After a month off, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season will continue on Saturday night at Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts.
And as race four of the season gets ready to take the green flag, if the first three races are indication of what is to come during the 16-race schedule, we should see plenty of different winners carry the checkered flag. Jon McKennedy, Justin Bonsignore and Ryan Preece have all been victorious thus far, and all three will be on the track when teams unload for the Seekonk 150.
Timmy Solomito and Doug Coby enter the event as some of the early favorites to score the victory because they won the last two times at the ‘Cement Palace,’ but there is a whole list of challengers looking to add their name to the trophy.
For Solomito, who tied Preece with a series-high five victories last season, the 2018 campaign hasn’t been off to the start his Flamingo Motorsports team was hoping for. He scored finishes of 12th, 10th and ninth in the first three races.
“Every year, everyone gets better, works hard on their cars in the winter, and there is a lot that plays into a race, it’s not only speed, but it’s the luck,” Solomito said. “I wouldn’t say we are missing something, but we aren’t exactly where we wanted to be. We’ve tried a couple of different strategies that didn’t work, and a couple of things with the setup didn’t go our way. But we aren’t going to let it let us down. We’ve been consistently a top-10 car, just not quite where we want to be.”
The standards for Solomito are high because of the effort the No. 16 team was able to put together last year. In their third season as a combination, the group came out of the box swinging and won three of the first six races. Although Solomito did have two DNFs in the summer, he entered the final race of the season in contention for the championship, which is really all he could ask for. Even though he didn’t win the big trophy, he did score the checkered flag in the finale at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Fast-forward, as the first three races go into the rear-view mirror, although the start wasn’t exactly what the team was hoping for, it really has put him in a good position when it comes to the championship standings. The Islip, New York, driver sits sixth with an average finish of 10.3, and Seekonk could be the perfect place for him to turn things around and get back to the front of the pack.
“I definitely look forward to going to the short-tracks, it’s what I grew up on, and what I know,” Solomito said. “Seekonk is similar to Riverhead Raceway, a place I grew up. I circle the short-track races (on the calendar) because I enjoy that style of racing. I’m looking forward to getting back to that.”
In 2016, in the first Whelen Modified Tour race at Seekonk since 2005, Solomito used a pass in the final laps to score the victory while leading 40 circuits around the tricky third-mile. Last year, he was involved in a crash early and was sidelined to a 22nd place finish.
“The year that we won at Seekonk, we got two flat tires in practice, and the day didn’t start off that bright,” Solomito said. “If you had told me at 2 p.m. that day that we were going to win the feature, I would have laughed at you. Last year, we had a strong run going (before we got in a wreck).”
In what has become a rarity in Whelen Modified Tour competition, teams have been sitting at home and working on their cars for the last month in preparation for the Massachusetts’ third-mile.
“It’s always good to have a little bit of time off, but I have been champing at the bit the last few weeks to get going. If I could be in the race car every week, it would be great,” Solomito said. “The break came at a good time for us to regroup a little bit, look over everything, and just start out fresh. We have three or four races coming up in a stretch.”
After a year of nearly tasting glory as the champion of the NASCAR Modified class, Solomito finds himself looking for more consistency as he gets ready to return to the cockpit.
“We won five races last year, and didn’t come away with the big trophy, so if we take a couple less wins but run more consistently, it might put us where we need to be this year,” Solomito said. “I’m not upset or concerned right now. But, going forward, we will need those top five and podium finishes. I have a great owner, car, crew and sponsors. We’ll be fine. We just have to hit our stride, go back to our notes, and be consistent, while finishing the races.”
NWMT News & Notes:
Rowan Pennink Looks To Continue Success: Even though his missed the season-opening race at Myrtle Beach Speedway because of some offseason back surgery, Rowan Pennink has been on a tear since his return to competition. In two events, Pennink scored two third-place finishes, and capitalized on the struggles of some of his competition to place himself inside the top 10 in the championship standings. At first, missing a race may have seemed like the end of his hopes to capture his first Whelen Modified Tour championship this season. However, with the way the Boehler Racing team has the No. 3 Cape Cod Copper Chevrolet rolling on the track, it’s way to early to count Pennink out.
Jeff Rocco Behind The Wheel: Even though he enters Saturday’s Seekonk 150 with just three career Whelen Modified Tour starts, one of Jeff Rocco’s prior races did come at the Massachusetts third-mile last season. While driving for Bob Katon, Rocco started 16th and finished 19th after being involved in a crash. He becomes the third different driver in four races that car owner Eddie Harvey puts behind the wheel of the No. 1 Chevrolet. Burt Myers and Jimmy Blewett have been at the controls already so far in 2018.
Rising Stars Look To Continue Impressive Starts: Both Chase Dowling and Craig Lutz have put together quite the start to the 2018 season. In fact, both of them sit inside the top three in the championship standings. Dowling has an average finish of 4.7 so far, while Lutz has ripped off a 5.3 behind the wheel of the No. 46 Riverhead Building Supply Chevrolet. As both of the rising modified stars get set to take on Seekonk, they both may have a learning curve ahead of them. Lutz has a 13th and 14th place finish in his career at Seekonk, while Dowling will look to improve on his ninth-place effort in 2016.
Whelen All-American Series: Because of some early rain to start the 2018 season, Seekonk will also begin their Whelen All-American Series season on Saturday night. The Late Models (50 laps), Sports Trucks (35 laps) and Sportsman (35 laps) will all compete in Phil’s Propane Triple Crown Series event to kick-off their chase for the championship.
Up Next: The Seekonk 150 is the first of three races in the month of June. On June 13, drivers will make the second of two stops at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut for the Thompson 125. Then, on June 23, the series makes their second stop at Langley Speedway in Virginia.