You totally had Eric Goodale and Patrick Emerling winning the first two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races of the season, right?
Expectations have been upended after Martinsville and Stafford.
Goodale snapped a 58-race winless streak that dated back to October 1, 2017 when he emerged victorious in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 at Martinsville earlier this month. In winning the Spring Sizzler on Friday night, Emerling snapped his own winless streak that extended to the autumn of 2017.
Who knows what will come next!
But it’s the how that has made the start to 2021 so interesting more than the what.
The seas figuratively parted to give Emerling his first NASCAR win since Bristol Motor Speedway on August 16, 2017 — and just his second overall win on the Tour.
In what turned out to be the final restart before the skies opened up over Stafford Springs, Emerling was running fifth when the four frontrunners (Ron Silk, Ryan Preece, Anthony Nocella and Justin Bonsignore) all crashed in front of him.
A pathway opened up right down the middle of two pairs of two crashed cars and the race was then stopped for rain.
43 minutes later, Emerling was declared the winner.
Emerling has three Race of Champions Tour Type championships over the past five seasons but that hasn’t fully translated over to the NASCAR Modified Tour in recent years — especially in 2019 when he ran the full schedule but finished eighth with just three top-5s.
“We’ve struggled a lot last year, the last couple of years on the Tour,” Emerling said. “it’s about time. We weren’t racing the way we should have against this competition and we weren’t as good as we needed to be.
“We’re putting in more effort than ever before.”
That’s a similar tone as struck by Goodale after winning Martinsville. Goodale had taken it on the chin over the past two seasons before breaking out during the World Series of Asphalt this February at New Smyrna and taking his slightly reconfigured team to Martinsville for the start of the NASCAR season.
“Yeah, we got some new crew guys, and have real good chemistry,” Goodale said after picking up a grandfather clock. “Some of these guys have been with me since I was 12 so it’s a good mix.
“We had good years in 2016-17 and we just struggled after that. We found out everything not to do. It reminded us to keep trying and putting it behind us. We didn’t win in Florida and I felt like we probably could have won one or two of them.”
Now Gooddale and Emerling sit 1-2 in the championship standings entering the summer stretch. How about third and fourth after two races? That’s Tommy Catalano and Max McLaughlin!
You have to get to fifth to find two-time and defending champion Justin Bonsignore. Jon McKennedy and six-time champion Doug Coby is right behind him in the early going.
Not that this matters particularly much.
They’ll get theirs, because they always do. It’s not for a lack of speed that they haven’t won one of these first two races, but rather bad luck that’s kept them off the podium at Martinsville and Stafford.
But it’s certainly made for an engaging start to the season.
Maybe Goodale and Emerling are for real this year and they’ll stay in the mix throughout the summer. Maybe races will continue to fall on off-days in the Cup Series for Ryan Preece to keep making starts and hopefully not because he’s lost his ride at JTG-Daugherty Racing due to a lack of funding.
It’s fun having Preece on the Tour but not like that.
Emerling certainly thinks he has something this year for all of them, and his resume in Open Modified and Tour Type competition certainly reflects it.
“They can say the race ended early, but we were right there, and I think if that race plays out 20 more laps, we’d have a shot at it,” Emerling said. “I think we would have won anyway.”
The NASCAR Whelen Modifed Tour season is underway and it couldn’t be more interesting.