Rally Car: Woody Pitkat Salvages Second Place In Whelen Mod Tour Icebreaker 150 At Thompson

By Travis Barrett ~ Special To RaceDayCT

Woody Pitkat (Photo: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Woody Pitkat (Photo: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images for NASCAR)

THOMPSON — There were probably a half-dozen times Sunday afternoon where Woody Pitkat wondered why his “dream come true” was turning into a nightmare.

Maybe it was when his car was black-flagged almost halfway through the race.

Maybe it was when he was stuck in the inside lane on yet another restart.

Maybe it was when he referred to his wife as his “girlfriend” over the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park public address system.

Pitkat, of Stafford, rallied through all of that and recovered quite nicely, finishing second in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s season-opening Icebreaker 150 for the second straight year.

Pitkat won the pole for the event last year — and had a much smoother ride to the podium — but it might be what he and his Buzz Chew-owned No. 88 team learned about one another over the last 12 months that could have this finish meaning more than the one a year ago.

“We have a brand new car, and we learned a bunch this weekend,” Pitkat said. “We made big strides today from when we practiced here a week ago. I’m looking forward to the season. I can’t thank Bryon and Buzz (Chew) enough for giving me the opportunity to drive their car. Like I said, it was a dream come true last year, and it still is.”

Pitkat won his first two career Modified Tour races in 2014, his first season in the No. 88, but three DNFs in 13 starts and a disastrous three-race stretch midway through the campaign where he never finished better than 20th derailed any notion of a championship upset.

This season is off to an identical start as last season, but with a brand new car and a full season to jell together, Pitkat thinks this season holds plenty of promise.

“I think we definitely grew as a team, and now we’re more on the same page,” Pitkat said. “(Crew chief Ron Ste-Marie) understands what I’m telling him or even sees what I’m getting ready to tell him. We have an awesome relationship.”

In the Icebreaker 150, there’s no question that the relationship was tested.

NASCAR officials brought the entire field to a stop on the Thompson frontstretch during a caution period of Lap 61 to check for a vehicle that had been leaking fluid onto the track. Unfortunately for Pitkat, it was his No. 88 machine — and he was forced to pit out of seventh place at the time.

Ste-Marie’s crew found the leaking oil line and made the repair in time to keep Pitkat on the lead lap, and he joined a slew of leaders to pit for fresh tires on Lap 77.

“Hats off to my guys. I’m so proud of them on that pit stop. They kept their composure, worked on it, found the oil leak and fixed that,” Pitkat said. “We came back in and made a pit stop for tires and gained five or six spots (on pit road). That helped a lot.

“I drove my butt off after that. I had to dodge a couple wrecks there, and three-wides and this and that.”

Less than 30 laps later, Pitkat had worked his way back into the Top-5. He moved into the runner-up position on Lap 139 following the race’s final restart, using the preferred outside line to go from fourth to second around Bobby Santos III — but where he had been fighting a loose condition in the first half of the race, he found himself just a tick too tight over the closing laps to chase down eventual winner Doug Coby.

“We definitely had to battle for that one. We finished second last year, and it was a lot easier,” Pitkat said. “The only bad thing about the whole day was just (restarting) on the bottom. Every single time, I was starting on the bottom. I was like, ‘Can’t I get a break?’… But when it mattered the most, I started on the outside.”

After the chaotic 150 laps to start the season, about the only thing Pitkat had left to do was make amends at home.

“I can’t believe I called her my girlfriend,” Pitkat said of his podium interview misstep.

Given all the emotional ups and downs from the afternoon, he can probably be forgiven.

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