Where do you want to be on the last lap? Protecting the lead or setting up for a last-ditch pass for the win?
That’s always the big question at races with restrictor plates, like Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, where the ability to suck up to the car in front of you and slingshot around often sets up for dramatic last-lap confrontations. It’s no different for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour when it visits New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Over the years, the ability for the Whelen Modified drivers to make multiple passes around the 1.053-mile oval earned near universal praise as one of the best races of the weekend – regardless of who else was running there. Throw in final lap heroics on a regular basis, and the tour race at the "Magic Mile" was a must-see event.
Which brings us to July of 2017 and the Eastern Propane and Oil 100.
When NASCAR Cup Series regular Ryan Newman made his foray into the tour, it didn’t take him long to get acclimated. Ryan Newman swept both New Hampshire Motor Speedway races in 2010, and won the Bristol Motor Speedway races in 2010 and 2011.
However, the South Bend, Indiania driver had his domination streak ended when he was stripped of his victory in the July 2011 F.W. Webb 100 and disqualified from the event for engine violations.
Since the DQ, Newman had six top fives in 12 starts, including a runner-up in September 2013.
In Newman’s absence from Victory Lane, Doug Coby won four times and Todd Szegedy three. Mike Stefanik had a pair of wins, while Ron Silk, Bobby Santos III, Woody Pitkat and Justin Bonsignore all have victories on the Whelen Modified Tour’s biggest stage.
One of the names missing from that list, Timmy Solomito, arrived at New Hampshire primed to join the list.
The then 25-year-old from Islip, New York, had a breakout season in 2016, winning four times. He added three more wins in the first six races of 2017 and was coming off a win at his home track of Riverhead Raceway on Long Island.
The early season success gave Solomito a 13-point lead over Rowan Pennink, who had returned the Boehler Racing’s fabled ‘Ole Blue’ No. 3 to Victory Lane at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park earlier in the season. Eric Goodale was 29 points behind, followed by Justin Bonsignore (-38).
Doug Coby was still back in sixth, 54 points behind Solomito and trying to dig his way out of early season woes. Similarly, Ryan Preece was in eighth, 61 points back of the lead. Preece missed the race at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia, when it was rained out and the rescheduled date conflicted with his wedding.
Setting the stage for Saturday’s Eastern Propane and Oil 100 was Friday’s 35-lap, non-points Whelen All-Star Shootout.
Newman took the point the competition caution on Lap 21, but Preece made the last-lap pass – the only lap he’d lead – to steal the win.
Preece was the fourth different winner of the all-start event, which began in 2014, and no driver had swept the weekend to date.