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THOMPSON, Conn. – The legend of Mike Stefanik added another chapter Sunday at Thompson International Speedway as he captured NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory No. 73 in the season-opening Icebreaker.
Stefanik charged to the lead by Ryan Preece following a restart on Lap 141 and held off multiple hard charges from Preece, Rowan Pennink and Ron Silk to extend his tour career record for wins. The final margin of victory was just .229 seconds.
Pennink finished second followed by Preece, Silk and Ted Christopher. Jimmy Blewett, reigning tour champ Doug Coby, Justin Bonsignore, Chuck Hossfeld and rookie Timmy Solomito brought home the top 10.
Sunday also marked the 15th victory for Stefanik in Whelen Modified Tour action at the famed .625-mile oval – which extended a record as well – and was his third on the prestigious Icebreaker weekend.
The Icebreaker victory was not only the third for Stefanik, but the third in the last five years for his crew chief, Brad Lafontaine, who won the opener in 2009 and 2011 with Ted Christopher.
“This is a superior, strong team – the best of everything – I want to hold up my end,” Stefanik said. “That’s all I want to do is hold up my end.”
From Thompson Victory Lane Stefanik talked about how tight the competition is on the Whelen Modified Tour is, and how any slip-ups can ruin your day.
“The top 10 cars you could throw a blanket over,” Stefanik said. “You’re off a little bit and you go from first to eighth. This is a very competitive, tough series.”
Stefanik, from Coventry, R.I., captured the Coors Light Pole Award Saturday but Preece prevented him from leading the event’s first circuit. Just past the green flag Stefanik got up high in Turn 1, but held on on the outside until Turn 4 when contact with Preece sent him up the hill again and back four positions.
“I made some errors this weekend – driver errors – and I tried to hide them, but I couldn’t hide them this weekend,” the seven-time Whelen Modified Tour champion said. “I’ll work on it and try to get better for the next race.”
Pennink, who led a race-high 79 laps, first took the lead from Preece on Lap 7. The pair swapped it two more times based on their pit strategy. Preece led 61 total laps.
It was another near miss in the Icebreaker for Pennink, who was first to the checkered flag in the event a year ago but was penalized on the last restart of the race and would up scored as the last car on the lead lap.
“We had a great car all day – led a lot of laps there – we just didn’t need those cautions there at the end to let those guys gain the track position that we had gained over the long green flag run,” Pennink said.
Like Pennink, it was another close call for Preece, who has now finished on the podium in six of the last 13 races at Thompson, but has yet to reach Victory Lane.
“I really thought I’d be able to break that curse here at Thompson, but it always seems I end up five laps short,” Preece said. “I didn’t get the breaks that Mike [Stefanik] caught in traffic. Every hole went his way.
“I’m telling you, five more laps [and I could have challenged for the win]. This car was unreal in the second half.”
Hossfeld had the day’s biggest improvement. After having his qualifying time [fourth-fastest] disallowed on Saturday for failed post-qualifying inspection, Hossfeld started dead last in 29th and wound up ninth at the finish line.
The race was slowed by seven cautions for 33 laps with two red flags for track cleanup and repair.
The Whelen Modified Tour will return to action on April 28 with the CARQUEST Tech-Net Spring Sizzler at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway.
Mike Stefanik takes the checkered flag in the Thompson Icebreaker. Getty Images for NASCAR