Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Looking for a Little Luck in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series

Sometimes things are meant to be; the stars align, the gods are in a great mood, it’s a full moon… positive energy flows your way.

One might think such good luck is what landed Ryan Newman in victory lane twice this past weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — once in the No. 7 Whelen Modified machine owned by Kevin Manion and again in that snazzy No. 39 Sprint Cup car owned by Stewart-Haas Racing. I’m a great one for believing in luck when it comes to racing. Far too many variables exist in this sport to say that it is only through superior driving ability and equipment that you will take the checkered flag home with you on any given weekend. There’s always a bit of magic involved.

But which was it for Mr. Newman this week? A bit of luck or superior fire power when it came down to the final battle?

My answer: depends on which race you watched.

There’s no doubt in my mind that there was a bit of divine intervention regarding the outcome of Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Yes, the No. 39 and No. 14 started the race exactly the way they finished: 1-2. But getting there wasn’t exactly a straight — or rather circular — line. A savvy game of tires, fuel and handling were the headlines of the afternoon. Two-tire changes served as well as four, much of the time.

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Corrections to the chassis would help, but didn’t make enough of an impact to chase down whoever managed to grab hold of the lead. Track position held sway when crews climbed over the walls during the 10 cautions. And with more than a handful of competitive vehicles giving up the gas-mileage ghost in the final laps of the race, you understood that this wasn’t a race about dominance — but smart, lucky racing.

Three cheers for the Stewart-Haas Racing teams! This was truly the type of story that NASCAR thrives on. A successful driver turns owner turns race winner turns… champion? We keep seeing glimpses of greatness come out of this two-car stable. Wouldn’t it be something if the near impossible in this era of monster racing stables could come true? Yes it would.

Ah, but if the 301 was the race that everybody’s happy with the outcome, what of the other? Where Newman just might have been the pilot of a car that was built far better than any other on the track? Where competition didn’t seem to be the mark of the afternoon, rather a second race put on for the rest of the field that came to compete for points and purse (and need them far more than a driver who already puts millions in his pockets each year)?

Welcome to the Whelen Modified Series. Up until a couple years ago, you could easily argue that these overpowered machines with missing fenders gave the folks up at NHMS the best racing of the weekend. Bump-drafting, three- and four-wide racing in the corners, swaps for the lead every lap… these races were often what the fans would talk about for weeks after, ignoring the more predictable parade that Sunday afternoons would bring.

This was not so on Saturday. Eighty-eight laps of green-flag racing in the 100-lap event, which is absolutely unheard of in this series, that lives most of its life on smaller ovals in the Northeast. 61 of those laps had Newman’s No. 7 as little more than a dot to the pursuing field. In fact, when the checkers fell, you could take more than a breath waiting for the second-place car driven by Todd Szegedy to cross the Granite Stripe.

So, did Kevin Manion (crew chief to the No. 7) and Newman borrow a car from a successful modified team? Uh, no. This pair have notched up four wins in their last four appearances — three at NHMS and one at Bristol. They simply have a bulletproof car, one built in their own shop as a little hobby. It runs like a rocket; so much so that NASCAR felt compelled to pack it off to the R&D center to take a better look at its restrictor-plate package and airflow around the engine. This duo has something happening the rest of the series wishes they did.

Clearly, time, money and superior ability have driven that No. 7 to victory lane time and again. If Newman and Manion chose to compete for the entire Whelen Modified season, I have little doubt that they’d take the championship. No luck involved there. It would be simple economics.

But is that how racing should be?

No. And it never has.

Those that run at the highest echelon of the auto racing world live in a rarified existence. They compete against others who have the resources to put up a battle, Goliath vs. Goliath, if you will. The Sprint Cup Series simply doesn’t wait for those with smaller budgets and a slower learning curve to catch up. Swim in the deep end or die. That’s fine. It takes a bit of luck to win such competitions, which makes for some fine Sunday afternoons.

On the good side, should I visit Riverhead Raceway on July 30, the balance of power will have been restored to the Whelen series. No interloper with an over-engineered restrictor plate will be stealing the thunder of Ted Christopher, Szegedy, Ryan Preece, Ronnie Silk and Jimmy Blewett. Newman will have returned to his world in his No. 39 stock car, leaving the mere mortals to their own destiny, hewn from their own choices and yes, even a little luck.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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