By: Ashley McCubbin
They say there is nothing like putting a bunch of 600-horsepower ground-pounding modifieds on the track at once, and they are certainly right about that as they have earned a special place in the heart of many. New Smyrna Speedway got to experience that over the top in having 40 of them on-hand for their first night of competition during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing.
The action on-track was what you’d expect when you have a field of the best modified drivers in the United States at one facility at once. The usual faces surfaced to the front of the field, battling for supremacy, with a battle always somewhere in the running order to keep you entertained.
Craig Lutz proved his recent rise to the top over recent seasons is no fluke in holding off a field of contenders through a variety of restarts over the 50-lap affair en route to picking up the checkered flag. Considering he completed last year in victory lane and opened up 2021 the same way, you have to consider him an early favorite when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins.
However, you can still never count out the veterans as Matt Hirschman and Doug Coby proved on Monday night. “Big Money Matt” played his usual strategy, in saving his stuff and avoiding the chaos before making a charge in the final 20 laps. It almost paid off as he was all over the rear bumper of Lutz for a period of time, but fell short – possibly in portion due to the inside line being such a disadvantage on restarts at New Smyrna. Coby, meanwhile, was not in the conversation through the first half of the event as he struggled in qualifying. However, he would manage to escape the incidents which took place, and slowly carve his way to the front – leaving the night with a fourth-place finish.
Anthony Norcella, though, stole the show from everybody in driving through the field not once, but twice. He was caught up in a big wreck with 36 laps to go, catching air as he tried to avoid contact ahead from him only to get a bump from behind. The repairs were made to the No. 92 Modified, where he’d drive his way back through the traffic. He managed to get up to fifth, before being overaggressive cost him in going around in turn one and two with a handful of laps remaining. He did not give up, though, making his way back up to sixth by the checkered flag. Given how well the No. 92 is running, he will probably get to victory lane this week – if he can avoid bad luck.
Several other drivers certainly caught attention with their performances, including third-place finisher Ron Silk. However, a 50-lap affair going over an hour and a half in length certainly loses the interest of race fans. It wasn’t at fault for the competitors, but rather the track staff themselves.
Following incidents, no matter the size, it seemed the caution laps never ended with numerous extra circuits being taken. It should not take that long to get everyone in order with transponders and radios in-place.
It also seemed like clean-up took a lot longer than you’d anticipate, with crews at smaller tracks across the country certainly showing more speed. Finding people who know how to get the wrecked vehicles off the surface in a timely matter should be considered.
Though let’s face it, there were a couple incidents that easily could have been avoided quite possibly.
The aforementioned big wreck on Lap 14 was caused by a bump from Ryan Preece to Jon McKennedy. McKennedy says it was a “bonehead” aggressive move by the NASCAR Cup Series star, while Preece accused his competitor of blocking. Though if you watch the replay, you could easily say that McKennedy didn’t quite get the run off the corner Preece expected he would due to already being inside Marcello Rufrano. Perhaps a little patience being only 14 laps in may have helped, too.
Though take another look at the incident and you’ll notice that’s not everything that occurred. As the three drivers made their way off of turn two, there was already a driver spun on the backstretch – Chris Ridsdale, who had gone around ahead of them. What if everything happened due to noticing a car there?
The late draw on cautions or watching out for slow traffic can be blamed for another incident, too. Patrick Emerling had ran inside the top-four all night long, only to go around with four laps to go courtesy of Eric Goodale. Though a replay of that, and you can spot Jimmy Blewett slow on the bottom of the track, with Goodale’s move up to the track resulting in wanting to ensure he didn’t run into the slower car.
There were several other incidents where you have to wonder about the delay in calling the caution, prompting a tweet from reigning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion Justin Bonsignore.
The Tour Type Modifieds will get the chance to battle at New Smyrna Speedway a couple more times this week. Hopefully the officials can have everything together at their end so we can focus on the talent of the drivers, and strong competition the open-wheel beasts offer.