There’s a very likely chance the winningest NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver of all-time has turned his last lap with the series.
Seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Mike Stefanik said Tuesday he has no rides lined up for the 2014 season and that he isn’t looking for a ride.
“Looks like I’ll be doing some boating this summer by the looks of things,” Stefanik said.
But the word retirement is one the 55-year old Coventry, R.I. driver is carefully tiptoeing around.
“I knew this day was coming and that’s all I can say about it,” Stefanik said. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It’s hard to quit cold turkey, I’ll admit. It is really tough to say ‘Wow, I’m never going to drive a racecar again.’ But it could be very possible that I might never sit in a racecar again. Or, I might run a show here or there for somebody if everything was there to be able to win a race. That’s the way I look at it.”
Stefanik, who won his first series title in 1989 and his last 2006, is the Whelen Modified Tour’s all-time winningest driver with 74 career victories. Reggie Ruggiero is a distant second on the all-time wins list with 44 victories.
In addition to his seven Whelen Modified Tour titles, Stefanik also has two NASCAR K&N Pro Series East titles. In a remarkable span, Stefanik, in both 1997 and 1998, won championships on both the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East. He also has 26 career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and 26 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts. He also has Whelen Modified Tour titles in 1991, 2001 and 2002.
After finishing fifth in the Whelen Modified Tour standings with two victories for team owner Chris Our, Stefanik was offered a part-time ride with Our for the 2014 season. Our replaced Stefanik full-time on his team with 18-year old Tommy Barrett Jr., a standout the last two seasons on the Valenti Modified Racing Series.
Stefanik joined forces with Our, a new team owner in the series, in 2012. In 2012 he drove half the season for Our and half the season for team owner Ed Marceau and finished 11th in the series standings. Our made the decision to run the season full-time in 2013 and Stefanik rewarded that decision by winning the pole and grabbing victory in the season opening Icebreaker at Thompson Speedway last April.
But after winning the Whelen Modified Tour event on Aug. 22 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Stefanik hinted that retirement was possibly nearing.
“It’s not upsetting to me,” Stefanik said. “I didn’t say what I said at Bristol because it was a spur of the moment thing. I’ve been looking at this for a while. It’s just time. I have no regrets.
“I’m not saying the R-Word [retirement] just because I might run a race here or there and I don’t want anybody to say ‘You said you retired and now you came back and ran a race.’ So I don’t have to listen to that I’m not saying nothing. And that’s the only reason. It seems like all the good guys ahead of me never really retired. Kind of like Reggie [Ruggiero], he stepped away and then he came back and ran some races. There’s other drivers that did the same thing. I’m not going to rule out the fact that I might show up at a [race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway] or a Thompson race, or I might not at all. It’s not like I’m opposed to it, but it’s not like I’m in a tailspin over the fact that I don’t have anything lined up or I’m not going to race any races. If I wanted to run a few races I could have done that with Chris [Our]. It’s not like I’m a junky and there’s a little bit of drugs on the table and I’m just scurrying to get them. I’m not in that dire straits type place.”