Last year Woody Pitkat went to the July NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with plenty of question marks surrounding him when it came to his place on the Whelen Modified Tour.
Had he found the perfect home on the Whelen Modified Tour with Buzz Chew Racing?
When would he finally win a Whelen Modified Tour event?
Was he ready to be a Whelen Modified Tour championship contender?
This weekend Pitkat, of Stafford, heads back to Loudon with so many of those questions answered.
There’s no more characterizing Pitkat as a wild card opportunist on the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway oval. Instead, Pitkat goes into Saturday’s Andy Blacksmith 100 in Loudon high on the list of favorites to win, and securely embedded in the series championship chase.
On Aug. 8, 2014, in his 86th career series start, Pitkat finally broke through and got his first career Whelen Modified Tour victory. The wait was far shorter for victory number two, which came just a few weeks later in the F.W. Webb 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 20.
This weekend Pitkat heads to Loudon third in the series standings, two points behind Ryan Preece and Doug Coby, who are tied for the lead. In his second season running for Buzz Chew racing, he has top-five finishes in all six Whelen Modified Tour events this season.
And his coolness heading back to New Hampshire is without question.
“The confidence is obviously really high,” We’ve been running really good. We tested there [July 6] and we were really good. I’m obviously looking forward to it. I feel like I’ve always run good there. The first couple years I always liked going there but I felt like I struggled. Then I finally got a handle on it. I definitely like going there and I think we’ll be really good.”
Pitkat said New Hampshire Motor Speedway has long been a track where he felt confident, even when he wasn’t in superior equipment.
He finished second to Mike Stefanik in the Granite State Classic 100 on Aug. 13, 2011 driving for team owner Don King. In 16 career Whelen Modified Tour starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 2006 he has nine top-10 finishes, despite making most of those starts in equipment that was arguably at least a couple ticks below the best the series has to offer.
“I’ve been there with David Hill’s team and Don [King’s] car, which probably wasn’t the most superior equipment, and nothing to knock them, but going to Loudon I think the draft takes things out the situation,” Pitkat said. “If you have a mediocre car and you know what you’re doing in the draft and how to set yourself up through each lap, you can get yourself up there. I never really qualified well there but last year with Buzz’s car I was doing better with that with qualifying, which really helps.”
And Pitkat said the years of trying to make the most of what he had has only made him that much better now going to the track with a team that brings superior equipment to the table.
“It probably does help that I had to go there for a long time with something that was a little bit off and I kind of had to make up for it and you realize that and you know that,” Pitkat said. “And now going there with better stuff, that year I almost won with Don [King], we didn’t have a lot of speed, but it was really comfortable. That’s the big thing you want there. You want to be comfortable, you want your car to be consistent and you want to be good in the draft. That’s the biggest thing. Now I’m fortunate enough to have really good equipment and really good people backing me and a team that they’ve always been fast there too. That just makes it that much better.”
With nine races left in the 2015 season Pitkat said there’s no daydreaming yet when it comes to championship thoughts. He’s squarely in the mix against Preece, the 2013 series champion and Coby, the reigning series champion and 2012 champ.
“I haven’t gotten that far,” Pitkat said of thinking about a series title. “This year really is the first year that I’ve been as far up in the points as I have. Anything can happen. It obviously would be great. Sometimes early you think about maybe going to Charlotte and being at the head table [at the Tour Series banquet], but I’m not looking at that. There’s still a lot of racing to go.”
Though it doesn’t mean points – and being fully aware of the big picture of the standings – aren’t on the mind of the 36-year old veteran, who has a best series finish of ninth in the standings, which he accomplished in 2009, 2013 and last year.
“I really haven’t looked too much at it,” Pitkat said of the standings. “I tend to look at it once in a while just to see what’s going on. I really just try to go out there race to race and obviously try to win the races.
“There’s some nights when you know you can’t win. You’re running against 30 people and there’s only going to be one winner on any given night, so you’ve kind of got to chop it up and say ‘Alright, I’m a third place car tonight’ and not try to go for the win and cost yourself with a [did not finish] or a 10th place finish. So I think I’ve kind of mellowed out on that aspect a little bit and kept my cool and try to get the best finish and bring the car home in one piece to make it better for the next race.”