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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Doug Coby’s quest for a fourth consecutive championship will include some familiar faces as well as some new challengers as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins a new era on Saturday.
The 2017 season gets rolling with the Performance Plus 150 presented by Safety-Kleen at South Carolina's historic Myrtle Beach Speedway, marking a southern kickoff for the newly unified tour. The changes in the tour harken back to the days of NASCAR Hall of Famers Richie Evans and Jerry Cook, when the NASCAR Modified title was contested up and down the Atlantic coast. It's fitting that Coby is looking to join the pair as just the third driver to win four straight crowns.
Coby enters the season looking to add to historic run. The 37-year-old from Milford, Connecticut, has put together an impressive five year stretch: 20 wins and 15 poles, while either finishing first (four times) or second (once) in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship standings. The last three title runs have come with car owner Mike Smeriglio III and crew chief Phil Moran, and they've brought Mayhew Tools on board as their new primary sponsor of the No. 2.
But Coby won't be the only defending Whelen Modified Tour champion in the field. Under the newly unified tour, Burt Myers leads the southern contingent, having won the final Whelen Southern Modified Tour title last year on the strength of three wins and nine top fives in 11 starts.
Former tour champion Ryan Preece returns to the tour full-time after a full season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2016. He will be driving for Eddie and Connie Partridge. Preece beat Coby for the Whelen Modified title in 2013, and finished second to him in 2012, '14 and '15.
Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito, who both had breakout seasons last year, will be right back on Coby’s tail. Bonsignore has a new crew chief and momentum on his side following a win at the northern season finale to close the 2016 season. Solomito has a new sponsor in Starrett Tools, which gives him added confidence to follow up his four-win season in 2016.
A host of competitors are returning to the same rides as last year, including Rowan Pennink to BRE Racing's famed No. 3 and Eric Goodale to his familiar No. 58. Others like Woody Pitkat, Donny Lia and Chase Dowling have made changes going into the 2017 season.
Southern drivers such as Jeremy Gerstner, Danny Bohn and Gary Putnam will in contention for wins. The Performance Plus 150 field will also feature the return of Tim Brown. The 10-time Modified champion at Bowman Gray Stadium hasn't raced on the tour since 2013, but has seven career wins and was runner-up in the Whelen Southern championship three times (2006-08).
|Race:||Performance Plus 150|
|PLACE:||Myrtle Beach Speedway|
|DATE:||Saturday, March 18|
|TIME:||6:30 p.m. (approx.)|
|TRACK:||0.538-mile, semi-banked asphalt oval|
|Event Schedule:||Practice: 12:15-1:30 p.m., Qualifying: 3:15 p.m., Race: 6:30 p.m. (approx.)|
|Track Contact:||Steve Zacharias, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|NASCAR IMC Contact:||Jason Christley, (386) 547-2469, email@example.com|
The Race: The 33rd season of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour begins as part of the “Spring Fling” weekend at Myrtle Beach Speedway. The Performance Plus 150 presented by Safety-Kleen is the first and only appearance for the 2017 season at the half-mile oval.
The Procedure: The maximum starting field per the entry blank is 30 cars, including provisionals. The first 24 cars in the starting field will be determined through the qualifying process, with six provisional positions available. The race is scheduled for 150 laps.
The Track: The half-mile asphalt oval was built in 1958 and held Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races from 1958-1965. Currently, the track runs NASCAR Whelen All American Series races during the summer months.
Race Winners: In the only NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour appearance at Myrtle Beach Speedway, Andy Seuss went to victory lane in 2009.
Pole Winners: In the only appearance, George Brunnhoelzl III scored the pole. Brunnhoelzl’s track record, which was set on Sept. 5, 2009, is 19.892 seconds (95.918 mph).
Performance Plus 150 Notes:
Chasing History: Doug Coby made history in 2016 by becoming the first driver in the modern era to take down three consecutive championships. Although he has never been a part of a Whelen Modifed Tour race at Myrtle Beach, he went down to the track in February and scored the victory in the IceBreaker 50-lap modified main event and gained valuable experience at the half-mile oval. Coby will also look to continue his success in qualifying, where he has collected 15 of the last 32 Coors Light Pole Awards.
New People, New Places: The 2017 season will see multiple drivers begin a quest behind the wheel of a new ride. Former series champion Todd Szegedy will return to full-time action in car No. 85 with Kevin Stuart Motorsports and Robert Katon; Woody Pitkat moves to the No. 46 driving for Jeff Goodale; Donny Lia moves to Tommy Baldwin Racing for a part-time campaign and Chase Dowling will compete for LFR Chassis in select races in No. 15.
Hinckley Teams With Brady Bunch: Les Hinckley will attempt to make his first career Whelen Modified Tour start in Saturday’s Performance Plus 150 at Myrtle Beach, driving for the famed Brady Bunch team in car No. 00. Hinckley has been a New England modified standout for years and is now looking to put his talents on the next level, grabbing an opportunity to drive for one of the most respected teams in series history.
The Rest Of The Pack: There are multiple drivers that could make a serious run at knocking Coby off the top this season. Preece, Solomito and Bonsignore seem to be three of his top challengers, but there are others breathing down their neck. Max Zachem, who had a breakout year in 2016 with a consistent run, is searching his first career victory. Ron Silk is back with Danny Watts, while young driver Matt Swanson has backing from Starrett Tools in hopes to capture his first series victory. Two-time Whelen Southern Modified Tour champion Andy Seuss, a New Hampshire native, finished in the top five in Whelen Southern championship points in each of the last nine years.
Brown Is Back: Brown returns to tour action for the first time since 2013. Brown has seven career wins, with his last coming at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2011. He is the winningest driver in the history of Bowman Gray's Whelen All-American Series Modified division.
Full Card of Racing on Tap: Though the Whelen Modified Tour will headline the day at Myrtle Beach Speedway, the series is just one part of a major opening event for the half-mile oval. The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Models, Chargers, Mini Stocks, Super Trucks and Vintage Cars will also join the racing action, helping to create the Performance Plus 300.
The last two Late Model events at Myrtle Beach have been memorable affairs. In February, three-time national champion Lee Pulliam passed local favorite Brian Vause in the closing laps to win the 2nd Annual IceBreaker. Pulliam set up the winning pass in the 125-lap event with a bold four-wide bid for the lead just a couple laps earlier. Last fall, Christian Eckes narrowly beat his JR Motorsports teammate Josh Berry to win his first career Myrtle Beach 400.
Matt Cox, of Littler River, South Carolina, is the track’s defending Late Model Division champion.