By: Ashley McCubbin
A glance at the practice sheets or qualifying results and Patrick Emerling would not be on your radar as your contender for the win. Fast forward to halfway through the race, and the viewpoint probably does not change.
However, at the end of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler under the rain drops, the No. 07 Captain Pip Marina Chevrolet was in victory lane, proving once again just how unpredictable the modified tour can be.
The two-time Race of Champions Modified Tour Champion certainly did not start off his day at Stafford Motor Speedway as anybody would hope, having to re-wire car just five laps into practice. As a result, he would not get up to speed in qualifying, starting tail on the field. The handling was off at the start, resulting in going down a lap before halfway, but easily gotten back with a quick caution for the lucky dog.
Despite the adversity, the Jan Leaty led team continued making adjustments, improving the handling and working strategy, with their tire rotation putting Emerling inside the top-10 inside the final 60 laps. He then worked his way forward up to fifth, before everything broke loose ahead of him.
His ability to avoid the ensuing incident between Ryan Preece and Ron Silk was enough, with the rain falling afterwards resulting in the race being called at 130 laps and a checkered flag in hand.
A lot of people may call it lucky, but as Emerling stated, their strategy put them in position to capitalize and they had enough speed to contend with the leaders as the laps were winding down. And perhaps a change in fortune is a welcome sight, when you look back over last season and see the whole range of bad luck, from mechanical issues to incidents and flat tires, that resulted in just one top-10 finish.
The contact which occurred prior to then also hit it’s own buzzer of controversy, with questions being asked about conditions, specifically Anthony Nocella who wound up with damage. Through the prior 20 laps, a sprinkle had fallen as evident by the camera work, but no change in track surface color and others in the incident saying otherwise proved the theory to be wrong.
Both Silk and Preece said track conditions were not a factor, with the NASCAR Cup Series regular chalking the contact up to the result of adding too much rear brake into the car, causing it to lock up and slide into his competitor.
An unfortunate calculated error for all involved, but certainly warranted at that time as competitors try anything and everything possible to ensure their chance at victory. Sometimes you get it right and other times not.
Before the pair found their way to the front, though, it was all Matt Swanson. He dominated from the pole, and will be asking himself what if after a mechanical issue forced him to call back and make a trip down pit road. Instead of his first series checkered flag, he wound up getting caught up in an incident later on.
The flip side was seeing the struggles for both Justin Bonsignore and Doug Coby. Bonsignore qualified mid-pack, and had to claw his way to the top-five with 40 laps to go, only to be caught up in the Silk-Preece incident. Coby, meanwhile, showed speed through the first half but a decision to take a single tire did not pay off as he fell back drastically and was unable to recover.
The veteran struggles, combined with the number of various faces at the front of the field over the night just proves the diversity of talent on the tour right now, and why it will be interesting to see what happens moving forward. Who can build together a string of success? Who can assert themselves as a championship challenger? Either way, it will be fun to watch for all involved.