No Wiggle Room: Mid-race Wreck At NHMS Alters Whelen Modified Tour Championship Picture

By Travis Barrett

Reigning Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby's dropped from the lead in the standings to  fourth after wrecking while leading Saturday's event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Reigning Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby dropped from the lead in the series standings to fourth after wrecking while leading Saturday’s event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

LOUDON, N.H. — A caution period midway through the Andrew Blacksmith 100 Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway significantly altered the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship chase.

A restart on lap 56 — immediately following the race’s halfway break allowing teams to change tires and make adjustments on their cars — touched off a chain-reaction wreck at the start-finish line that sent one multi-time champion to the garage and at least partially damaged more than a half-dozen other contenders. Included in the carnage was pole-sitter and race leader Doug Coby and one of the division’s most consistent performers this season in Woody Pitkat.

As the cars came to the green flag, Coby’s car slid slightly sideways. Donny Lia, who restarted fourth behind Coby, got into the back of him — turning Coby straight into Pitkat in the inside lane. Both Coby and Pitkat made contact with the outside wall, turning the frontstretch into a demolition derby as the rest of the field took evasive action.

“I wiggled, spun the tires a little bit and then just got finished off,” Coby said. “I don’t know if (Lia) got pushed from behind or if he just didn’t think enough to back out of it. I thought I was going to gather it back and have what would have been a slower restart — our lane wouldn’t have gone as good — and then he just turned me or got underneath me and lifted the wheels up or something like that, and I hit Woody in the right side.

“It was all chaos from there.”

Lia, who drove through the wrecking around him and went on to finish second, said contact from cars behind him impacted the problem.

“I started to go and I don’t know if (Coby) spun his tires or what, but next thing you know I was just on his bumper hard,” Lia said. “I tried to stay square with him, and at the same time I was just getting shoved so hard from the back.

“When you’re the guy in the middle like that there’s really nothing you can do, especially when the restart has already started and everybody is accelerating. You hate to see that happen. You hate to be in the middle of it.”

Coby’s day was finished after the incident, and he was credited with a 30th-place finish in the 34-car field. After entering the race tied with Ryan Preece atop the Tour standings, Coby dropped to fourth — 25 points out of the lead. Eventual race winner Todd Szegedy moved to third in the points.

Preece finished sixth, having successfully navigated his way through the altercation, a move that allowed him to take sole possession of the championship lead.

“Happy and I guess a little disappointed at the same time,” Preece said of his day, admitting he’d hoped to gain a little more traction in the standings following the wreck. “We had a real solid car but we got shuffled back to fifth, and when we got shuffled back it was really hard to find air to keep the car balanced. We had a really good car overall, though, and I’m really happy about that.”

Pitkat’s day went from dominant to disaster to digestible in the span of about 30 minutes on the track.

He restarted at the back of the field following the lap 56 accident, but he was unable to return to the same form he enjoyed early in the race — when he drove up through the field seemingly at will after starting 11th to take the lead by lap 36.

“At one point there, it felt pretty frustrating because the thing was vibrating really bad and we weren’t gaining and there was nowhere to go,” Pitkat said of his car following the accident. “When we came back in and put our old tires back on (on lap 62), I knew the vibration was gone and maybe we could have something still. At that point, you’ve just got to battle. You’ve got to salvage.

“There’s one thing that I never will do, since day one, and that’s give up. I’ll never give up no matter what. Some of these guys will give up if their car isn’t that good. I’m never giving up.”

Pitkat’s rally to finish seventh left him second in the standings heading out of the Andy Blacksmith 100 — just three points behind Preece. In seven races this season, Pitkat has six top five finishes and seven top 10s.

His disappointment, though, was compounded by the fact he employed a race car that was more than capable of winning, just as he had done in the All-Star Shootout here Friday.

“I absolutely did. We had a really good car,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it could have been a lot worse. I’m glad it wasn’t as bad as it (could have been).”

The same couldn’t be said for Coby, whose focus now becomes winning races, leading laps and collecting as many bonus points as possible over the final eight races of the season.

“It started by the little tire spin, but it wasn’t huge. I didn’t think it was something we would have gotten wrecked from,” said Coby, the 2012 and 2014 Tour champion. “Obviously when you’re spinning the tires, the only thing you can do is back out of it to control the tire spin, and then get it in gear and go. As I was backing out of it, I got run over. It’s tough here.

“If I didn’t spin the tires, I wouldn’t have gotten wrecked, so it’s got to start with me. But sometimes, when you’re behind guys, you’ve got to give them a little space and let them correct it for the good of everybody.”

Pitkat agreed with Coby’s assessment that patience would have served everybody better.

“I don’t know what happened there,” Pitkat said. “It stinks because it was (lap 56). There was still a long way to go, but Doug was probably right there. (Lia) probably should have given him a break.”

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Comments

  1. NH Mark says:

    Knowing the competition caution was coming I would have let Lia have the lead. That or Coby should have started on the inside where Lia wasn’t behind him. Lia has been involved in just about every major wreck at NHMS for the last 10yrs. Yes, Coby spun the tires but as you said somebody else might have left him some wiggle room.

  2. I like the fact the Doug admits that the wreck would NOT have happened if he didn’t spin the tires. It takes a real competitor to admit a mistake and not pass the blame to someone else IMO.

