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BARRE, Vt. – If you think last year was Wayne Helliwell Jr.'s breakout season on the ACT Late Model Tour, try telling that to him.

To hear Helliwell tell it, last year's second-place finish in the final ACT points standings was just dumb luck.

“Last year finishing second in points, I believe it was a fluke,” said a straight-faced Helliwell, of Dover, N.H. “Some other guys had some problems and we kind of lucked into that. But if we can come out of this season with a Top-5, I'll be really proud of that.”

A fluke? Really? After back-to-back second-place finishes to open the 2012 season, Helliwell's going to have a tough time selling that to the rest of the competition. He had the dominant car in the season opener at Lee USA Speedway two weeks ago, and in Sunday's Merchants Bank 150 at Thunder Road, he led on three different occasions before finishing second to eight-time series champion Brian Hoar.

Through two races, he's just six points behind Hoar for the ACT championship lead.

RELATED CONTENT: Video From Merchants Bank 150

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Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

Race season is officially in full swing in the northeast, and there were a number of marquee touring events and weekly racing series events on the docket. Some familiar faces certainly visited Victory Lane, too.

Without further ado, here's a look at who made The Podium:

1. Doug Coby, Milford, Conn.

Coby scored his third career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory on Sunday, doing so in one of the crown jewels of the Modified Tour. He dominated the second half of the event following pit stops to win the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway.

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BARRE, Vt. – Deja vu, anyone?

In a near carbon copy of their spirited battle in the ACT Late Model Tour season opener two weeks ago, Brian Hoar and Wayne Helliwell Jr. were at it again on Sunday at Thunder Road International Speedbowl. And, just as was the case in the opener, Hoar held off Helliwell – who tried every which way but loose (and even a little of that, too) – to win the Merchants Bank 150.

The victory was the second straight to open the season for Hoar, the eight-time series champion, and his first in the Merchants Bank 150.

“I've been chasing this one a long time,” Hoar said. “It's the first time for us (in the Merchants Bank 150), and it's a big deal. Anytime you can win at Thunder Road, it's awesome.”

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This time, Ryan Preece really did get a track record for himself.

Preece joined three other competitors at Stafford Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon in breaking the previous track record, earning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Spring Sizzler 200.

The pole award was the second straight for Preece, of Berlin, Conn., to open the 2012 season. He also won the pole for the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway two weeks ago.

The Spring Sizzler 200 is scheduled for approximately 3:15 p.m. Sunday.

“It’s awesome,” Preece told The Hartford Courant. “I don’t even know how to describe the feeling right now... Hopefully we can get the job done tomorrow. I know we have a really good race car.”

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Brett Moffitt left just enough for the end on Thursday night.

Moffitt emerged from a spirited three-car battle for the lead over a green-white-checkered restart, holding off the hard charges of Chase Elliott and Corey LaJoie to win the Blue Ox 100 at Richmond International Raceway. The victory was the eighth of Moffitt's NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career and the first for the fledgling Hattori Racing Enterprises this season.

“I'm happy to get the first pole and the first win for HRE today,” Moffitt said in Victory Lane. “It was just a great weekend.”

Moffitt, who earlier in the day won the Coors Light Pole Award, cinched the win when Elliott brushed the outside wall off the race's final turn. LaJoie held on for third.

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Capital City 400 presented by Virginia is for Lovers Fantasy Preview

Did you know that we don't plow the snow off our track at NHMS?  We just let it snow and hope it melts in time for  the track's opening day in April.

Did you also know that the don't plow the snow in Richmond either?  No, I'm not talking about the track, I'm just talking about the roads in general.  They just let it snow and immobilize the whole state until the non-existant plows can clear the snow that's frozen to itself.  It's a pretty inefficient process.

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The majority of NHMS fans won't visit "The Magic Mile" until NASCAR does in mid-July, but they're missing a lot of good racing action before that major weekend.  The track heats up in April and doesn't cool down until the end of October and there's plenty of on-track action throughout the seven-month season.

The race season can officially be considered underway at NHMS, as the Loudon Road Race Series kicks off 2012 with the first of seven race weekends on Saturday.  After a full slate of 11 races on Saturday that closes with the headlining "Dash for the Cash" Middleweight Grand Prix, the Amsoil NELCAR Legends Tour will hit the road course for its first of nearly a dozen NHMS races this year.

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Each Monday we take a look back at the week that was from around the region.

