stories from the car owner to the crew chief to their families, and everybody has a reason why they help that team.
“They're just a really cool bunch of people to hang around with.”