  3. Szegedy is not second in points. He is third 19 back.

  4. Youhavenoidea says:

    FYI it all happened after the competition yellow so the idea of giving the spot wouldn’t have worked it was on the restart for the green for the second half

  5. And why is there a competition yellow anyways ? We all no who’s really to blame . Cautions breed cautions especially at NH .

  6. The competition caution is because of the SPEC motor guzzling fuel and needs a fuel stop.

    That mess would not have happened if there was no competition yellow.

  7. Youhavenoidea says:

    There is a comp yellow because the southern guys don’t have quick fills in their cars and while the open motor gets better gas mileage the spec motor is a hog and can make like 58 laps under green so to make it even they bring out the yellow half way for fuel and tires and it makes it a level playing field although I feel it should be allowed under green and the southern guys should just buy the dam tank and filler neck not to mention they really don’t run up here to much like they used to but yea that’s why

  8. The only reason for the competition/demolition caution is to handicap the spec motor even more because they can’t make the distance on fuel and the built motors can. Nothing about a three minute coffee break at mid race enhances competition. There is no competing for the best pit strategy, no competing for the team that does the best job on the tire change/refuel, no competing to get on and off pit road most efficiently. Make the race just a little longer so everyone needs to pit for fuel at some point and the problem is solved and everyone wins. Competition caution is a humiliation to the series-it looks like these guys aren’t capable of performing pit stops during race conditions.

  9. Exactly my point ! NASCAR had a good thing and they found a way to ruin it

  10. SteveS, and these guys love to do the pitstops… they love to show what they can so and how good they are.

    Let them refuel under yellow pit stops, get rid of the intermission. Make pitstops part of the competition, like they were.

  11. Sect.D Row25 says:

    I’d like to lay one out there and see what you guys think. I submit making this race 70 laps, one segment, is the simple answer here. This would force the Spec to be detuned to make the distance and thus could even the playing field with the built engine while eliminating the goofy half way break.

  12. Let them refuel during one of the “normal” yellow flag cautions.

    Do not shorten a Loudon race, no less than 100 laps.

  13. Sharpie Fan says:

    How many actual “southern” drivers were in the field for either race besides Suess and Newman?

  14. I don’t think there were any southern tour cars/drivers at Loudon, which was a surprise. Usually a couple showed up.

  15. Just my thoughts... says:

    There was only a couple cars from the Southern Tour, Gary Putnam , Joe Ryan Osborne in the Hillbilly car and Andy Seuss. I believe Andy was in his own car not the one he runs on Southern Tour.

  16. Add my vote to those who hate having an intermission during a race. This isn’t “Death of a Salesman!” It makes the entire first segment feel irrelevant.

    While we’re at it, I’d also vote to get rid of the “lucky dog”/free pass. Absolutely hate that. You want your lap back? Race to get it back, or get it back via pit strategy.

    Intermission and free pass are the OPPOSITE of what racing should be.

  17. Chris D. says:

    Agree with you 100% Mike86.

  18. Restarts breed more restarts, and that happened. The restart from that mandatory intermission resulted in a disastrous restart and several top cars were knocked out, and others injured.

    I really wish there was a good reason for these intermissions. Somebody please explain why?

  19. Race fan says:

    When they first started, someone had said the intermission was because not all teams bring up their whole crew to NHMS or Bristol and they didn’t want teams hiring Cup guys to go Over the wall for them, even though many of the cup guys are horrible at changing wide 5s.

    Another reason I heard for the Bristol intermission was that the southern guys don’t do pit stops like the northern guys normally do.

  20. Just my thoughts... says:

    The half way break was in effect before the spec engine came on the scene, so that cannot be the only reason. If I recall correctly, one of the reasons was that some teams had the advantage of bringing Sprint Cup or Xfinity crew members to pit road for the New Hampshire races and Bristol race. The teams that were able to do this had an advantage over the teams that did not or could not do this. The teams also had to have a gas man with special equipment for these stops which was an added cost to the teams.

  21. As you all probably noticed, the intermissions only occur at Cup races. The actual reason for that is NASCAR is concerned that the typical Cup fan might not be able to withstand the rigors placed on their cardio-vascular system from the excitement of modified racing and therefor instituted the intermission to give their hearts time to catch up. Purely in the interest of fan safety. Just my thoughts, I can’t say positively, but I’m pretty sure the break came the same year as the Spec motor was first introduced-it just didn’t catch on because it didn’t have as much of a handicap allowance at that time. The Martinsville and Bristol races started the break when the combined races came up because the Southern tour wasn’t equipped for fuel stops and I think even the fire suits were not required for them at the time.

  22. I remember the first time we had a combined north vs south race I believe we were at martinsville . When it came time for our pit stops the guys from the north had all the gear to do there pit stops correctly but the south teams had nothing . When the stops were all over I looked at David hill and said did you see that ? He replied to me ” them guys was changing tires in there T-shirts ! “. And that was when the half way BS started .

  23. Jim,

    So, assuming that’s the origin of the mid-race break, isn’t it the case that people have to be properly equipped to go over pit wall today?

    Are we saying that the break started for one reason, and it’s been kept in place for another reason (the spec motor)?

    Just curious about the history, that’s all.

    To be honest, I pretty much refuse to attend any race with a half-way break.

    I think it was the ASA, several years ago, that implemented a competition yellow, where they’d throw the caution if the race went too long without one.

    WTF?

    I stopped watching once they did that.

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