They say all good things come to an end.
And, after four straight years, it looks like Doug Coby’s run as NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion is going to come to an end this season.
With just three races remaining on the schedule, Coby sits fourth in the championship standings, 116 points from the top.
“It’s pretty different for our whole team, it’s been four years, this is the fifth year with the team, but we’ve won four and it’s been tight in the points every year,” Coby said on Saturday prior to the green flag last weekend at New York’s Riverhead Raceway. “We’ve had points leads that were shrinking in the summer, then we had to crawl back during the summer. We’ve been on every side of the fence.”
This year, Coby has been outside that fence looking in while one of his challengers pulls away.
In four of the first eight races, Coby finished outside the top-10 — including two DNF’s at Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut and Virginia’s Langley Speedway. He’s watched Justin Bonsignore, who joined Coby on the LFR Chassis team this season, win seven of the first 13 races and open a gap in the championship standings that is likely insurmountable.
“We’ve never been this many points out with four races to go, and it’s likely that the No. 51 will lock this championship up at Stafford, or even before that at Loudon. It’s crazy,” the Milford, Connecticut, driver said. “We’ve had to battle every year — it always came down to the World Series and I almost wouldn’t trade that for anything. There is something about going to the last race of the season and having to perform to win. I would have loved to clinch before to make it easy, but there is a certain element of excitement to go to the World Series with what that race represents and what is on the line.”
Back in 2012, Coby won the title driving for Wayne Darling, and also drove the car in 2013. But, he decided to make the move to Mike Smeriglio III Racing at the beginning of the 2014 season to take the seat behind the wheel of the No. 2 Dunleavy Truck and Trailer Chevrolet.
In the last four years, Coby ended hoisting the championship trophy at Thompson’s Sunoco World Series. In the span, Coby had 14 wins, 40 top-fives, 49 top-10s and 17 poles in 61 starts.
This season, in 13 races, Coby has just one win and seven top-five finishes. When comparing this season to the last four years, there is a clear difference.
“I’m sure the No. 51 would love to wrap it up sooner, but they have just had a phenomenal season. They’ve worked really hard and been in the top-10 every race, and that is something I’ve tried to do. It’s different for us. I don’t want to say it’s a breath of fresh air, because I want to win championships and I want to be in that position, but to some degree, I think all of us knew it was coming,” Coby said. “We were due to have an off season.
“In some aspects, last season was off and we still snuck out the championship. I think this was a big reality check for us that there are other teams out there that are so hungry to win that just because we won four in a row, we have to keep that hunger. It’s not going to be handed to us.”
Part of the success for Coby has definitely come because at the base, the No. 2 team has remained the same, with Coby, Phil Moran (crew chief) and Mike Smeriglio (car owner) sticking together. Even though crew members have swapped and times have changed, that base remains one of few on the Whelen Modified Tour that has stayed intact.
“I went to my father for pretty much everything in racing, and he told me that if you’re going to be good at racing, you need to learn how to communicate with the crew chief what the car is doing,” Coby said after winning the title back in 2014. “I think with this team, we were expected to be contenders from day one. We had the bullseye on us from day one, all season long.”
And that same bullseye that was on him when he first started driving for the team was bigger than ever going into the 2018 season. It looks like Bonsignore is going to fire the perfect shot to knock him down. But it definitely isn’t going to come without a fight, even looking ahead.
“It’s different to chase championships, then win championships, and then it’s like what else? What are your goals in racing. For most of us, for the longest time, the goal is to win a race. Then it becomes to win multiple races, and then a championship or to be a contender year in and year out,” Coby said.
At 39-years-old, Coby isn’t ready to hang the helmet up, though.
“It’s weird to be pushing 40 and being one of the older guys out here,” Coby said. “For me, it’s not about hanging it up, it’s about trying to define what is the next goal I am chasing. Everyone says you have Stefanik with seven titles, and Richie Evans with his titles, and that’s not even something I’ve ever said was a goal, because it’s not a realistic goal to chase. I think if you trying to chase a goal like that you lose sight of the fun of racing.”
Coby’s watched Rowan Pennink retire in the middle of the Whelen Modified Tour season this year following back pain. And as a five-time champion, Coby doesn’t see his eventual decision to step away being a big deal.
“At some point in time, I don’t see it being a big retirement party,” Coby said. “I don’t think I’m going to ever announce that it is my final season like the Cup guys are doing. I think a lot of it has to do with the goals of my car owner and the No. 2 team are. We pretty much all already talked about as long as this team is in existence we are here together. I don’t anticipate this being something where because we finished fourth in points, all these rumors of driver changes, no one is getting in this ride unless we all sit down and talk and someone is ready to move onto something else in their life.
“That’s ultimately what I would think would happen in my career. If one key player moves to the next chapter of their life, it might make the rest of us reconsider where our next chapter is. There is always a next chapter.”