STAFFORD – Defense of the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship hasn’t gone exactly as smoothly as Ryan Preece had hoped.
Preece came into Sunday’s NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final 150 at Stafford in sixth place in the series standings, far behind the battle for the championship.
But Sunday the Berlin driver found the light at the end of the tunnel his team has been searching for all season.
Preece held off Ted Christopher on a dramatic green-white-checkered finish to win the Whelen Modified Tour NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final 150 at Stafford Speedway.
Christopher, of Plainville, was second and Ron Silk of Norwalk third. The race was extended to 152 laps because of a late caution. It was the first Modified Tour victory for Preece since winning at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway on Sept. 14, 2013.
“To win on the Whelen Modified Tour is not easy,” Preece said. “Guys will tell you. There were guys that were dominating at the beginning of the year and now they’re struggling to be in the top-five. When you’re sitting around and it’s beating at you and you’re not racing a lot on the Tour it’s just kind of like ‘Am I going to get to victory lane this season?’”
Drama was ramped when Rowan Pennink spun on lap 146 to bring out the final caution and set up the green-white-checkered duel for Preece and Christopher.
Christopher got a big jump on Preece going into turn one when when the green flag came back out on lap 151, but Preece fought back on the inside with contact between the two forcing Christopher up the track and allowing Preece to get the advantage he needed.
“It was a good racing,” Christopher said. “A couple times we had him on the outside but he did what he had to do to get into the side of us. That’s racing here. He’s hungry to win just as much as we are.
“The guy on the inside has always got the advantage. Eight wheels are better than four as they say.”
Said Preece: “I didn’t cost him a win, I didn’t cost him a position. That’s racing. I’m sure he would have done the same thing to me if he was in my position. … We won the race, that’s all that matters.”
Preece started seventh and was running seventh when the caution flew on lap 60 and headed to the pits. Preece’s Flamingo Motorsports team got him out first and by lap 74 Preece moved by Bobby Santos for the lead and never trailed again.
“My pit crew did a phenomenal job,” Preece said. “I think everybody saw that. They got me out there in front. We made the right adjustments, the car was awesome. … It’s a hell of a way to almost end the season. We were pretty good the first half of the race. Obviously [Santos] was the class of the field and so was [Doug Coby]. We came in, my pit crew, they got me out first. They got me a lot of track position.”
Silk’s team decided to pit late for tires and got their chance with 10 laps remaining to make a banzai run to the podium.
“Luckily we got that caution right there at the end or we would have looked pretty stupid,” Silk said. “A couple more laps it would have been pretty tough to hold me off I think. To rally back to finish third is a good day.”
Series points leader Doug Coby finished eighth and will take a nearly insurmountable advantage in the standings to the final event of the season on Oct. 19 at Thompson Speedway.