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Best Of 2014: Whelen Modified Tour

Coby's Second Title In Three Years; Bonsignore, Pitkat Break Out
By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR
December 29, 2014 - 1:30pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Doug Coby capped the 2014 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season with his second title in three years, and in the process became just the fifth multi-time titlist in the 30-year history of the tour.

Coby, who captured his first crown in 2012 with Darling Racing, made the move to MS III Racing for the 2014 campaign amid high expectations. The pairing experienced immediate success when they won in their debut in the preseason UNOH Battle At The Beach on the short track at Daytona International Speedway in February, and the championship chase quickly took off once points racing got underway.

The Milford, Connecticut, native Coby’s run at a second crown wasn’t the only story of 2014 though. The 13-race slate produced seven different winners – including three first-time victors – and for the seventh season in a row the championship wasn’t decided until the finale.

SEASON STATISTICAL REVIEW  |  VIDEO: DOUG COBY'S CHAMPIONSHIP ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

Top Driver
Doug Coby:
  Coby joined elite company with his second Whelen Modified Tour title, and while this one was earned in a different manner – one win versus five in his 2012 championship – the process was still the same: consistent top finishes. Coby posted tour highs for podiums (6), top fives (9), top 10s (12) and laps completed (2,011 of 2,013). His one win came in dominant fashion as he led 122 of 130 laps in the second visit of the season to Stafford Motor Speedway, and he had the No. 2 Chevrolet positioned as a threat to win in nearly every single race.

Justin Bonsignore (Honorable Mention):  The fifth-year competitor registered his finest career performance as he tied for the tour lead with three wins and finished a personal best third place in the final standings. Bonsignore won the season-opener at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and carried the points lead through three of the first four races. He tied career highs for poles (2), top fives (7) and top 10s (10), and also gained distinction as the winner of the first caution-free race in Whelen Modified Tour history when he took the checkered flag at Monadnock Speedway.

Comeback Driver of the Year
Ted Christopher:
  It wasn’t a comeback season in the literal sense for Christopher, he hadn’t gone anywhere, but it was a campaign that saw him return to championship contention. When the green flag dropped at the season finale, the veteran had a mathematical shot to walk away with the title at the end of the day, a position he hadn’t been in since his lone championship season of 2008. A second crown wasn’t in the works as he encountered multiple issues in the event, but Christopher more than proved that he was back on the scene as a title contender.

Ryan Preece (Honorable Mention):  For the defending champion, it was a comeback within the season itself. Preece ranked sixth in the standings with no wins after 11 events, but rode to victory in both races to conclude the campaign, and what looked to be a lost season resulted in a championship runner-up. With the pair of victories, he became just the fifth driver in Whelen Modified Tour history to win both the Stafford Fall Final and Thompson World Series in the same season.

Top Team
MS III Racing:
  Twice the championship runner-ups prior to Coby’s arrival, MS III Racing finally broke through for its first title since team owner Mike Smeriglio III founded the organization in 2006. Under the guidance of crew chief Phil Moran, the No. 2 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair/HEX Performance Chevrolet led the Whelen Modified Tour in nearly every statistical category and held the points lead following 10 of the last 11 events on the schedule.

M3 Racing (Honorable Mention):  Bonsignore may have had a career year as a driver, but it was the work of his M3 Racing teammates that put a highly-competitive No. 51 chem3.com Chevrolet underneath him race after race. The team earned top-five finishes in six of the season’s first nine races and the No. 51 ran at the front of the field in four of 13 outings.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Woody Pitkat:
  When it was all said and done, Pitkat finished in the same points position he had the year before, and actually had two less top 10s, but it was a transformational year for the veteran. After seven seasons of mostly full-time competition, Pitkat scored the first two race and pole wins of his career, and registered a personal-best five top fives. The long-awaited first win appropriately came at his hometown track, Stafford, in the August event and he reached Victory Lane on the tour’s biggest stage three races later in the September New Hampshire race. 2014 was the year Pitkat became a contender.

Tommy Barrett Jr. (Honorable Mention):  On the opposite end of the spectrum as Pitkat, the rookie Barrett made his breakthrough in his first full season of Whelen Modified Tour competition. Barrett became the first true rookie to win on the tour since 2006 when he scored a convincing victory in the annual combination race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he also quickly adapted to time trial qualifying with a pole in the second race of the season and registered six top-five starting positions.

Top Races
Sunoco 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, July 12:
  There’s always plenty of racing magic when the modifieds hit the “Magic Mile,” and 2014 was no exception. The Whelen Modified Tour’s 58th all-time points race at NHMS was a record-breaker as the lead swapped 35 times at the line to set the tour’s all-time mark. In the second and final green-white-checkered flag finish attempt, Christopher was well positioned to add to his Loudon lore as he led at the white flag, but Bobby Santos made the decisive pass on the last lap and won a drag race to the finish line by a 0.065 second over Coby in the closest finish of the campaign.

NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford Motor Speedway, April 27 (Honorable Mention):  It was the third win in the last four editions of the Spring Sizzler for Santos, but his hardest to earn. Santos had to skillfully hold off a hard-charging Coby in the closing circuits, which included using a lap car as a pick on the final lap to secure the win. The Spring Sizzler had the second-closest margin of victory of the season at 0.122 seconds, behind only the aforementioned July New Hampshire event, and the seven lead changes were the most in a Stafford race in four years.

The 2014 Year In Pictures

The Stafford Spring Sizzler was one of the closest competitions of the season. Getty Images for NASCAR