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Year In Review: Whelen Modified Tour

Another First-Time Champ, Plenty Of Exciting Finishes
By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR
December 27, 2012 - 12:30pm

The 2012 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship was once again decided in the closing laps of the season as Doug Coby held off Ryan Preece and Ron Silk in the season finale, but there was plenty of action throughout the season.

Let’s take one final look back at some of the top stories of the 2012 campaign, the 28th in Whelen Modified Tour history.

Coby another first-timer: For the fifth time in the last six years, the Whelen Modified Tour crowned a first-time champion. Doug Coby became the 16th different driver to hoist the tour trophy with his breakthrough performance this season. With just two wins and a best points finish of fifth in nine previous seasons, Coby exploded for five victories en route to the 2012 title. A streak of seven-consecutive podium finishes – including four wins – during the first half of the season set Wayne Darling’s No. 52 team on course for the championship and Coby closed the deal for the team’s first crown with a strong performance down the stretch.

Preece on point: Ryan Preece qualified on the pole in six of 14 races during the 2012 season, a career-best, and the most by a Whelen Modified Tour driver in a single season since Tony Hirschman had seven in 2005. Preece was the Coors Light Pole Award winner for the first three races of the season, and combined with his top qualifying effort in the 2011 finale, he became the first driver since Mike Stefanik in 1993 to capture four-consecutive poles. As a result, Preece also had 687 laps led during the year, double the total of champion Coby, who was second on the laps led list. As far as finishing races goes, Preece registered a pair of wins with 10 top 10s and was the championship runner-up for the second time in his career.

Silk still solid: The defending Whelen Modified Tour champion, Ron Silk began 2012 where he left off in 2011 – up front. A win in the opener at Thompson kept him atop the standings, where he stayed following the first three events of the year, but a title defense was not in the cards as he finished third in points despite a tour-high nine top-five finishes. Silk’s third-place ranking in the final standings was the best for a defending champion since Ted Christopher also finished third in 2009 following his 2008 title.

TC’s challenging season: Despite possessing the third-most wins in Whelen Modified Tour history, Christopher was without a ride just six races into the 2012 season. The No. 36 team, which Christopher piloted to five top-five season points finishes including that 2008 title, closed up shop mid-season and left “TC” scrambling to finish out the schedule. Christopher was able to compete in each of the remaining eight events with four-different cars and finished in the top 10 in points for the 13th year in a row, but his tour-best streak of at least one win for 13-straight seasons came to an end. Christopher did reach Victory Lane in the non-points UNOH Showdown at Thompson, however.

Nice comebacks by Lia, Blewett: Following a two-year absence from the tour, two-time champion Donny Lia had a more-than-respectable season in his 2012 return. Lia found Victory Lane for the 16th time in his career in August at Thompson and finished fifth in points. Meanwhile, Jimmy Blewett competed full-time for the first time since 2008 and ranked in the top five in points for more than half of the season before settling for an eighth-place finish, which tied for the best mark of his career.

Steffy’s still got it: The all-time leader in nearly every Whelen Modified Tour statistical category, Stefanik continued to enhance his legacy in 2012. Stefanik added to his record total with his 43rd pole in August at Thompson, but undoubtedly the highlight of his campaign came in July at New Hampshire when he edged Silk by just .003 seconds at the line for the checkered flag. That was the second-closest race in tour history at the “Magic Mile” and Stefanik’s record-extending 72nd career triumph.

Fantastic finishes: If you leave your grandstand seat early to hit the road, just be aware you could miss an exciting conclusion. For the fifth year in a row, four races were decided by green-white-checker flag finishes. Of the 14 events on the schedule, just four had a margin of victory greater than one second with five by half a second or less.

Evans enters Hall of Fame: Before any Whelen Modified Tour racing took place in 2012, the most famous name in NASCAR’s Modified history got his just dues. A nine-time Modified champion – including in the inaugural season of the Whelen Modified Tour in 1985 – Richie Evans was posthumously enshrined as part of the third NASCAR Hall of Fame class in January. The “King of the Modifieds” became the first driver that primarily competed outside of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series to be inducted.