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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- For much of his career on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Dave Sapienza has been trying to catch up to the pack.
Sapienza will openly admit that the last few years have been a struggle for the Long Island-based team. He crashed out of his first career series start in 2014 and when the 2015 season came around, things didn't get much better. He captured a best finish of ninth that season, but failed to finish in five of his 14 starts while also failing to qualify at Bristol.
However, since the start of the 2017 season, Sapienza has some new found success.
In the first seven races, Sapienza has finished all but 31 laps. His three top-10 finishes matches his career-high for a season and there are still nine races left on the schedule. Almost as impressive, the 52-year-old from Riverhead, New York, has back-to-back podium finishes at two entirely different venues. He followed up a runner-up finish at his home track, Riverhead Raceway, with a strong third-place run on "The Magic Mile" of New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"We were a new team when we first started and I'm a litle bit older than most of these kids, but I know I can do it," Sapienza said. "I have high expectations for myself. We definitely hit an all-time low over the past few years, we wrecked a lot of race cars. I was determined to come back."
Back on June 24, Sapienza used a few late restarts and a strong car to fight his way to second at the tight quarter-mile bullring on Long Island. The second-place run was a career best for him.
"I started 11th (at Riverhead) and I worked my way through the field," Sapienza said. "I kind of bombed the last restart, I probably could have won. But we had a good car. I just stayed focused and drove to the best of my abilities."
And for Sapienza, those abilities were back on display on Saturday at New Hampshire.
He started 17th on the grid and was involved in a wreck on Lap 20. But he never gave up. Working his way up through the field in the final laps, Sapienza found himself weaving through a crash and he came out the other side running third -- where he would finish. The strong conclusion to the day has Sapienza riding a wave of momentum.
"It was surprising," Sapienza said of his run in the Eastern Propane and Oil 100. "I knew we had a good car. We used the All-Star race on Friday as a practice to see how balanced out the car would be over the run. We made a few minor adjustments going into the race."
Sapienza is quick to credit his crew chief, Tommy Grasso, for being able to help him achieve his goals. Grasso is a former crew chief for Ryan Preece on the series.
"My crew chief Tommy is one of the best, he's a championship crew chief, I can't say enough about him," Sapeinza said. "Tommy and I started getting better, both with our friendship and working together," Sapienza said. "I started giving him more imput, some of those times I gave him some wrong input and I'm learning how to get better to tell him what's going on."
And although one of the highlights of his career came with a top five finish at his home track Riverhead last season, Sapienza still wasn't happy with his performance. With five DNF's in 16 starts, he only was able to secure two top-10 runs behind the wheel of his Judy Thilburg-owned No. 36 last year.
Sapienza also knows that his driving abilities have also gotten better along the way. The time running up at the front of the pack has allowed him to pick up on some of the tendencies of other drivers.
"I'm getting better as a driver, I'm running up front with these guys," Sapienza said. "They are a lot younger than me but they are the best of the best. When it gets to the end, it's do or die out there. I've been getting some luck on my side. Since the beginning of the year we have been doing well. I got in a few bad situations, but it happens in racing. I just take the good with the bad and go with it. It's all part of racing."
The veteran will look to continue his string of success when the Whelen Modiifed Tour returns to the Connecticut's Stafford Motor Speedway on Friday, Aug. 4. In his career at Stafford, Sapienza has just one top 10 finish. But that 10th place finish came in this year's Spring Sizzler back in April, which kicked off his turnaround season. He will be unloading his new TA2 modiified to try and tackle the historic half-mile in the Stafford 150.