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THOMPSON, Conn. – Doug Coby capped his winningest season on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with his first career championship Sunday at Thompson International Speedway.
The 33-year-old driver from Milford, Conn., finished sixth in the Sunoco-Town Fair Tire World Series to claim the title by 11 points over Ryan Preece. Bobby Santos held off Preece to win the race, his second-straight win on the tour to close out the season.
Coby entered the 2012 season with two wins in 116 starts but led the tour with five wins – including four in the first seven races of the year – in his second full season driving the No. 52 Reynolds Auto Wrecking/Furnace & Duct Supply Chevrolet for car owner Wayne Darling.
“We kind of look at ourselves as a bunch of misfits. We always fished around for the right combination – they were looking for a driver and I was looking for a team – we were just it,” Coby said of how the No. 52 team came together.
“We get along, we have fun, we communicate well and we have each other’s back. That’s what kept us going through this season,” Coby said.
After three-straight finishes outside the top 10 in the second half of the campaign took a chunk out of his points lead, Coby needed a finish of 13th or better in the finale to wrap up the title. He spent most of the race safely inside that zone before picking off spots in the closing laps.
Coby became the 16th different championship-winning driver in the 28 years of the Whelen Modified Tour, and the fifth-different titlist in the last five seasons.
Santos – the 2010 champ who competed on a part-time basis this year – got by Todd Szegedy on Lap 130 and led the balance of the 150-lap event for his eighth career victory. It was Santos' second World Series win follow his first overall career win in the 2007 event. The Franklin, Mass., native also won the previous Whelen Modified Tour race at Stafford Motor Speedway on Sept. 30.
“I’ve come here since I was a baby and I love this place,” Santos said of Thompson. “I knew that I had the car that could win and just got up on the wheel and did everything I could to try to win this race.”
Preece, who led more laps than any driver through the season, also recorded a race-high 56 laps at the front on Sunday and finished on the podium for the eighth time during the 14-race season. It marked the second time the 21-year-old from Berlin, Conn., has finished as the championship runner-up.
Szegedy finished third, followed by Mike Stefanik and Eric Beers. After Coby was rookie Tommy Barrett Jr., Patrick Emerling, Keith Rocco and Woody Pitkat.
By participating in the Thompson World Series, Rocco secured the 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award despite being previously sidelined by a mid-season injury. Rocco, from Wallingford, Conn., was the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion and finished as that series’ runner-up this year.
On Saturday at Thompson, Eric Berndt earned the Coors Light Pole Award, the second of his career. He finished 15th on Sunday.
After a tumultuous 2011 finale that saw a high caution count and trouble for both championship contenders, this edition of the Sunoco-Town Fair Tire World Series had just eight caution periods for 38 laps and featured five lead changes among five different drivers. Neither of the three championship contenders were involved in a serious incident.
Defending tour champion Ron Silk, the only other driver with a mathematical chance of catching Coby in the finale besides Preece, finished 11th. He ended up 23 points behind Coby. Two-time champion Donny Lia was fourth in points and 2003 titlist Szegedy ranked fifth.
Coby, by virtue of his race win earlier in the season, already earned a locked-in spot to the UNOH Battle At The Beach next February on the .4-mile oval at Daytona International Speedway. Race winners and the champions of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour have a locked-in spot to Modified race at Daytona.
Coby will be honored for his title run along with NASCAR's other touring series champions on Saturday, Dec. 8 at the NASCAR Touring Series Awards at the Grand Ballroom of the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bobby Santos (44) earned his second victory in a row, and second career World Series win. Fran Lawlor/NASCAR