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THOMPSON, Conn. – On the penultimate day of the 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, everything went according to plan for all three championship hopefuls on Saturday at Thompson International Speedway.
Led by Ron Silk and Ryan Preece, who will fill the second row on the 32-car starting grid for Sunday's Sunoco-Town Fair Tire World Series 150, all three drivers still mathematically eligible for the championship qualified inside the top 10. Leader Doug Coby, who has a 17-point lead over Preece and an 18 over Silk, will roll off ninth in the World Series 150 and needs only a 13th-place finish to clinch his first career title.
Coby was happy with the way his car handled in practice Saturday and said that you won't see anything but smart racing from him on Sunday.
“I was pleased with it. We need a Top-13 car, and I know we have a Top-13 car – I just don't know if we are going to get a Top-13 finish,” said Coby, who has an average finish of 13th in three races at Thompson this season. “I'm going to let everybody go by a straightaway, ride around and then hope I don't get wrecked? No. I'm going to race with guys that I trust, and if there's guys that I don't trust, I'm going to try and stay away from them. I do that every race, anyway. You're not going to see me do anything different.”
Last season Silk was involved in a wild final race of the season – one that saw him involved in a crash in the early going before rallying late as other contenders ran into their own trouble to win the championship.
He said he's not as nervous this time around.
“Really, it's just another race. It's about keeping yourself under control,” said Silk, who has four career victories at Thompson, including this year's season opener. “I know last year, I was really nervous. It's been a goal of mine for years to win the championship, so when you're in position to do it, it definitely got a hold of my nerves a little bit.
“I'm third right now and I can't finish any worse than I already am, so we're just going to go and try and win the race. Whatever happens, happens. We've tried a bunch of different stuff with cars and motors, so really, just to be in the hunt, it's been another good year.”
Preece, who won two of the first three poles of the season at Thompson, qualified fourth. But he said there were no curveballs thrown his way Saturday and expects to have another strong performance on Sunday.
“We should be in really good shape,” Preece said. “We're going to be on the outside (row), so we should be really good. We're really good. The car was really good in practice all day, so we'll just see how the race plays out. If everything goes our way, maybe we'll have everything.
“But we'll be happy with just running great, maybe win the race and we'll go from there.”
As the only one of the three drivers to have championship battle experience on the Whelen Modified Tour, Silk was happy to dispense some free advice heading into the season finale.
“Yeah,” he joked. “Don't crash.”
UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The last time Jimmy Blewett was at Thompson International Speedway, he roared from the back of the field to nearly with the UNOH Showdown – a non-points, 50-lap race pitting the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour against the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
On Saturday, he qualified eighth for the World Series 150 and said it's no secret that he's all about getting a win at Thompson.
“I've always got unfinished business with this place,” Blewett said. “Everybody knows, this is where my brother (John Blewett III) lost his life (in 2007). I just want to win here, for my family and myself. If I'm 80 years old, and I still didn't win, I'll be here in a car just trying to get that off my back. I think my brother would be proud.”
Things weren't made easy for Blewett despite his qualifying run. He never turned a lap of practice in the morning after a broken clutch sidelined him for the duration of the hour-long session.
“We found really good balance in the race car the last five or six races, so I really wasn't nervous,” Blewett said. “I know how we left the shop. I know how we left off the last time we were here. I know where we were at at Stafford and Riverhead (recently). I kind of knew the balance was going to be there, but I would have liked to have hit the track today just to feel the car out. We happened to have a clutch issue – a brand new clutch with a little defect in it – but it's no big deal. That happens. Even new parts fail sometimes.
“Just to get out there and be in the top 10, I was happy. It will cut the work down having to come from the back to the front.”
A SECOND FIRST: Eric Berndt surprised even himself with his second career Coors Light Pole Award on Saturday – the first of his career at Thompson, where he has lots of laps in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series.
“We had a good car in practice, but you never know,” Berndt said. “Even though you're in the top five in practice, you never know what's going to come out during time trials. Yeah, (I'm) a little bit surprised.”
Berndt's finish at Thompson this season was ninth last month.
“Track position is key anywhere you go in racing, especially up here,” he said. “If you can stay up front, stay out of trouble, get a good, clean pit stop, maybe you can have something for the end of the race.”