Ryan Preece very well could miss two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races and still win the championship.
Many already counted him out when he missed the race at Langley Speedway on May 11 to get married, but then he started winning. He hasn’t stopped winning and now third in the standings and just nine points behind Timmy Solomito with six races remaining.
To put Preece’s sensational summer into perspective, let’s go back to where he sat after Langley. He was 66 points behind Solomito. He has made up 57 of those points in just seven races.
Preece is still expected to skip the New Hampshire Motor Speedway race in September to run another Xfinity Series race with Joe Gibbs Racing in Kentucky Speedway.
So this has to make his championship hopes impossible, right?
Look at the rest of the schedule and you’ll see that Preece’s strongest tracks are still on the gamut, including Stafford and Thompson, two tracks he’s previously won at. Is Preece likely to win the title? Probably not. It would virtually take winning out and poor showings by the other contenders just to have a shot.
Even without Preece, this is still the most compelling championship battle the Tour has had in quite awhile. Not counting Preece, the top-four drivers are within 19 points of each other.
A title fight this close between this many drivers is almost unprecedented. Not since 1989, when, under the old points system, Mike Stefanik nipped Reggie Ruggiero by a mere six points, and Tony Hirshman by just 20 has there been such a thrilling battle. But even then, there were only three drivers fighting for the championship.
In 2017, there are four with a realistic shot.
Here’s how they stack up:
Timmy Solomito has been the points leader for much of the season, with victories coming at Myrtle Beach, Langley, and Riverhead. Since his most recent victory, however, Solomito has finished 15th or worse twice.
Rowan Pennink is the only other driver to have led the standings this season, currently sitting two points back. His lone victory of the season came at the Icebreaker 150 back in April. Consistency has been thekey to Pennink’s season as he’s finished in the top-10 nine times in 10 starts this year.
Doug Coby is getting hot.
While winless on the year, Coby remains a mere 17 points behind Solomito. Heading into Seekonk, Coby is sitting on three consecutive second-place finishes. Outside of an 11th-place finish at New Hampshire, where Coby spun out in the final laps of the race battling for the win, Coby has finished no worse than fourth since Langley on May 13th.
Justin Bonsignore has flown under the radar all year. Remarkably, Bonsignore has completed 99.9 percent of all the laps run so far, tops among Tour drivers. The team never gives up. Bonsignore has some strong tracks coming up, like New Hampshire, where he won last fall, and Thompson, where he won last October.
Down the stretch, the champion is going to have to perform at the New England racetracks, which are Seekonk, New Hampshire, Thompson, and Stafford. The series doesn’t leave the region after Riverhead on September 16th, save for the exhibition race in Charlotte on October 5th.
The man who wins the title will have to win races beforehand. That’s ‘races’ with an ‘s.’ Multiple victories are going to be needed. But the biggest ingredient to winning a title will be simply staying out of trouble.
New Hampshire will be quite the wild-card event. The pack racing there may very well create a wreck involving a title contender. Timmy Solomito knows that as well as anyone, having been squeezed into the wall there in July. Being in the wrong place could be what loses a driver the title. On the other hand, staying out of trouble could win a driver one.
In this writer’s opinion, Doug Coby is the man for the job. The four-time champion is bound to tear off two or three wins this season. With Ryan Preece out of the picture at New Hampshire, Coby will be an even bigger favorite to win there than usual.
With a little good luck on raceday from here on out, Coby should be able to leapfrog the three men separating him from his fifth title.
But ‘should’ and ‘will’ are two very different terms.
Read more Short Track Scene:
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- Opinion: Why this is the greatest Mod Tour championship battle ever
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