The last time the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour visited Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, in 2020, Craig Lutz brought home his third career win in the series.
Lutz formally reignited the long-standing tradition Thompson and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour have shared since 1985 by surviving a wild Phoenix Communications 150 on Thursday night for his first win on the 2022 season.
While Lutz was relieved to earn a victory after struggling for consistency through the first 10 races of the year, he said being able to reach Victory Lane at Thompson with veteran car owner Danny Watts was what made the night special.
“Danny Watts has put a lot into his Modified program for a long time,” Lutz said. “It’s been a while since he won. We got a win with him at New Smyrna, but to win a Tour race [at Thompson] is just incredible, and there’s so many people to thank. We’ve had a hell of a season so far, but we just turned it around right now.”
RELATED: Phoenix Communications 150 results
Once the field raced into Turn 1 on the opening lap, Lutz immediately knew he had a car capable of winning.
While Lutz quickly took control of the lead, raw speed alone was not going to be enough for him to pull off the win. A rash of cautions in the middle of the Phoenix Communications 150 created a handful of diverging strategies that mixed up the running order.
Lutz had to be both patient and lucky to resume his spot at the front of the field, but he successfully managed to survive the on-track chaos before passing Tommy Catalano for the win on a late restart.
Most of the carnage ended up happening in Lutz’s rearview mirror and did not exclude the two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship frontrunners. Ron Silk and Jon McKennedy got together on two separate occasions, with the latter accident relegating Silk to 12th.
Silk’s misfortune ended up bringing Eric Goodale closer into the championship fight after he came home second. Goodale admitted his car was not quite strong enough to run down Lutz but stressed that victories are a top priority for him with just five races remaining.
“The points will take care of themselves,” Goodale said. “We’re just here to win races. We came up one short, but Craig had a rocket ship. I thought I was going to have a chance on that last restart, but the guys did a bang-up job on pit road and put me in a position to win. We’ll take it and move on.”
Although Goodale managed to keep his car clean for most of the night like Lutz, the third-place finisher in six-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby was not as lucky.
Coby drew the ire of his Tommy Baldwin Racing teammate Jimmy Blewett after a three-wide maneuver between the two of them and Tyler Rypkema resulted in Blewett crashing hard into the outside wall on the frontstretch, ending a strong night for Blewett.
The last thing Coby wanted was to see Baldwin’s car get damaged with Blewett behind the wheel, but he chalked everything up as a racing incident that ultimately went against Blewett’s favor.
“I was on the bottom, and [Blewett] chose to go in the middle,” Coby said. “He was hoping I would lift, but I was in there pretty good, and I tried to stay as low as I could. There’s three drivers three-wide, and I wasn’t the one who made it three-wide. I feel really bad, and I’m not looking to wreck Tommy’s car, but [Blewett] chose to go in the middle, and I have to protect my equipment.”
The dispute between Coby and Blewett, as well as the shift in the championship battle, was far from Lutz’s mind. He was overjoyed to celebrate with Watts and his crew after having yet to record a top-five this year entering the Phoenix Communications 150.
Lutz said the chaotic nature of the race made him uneasy as to whether his strategy would work, but he was proud of how hard everyone worked during the week and hopes the speed he showed Thursday becomes a recurring theme through the end of the season.
“This was one of those cars that was just perfect,” Lutz said. “All the guys had an awesome pit stop, and they made a great strategy call. I was nervous when we stayed out and everyone came for tires, but [this car] was pretty badass.”
McKennedy took control of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings by a small margin over Silk after finishing in fourth on Thursday. Justin Bonsignore completed the top five. Ryan Preece, Kyle Bonsignore, Timmy Solomito, Patrick Emerling and Spencer Davis made up the top 10.
A replay of the Phoenix Communications 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park can be seen on the USA Network on Sunday, Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to action on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Langley Speedway. The race will be streamed live on FloRacing.