After 65 starts without a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win, Craig Lutz earned his first checkered flag on Sunday at Stafford Motor Speedway.
The victory came in the annual NAPA Fall Final, a staple event on the schedule, and one of the final two in the season. While Lutz celebrated, Justin Bonsignore and Doug Coby, the top two title contenders, rounded out the podium.
All of this and more in the Rapid Rewind from the 15th race of the Whelen Modified Tour season — the third appearance at Stafford for 2019.
LUTZ TAKES RUSSELL GOODALE TO VICTORY LANE
Two years ago, Craig Lutz rolled into Stafford Motor Speedway in August with a new team. Fast-forward 25 months, and Lutz took his Goodie Motorsports entry to Victory Lane at the historic Connecticut half-mile.
Even though he didn’t start off with the finishes he would have liked with his Russell Goodale owned team, this season, the team has really stepped to the next level. They’ve finished inside the top five in nine of 15 races, and had earned five finishes of third or better entering Sunday.
He had finished second three times in his career. Sunday, it was time to move forward one spot.
“I’ve put more pressure on myself. I have an awesome group of guys,” Lutz said. “Ever since we switched over to LFR cars and Rob Fuller has been in our corner, everything has been going really good.”
That switch happened late in the 2018 season, and things have clicked since. Sunday, Lutz wasn’t the dominant car in the early laps, but charged up inside the top five, and took advantage of some pit strategy to be in position on the final restart.
He passed Doug Coby — a two-time Stafford track champion and 12-time Whelen Modified Tour Stafford winner — to take the lead. Lutz followed Coby and Bonsignore down pit road just after lap 100, and when the leaders took the green for the final time on lap 117, he passed Coby for the top spot.
“Everyone kept on asking me when the win was coming,” Lutz said. “I knew I had to be on my game on the restart. I got a really good restart and beat Coby off two, then tried to set my own pace.”
For Lutz, the final 25 laps, minding a gap in the lead, left him no time to think about what it would be like to finally hold the checkered. When the trophy was in his hands, you could see the emotion.
“It’s amazing, especially for my car owner Russell Goodale, he puts so much into this,” Lutz said. “In the last three years, he lost his son and his wife. Our race team is his family. It’s extra special to win for him.”
BONSIGNORE GAINS TWO POINTS ON COBY
Not what he was looking for, but a solid day for Justin Bonsignore.
His winless streak continues at Stafford, but, Bonsignore would finish second in the NAPA Fall Final 150, which helped him close the championship battle down to 19 points heading for the finale.
“Probably not,” Bonsignore said when asked if he could have done anything differently at the end. “When Doug beat us off pit road it played a big part in the strategy. Our car was really tight for a while on both sets of tires today, it showed at the end of the first run that we were the better car. Craig was really tight at the beginning, but Doug was really smart, making sure I had to worry about him.”
Once Bonsignore shook Coby off his back bumper in the final 10 laps, he was a bit quicker than Lutz on the stopwatch. But it wasn’t quite enough.
“Craig was going to be really tough to pass going for his first win, but it’s frustrating, we were just so close,” Bonsignore said. “But I’m, really happy with our performance here this year. It’s the first time we had a good finish, but we’ve made good gains. I just want to win here so bad — more than anything.”
COBY SURVIVES STAFFORD WITH COMFORTABLE LEAD
That seems like a good word to describe Doug Coby’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship points lead with one race remaining. He leads by 19 points over Bonsignore in search of his sixth championship with the Sunoco World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, October 11-13, still looming.
“Hopefully we go to Thompson and it’s one of those World Series that’s tame and boring,” Coby joked. “We will have a good car, but they (No. 51) will have a good car. We’re going to have to be every bit as good. It’s going to come down to the last lap.”
Sunday, Coby was in a good spot to try to earn his 13th career Stafford win, but it didn’t pan out in his favor in the final laps. He tried the back bumper of Bonsignore for second for much of the final 25 circuits, but had to settle behind.
“He (Bonsignore) pinched me down just about every time, and I kinda just lifted and figured I’d try to set him up,” Coby said. “I was better for a while, but I kinda used my stuff up, and my car got tighter, and his was more neutral at the end. It was just get it to the finish and hope Justin didn’t pull something out of his magic hat and pass the No. 46.”
NAPA FALL FINAL 150 RACE NOTES:
- After earning his first career Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award in qualifying, Chris Pasteryak led 15 laps, and finished 11th. It was the first career pole for Pasteryak, and the second time this season he had led laps.
- Chuck Hossfeld, who didn’t practice or qualify on Saturday because he was competing at another modified event, arrived at Stafford, and started from the tail of the field. At the end of the 150-lap distance, he would earn his second straight fourth-place finish.
- In just his second outing for Eddie Harvey Racing, Woody Pitkat finished eighth at his home track, while in his debut, Matt Galko, a regular in Stafford’s SK Modified ranks, would finish 12th.