Short track racing in Connecticut. It has a certain ring to it. Maybe it’s the smell of burnt rubber. Or maybe it is the roar of V-8 engines flying by the crowd.
As the off-season comes to a close, it is time for drivers to strap back into their cars for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season. Kicking off with the annual Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, the roar of the pack will be heard for the first time since Doug Coby took the checkered flag at the track to claim his second consecutive and third overall Whelen Modified Tour championship.
Coby, 36, looks to become the first driver to win three straight titles since NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans won eight straight championship from 1978 through 1985. Coming off a seven-win season, he returns to Mike Smeriglio’s team, attempting to recapture the magic from the past two years.
Ryan Preece, who finished runner-up in the Whelen Modified Tour standings last year, will not be running full-time in 2016. After signing a deal to compete for JD Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, the 2013 Modified Tour champion will run part-time for Ed Partridge’s No. 6 team this season.
After a career year in 2015, Woody Pitkat is no longer with Buzz Chew’s No. 88 team. Competing for Chew for the past two seasons, he will be racing the No. 85 car for Kevin Stewart. Last season, he recorded his third career Modified Tour victory, along with a career-best finish of third in the standings, an average finish of 4.7, 11 top fives and 14 top 10s.
— Woody Pitkat Racing (@WoodyPitkat) March 30, 2016
The Ole’ Blue No. 3 car will be back on track in 2016 after splitting the ride between three different drivers. Rowan Pennink moves from his family-owned No. 93 team to the Boehler Racing Enterprises car.
Long Island’s Justin Bonsignore is coming off a year that consisted of a sweep at Riverhead Raceway, leading a combined 277 of 400 laps at the track. However, after starting the year with four straight finishes of 20th or worse, followed by two late season wrecks that took him out of contention at Bristol and Stafford, he finished 10th in the standings.
As Bonsignore returns to the No. 51 team, the difference this year will be how well he performs to begin the year. Staying out of trouble will be his biggest key. If he can do that, expect this crew to be running near the front week-in and week-out.
After uncertainty plagued the Mystic Missile team during the off-season, the organization signed Jimmy “Showtime” Blewett to pilot the No. 4 car in 2016. The five-time Whelen Modified Tour winner replaces Todd Szegedy, who finished 2015 with a victory at Loudon and 11 top 10s. Blewett has not raced with the Tour since 2013, running part-time for his family-owned No. 76 team.
As for Szegedy, he moves to Rob Fuller Motorsports’ No. 15 car. Running part-time, he will likely run a similar schedule compared to 2014, when he ran six events for the team.
Timmy Solomito returns to the No. 16 car, looking to improve upon his sixth-place finish in the standings last year. Entering the season, he will attempt to pick up from the momentum he earned last year, finishing third in the final two races.
With the season starting this weekend, the Whelen Modified Tour will have plenty of stories to follow throughout the year. After the Icebreaker, the Tour returns to Stafford Motor Speedway on April 24.
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