While rains threatened to hamper the schedule in New England over the weekend, virtually all scheduled events were able to be completed. Some drivers continued their hot starts to the year, others continued to streaks in extra-distance events and still others returned to Victory Lane after long absences.

Without further ado, let's see who made The Podium:

1. Jon McKennedy, Chelmsford, Mass.

McKennedy opened the Valenti Modified Racing Series 2-for-2 on the young season, claiming the 100-lap event at Monadnock Speedway on Saturday night.

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STP 400 Fantasy Preview

I usually use the intro to tell some story about a part of the country I once visited or at least give a cute little anecdote, but I don't have anything this week.  I once drove clear across the country and then back on a completely different route, but I've never been in Kansas.

When I went west on I-80, I probably wasn't more than a few miles at some points from the state line while in Nebraska.  I kept looking to the south and imagining that Kansas was out there somewhere, like a Holy Grail of the Flatlands (or maybe I was just looking for a way to get out of Nebraska as quickly as possible).

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It's Wednesday again. Time to dust off the ol' Mini Stock and dust it off for a test spin around the cul-de-sac at the end of the street...

THERE'S BEEN A lot of talk recently about the fact that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is sorely lacking in the rivalry department.

After last weekend's season-opening Icebreaker 150 at Thompson International Speedway, I'm starting to think that might not be the case. It hasn't heated up to the level of a Ted Christopher vs. Bo Gunning or a Jimmy Blewett vs. The World, but this Ron Silk-Rowan Pennink stuff has the chance to really get entertaining.

In a lot of ways, it already has. Sunday's verbal sparring following Silk's controversial win was simply a nice topper to the whole thing – one of those racing incidents that makes you want to get to the next track for the next race on the schedule as soon as possible.

Silk says that Pennink “drove him into the weeds” on a late-race restart. Pennink says that Silk “spun his tires” on the final restart. Silk says he didn't, adding “that's what I would say, too.” Silk says Pennink “got what he deserved” when NASCAR penalized him for jumping the final restart, Pennink says Silk left him no choice.

On the surface, it's two drivers quibbling over an emotional ending – one that left Pennink without a win and left Silk booed loudly in Victory Lane. But it's not quite that simple.

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If the Sprint Cup Series garage were an ice cream shop, Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be chocolate chip cookie dough; the flavor an overwhelming amount of people like, but the rest feel like there's no excuse to not have baked the dough into a real cookie.  Jimmie Johnson might be peanut butter cup, liked by many, but disliked strongly by those with a nut allergy.  Jeff Gordon could be mint chocolate chip, a good old-fashioned winner.

Then, there's Greg Biffle.  He'd be vanilla.

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SAMSUNG Mobile 500 Fantasy Preview

It's getting to be that time of year when the weather starts getting warm enough at night and too hot during the day, so NASCAR begins sprinkling primetime into the schedule.  Traditionally, this would be the Sprint Cup Series' first night race of the season, but the rescheduled Daytona 500 stole the thunder on that one.

Remember that event at all?  Rhetorical question, I hope!  In that race, we had Juan Pablo Montoya crashing into a jet dryer and Brad Keselowski nearly crashing Twitter by tweeting a photo of the fire on the track.

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Through six races in the 2012 season, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards have won three of the Sprint Cup Series poles, and they've combined to lead a total of zero laps.  Not zero laps at the start of the race, mind you, zero laps, period!  That's right: neither has led a single lap this season.

That's pretty difficult to do when you assume that they theoretically had the fastest car at the track and started in the front row in half of the 2012 races.  Not only could they not manage to hold off the rest of the field to lead the first lap, but they never once got back up to the front at any point later in the day.

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For six weeks, the New England racing community has sat around on their couch and watched NASCAR, INDYCAR and Formula 1 race in other parts of the country (world, in F1's case).  Not this weekend!

As all three of those series are off and NASCAR takes its first break of the season, it's our New Hampshire Motor Speedway that will provide thrills for fans.  The third-annual FANtasy Drive Open House on April 7 allows fans to hit the track for some laps in their own cars, as well as get VIP access to the infield, suite levels and hospitality areas of NHMS.

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Before we get into the article, please take 30 seconds to review our most recent commercial from NHMS.

No, but seriously, are we qualifying or racing, here!?

There's been a lot of debate this week, as Tommy Baldwin's No. 10 has fallen out of the top-35 in owner points and is no longer guaranteed a starting spot in Sprint Cup Series races.  While the debate swirls around Danica Patrick, whose name tends to stir up controversy anyway, most people seem to be ignoring my simple question.

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