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STAFFORD, Conn. – Donny Lia flexed his muscle in dominating fashion on Sunday at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
The two-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion started from the pole and handled all challenges with apparent ease by outdistancing Doug Coby to the finish line by 3.231 seconds to win the CARQUEST Fall Final 150. The win was his first on the tour since Aug. 9 of last year at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway.
The Jericho, N.Y., driver now has 17 career wins. Sunday was his fourth at Stafford and second in the Fall Final.
Rowan Pennink finished third with Todd Szegedy and Justin Bonsignore trailing in fourth and fifth, respectively. Mike Stefanik, Ted Christopher, Chuck Hossfeld, Bobby Santos and Ron Silk rounded out the top 10.
Ryan Preece carried a 41-point lead over Coby into the race and had an opportunity to clinch his first Whelen Modified Tour title, but after a 17th-place finish due to a late-race mechanical failure, he still has work to do in the season finale. His advantage over Coby is now 26 points.
The victory for Lia on Sunday relieved a season’s-worth of pent-up frustration. Lia’s No. 4 “Mystic Missile” has been competitive as usual, but a trip to Victory Lane had eluded him.
That frustration culminated in the previous race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when he was leading a quarter mile short of the checkered flag and lost to Szegedy.
“Everything that we’ve been through the last couple of months – that should have been win No. 3 or 4 right there,” Lia said. “When you’re the best car every week and you’re not winning, it’s frustrating. So I just drove 110-percent every lap. I wanted to lap the field.”
With consecutive top-three finishes, Lia is now in position to finish on the championship podium for the first time since his second title was earned in 2009.
Like Lia, Sunday’s fourth-place finisher has experienced a resurgence of late. Szegedy, who ranked 10th in the season standings just two races ago, has moved up to fifth thanks to top-five finishes in three of his last four outings.
The focus now shifts to the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finale on Oct. 20 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway where Preece will take a 26-point advantage on Coby into the Sunoco World Series 150 presented by Xtra Mart. Preece will vie for his first Whelen Modified Tour title while Coby will look to become the first repeat champion since Tony Hirschman went back-to-back in 2004-05.
While Coby did nearly all he could to gain on Preece Sunday with the runner-up effort at Stafford, his post-race comments underlined a realization that Preece still has sizable advantage heading to Thompson.
“He’s [Preece] going to have to have a huge issue and I’m going to have to have a great day,” Coby said. “But anything can happen at the World Series … all you can do is keep it close.”
Donny Lia taking the checkered flag in the CARQUEST Fall Final. Darren McCollester/Getty Images for NASCAR