By: Ashley McCubbin
The modifieds have always put on great racing across the country, and they are not disappointing thus far in 2021 as they put on a show for the second straight day at New Smyrna Speedway.
It wasn’t one of those races where it came down to a battle right at the flag, but it got dicey on a late-race restart that almost turned ugly with three laps to go. Coming to the green, both Patrick Emerling and Eric Goodale got sideways on the front row, with the left side more visible than the nose until they both were facing back the right direction. They managed to keep their wits about them, and hold serve ahead of the field as Emerling took the win ahead of Goodale.
Seeing the pair perform at the front of the field is a perfect redemption after witnessing them run into trouble the night before together. Battling inside the top-five, Goodale would get into Emerling and spin him as Jimmy Blewitt slowed in front of them on Monday. Now on Tuesday, they get to celebrate on the podium together.
The race could also serve a good confidence boost for Emerling, too. He spent the majority of the event on Monday at the front of the field, but never seemed to be able to gain ground on the restarts. There was a couple he jumped and had to give it back, where others he lost track position. In contrast, the final restarts on Tuesday showcased why he won the championship in the ROC Modifieds the past two years. He utilized the first one to go from fourth to second, and the following edition to take over the top spot.
Without a doubt, he’s made himself someone to consider as a threat for the big open-wheel races yet to come for the Modifieds this week.
The performance by Emerling was simply the icing on the cake to the event, though. The entire 35-lap affair was action-packed from the front of the field to the tale, with battles taking place at all times. Whether keeping an eye on the top-four, or scanning to the back half of the top-10, determination was written on the wall. It was unpredictable at times, as you’d see a couple guys with an advantage and expect them to move forward, only for their competitors to figure out how to best them.
Doug Coby described the aggressive nature best – “a bunch of animals just trying to win everything we can in a short feature.” Though the second half of his words played true as well, in saying, “nobody lifts for nobody when you have asphalt modifieds with no rules and no consequences.”
Aggressive driving can be fun to watch in seeing how far everybody pushes the envelope, but the wrecks that can produce as a result sting even more. Seeing Coby’s No. 10 Modified torn up, alongside a series of others on the frontstretch could bring a tear to any fan’s eyes.
It’s easy to point fingers in watching two big wrecks in a pair of nights for the open-wheel stars, but when you have more than 30 cars starting in a field, a big wreck is bound to happen. Any time you put a whole bunch of people in a tight bull all fighting for the same real estate, contact happens and that escalates eventually into collecting a whole bunch of others.
It wasn’t like the incident on Tuesday was done purposely, either. Ryan Preece tried to make a move, despite having a tight handling car, and got sideways – Coby checked up, but Blewitt did not get the memo and one bump turns into another, and the wreck begins.
Everybody will understand the frustration as Marcello Rufrano displayed in his comments saying, “I guess the guys don’t know that the pedal in the middle is to slow up, and not push the guy through.” However, things happen quickly – matter of mere seconds, which makes it hard to stall up as fast as you need to. Even if you get on the brakes right away, you’re carrying so much speed that you don’t stop immediately, either.
Again, it’s a racing incident and sadly a product of packing more than 30 cars onto one track at a time.
That said, it is worth noting Preece was part of the cause in both big incidents that have occurred. It could simply be a product of coincidence, or a product of trying to be over-aggressive. After all, he spoke about wanting to prove he could win in getting back in the mod with the shortened Cup schedule. Is that the contributing factor?
Oh, and let’s not forget the frustration shown by Matt Hirschman after his second straight podium performance. He took aim at the current motor situation in saying, “They need to split the class into two groups with the motors here, and I’m leading a different class. I’m driving my A-S-S off through the corners, and watching the guys drive away from me on the straightaways.”
Hirschman pulled a good challenge on Craig Lutz just a night ago, and both placed inside the top-five on Tuesday with finishes of third and fifth, respectively. He also had a good run on McKennedy at the beginning, as well as Goodale afterwards, only slipping back in the late stages as Emerling took charge.
Considering he has won a lot of big races, including at New Smyrna in the past, you have to wonder if the comments are a product of his frustration. Given how fast the No. 60 has been, he could still easily visit victory lane before the week is over – and then we should ask him about his comments once again.