Story By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – BRISTOL, TN – Patrick Emerling finally knocked winning a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race off his bucket list last year.
The Orchard Park, New York, driver rolled into Bristol Motor Speedway and put together a dominant performance en route to his first win. He won the pole, led the first 66 laps, took the lead on lap 74 and never looked back. He held off five-time and defending series champion Doug Coby, who was looking for his first Bristol win, over the final laps.
“It is definitely one of my favorite places to go, we have always been sporty there, but after running a few years, we were just able to get our car better,” Emerling said of what it took to finally win. “We showed up last year with a car that was on the money. It was pretty easy race at the end for me because it was really just one groove on the track. I just had to not make a mistake.”
Now, one year later, as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads back to “The Last Great Colosseum” for the Bush’s Beans 150 on Thursday night, Emerling is looking to execute a repeat performance.
He started his career with running the full schedule in four of his first five seasons, but at the start of the 2016 campaign, his No. 07 team decided to take a step back.
“We wanted to limit our modified races so we could actually focus more on running certain races, putting 110 percent effort into going to them,” the 25-year-old said. “Running both the RoC (Race of Champions Modified Tour) and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, there are a lot of just full-time teams, but we have been doing both. We put 100 percent effort into the races we elect to run.”
Since his decision to step back, Emerling’s success on the track has proven it was the right move. In his last 14 starts, Emerling has one victory, seven top-five’s and 10 top-10 finishes behind the wheel of the No. 07 Buffalo Auto Auction Chevrolet.
When he hits the track, he is a threat right from the drop of the first green flag.
“It’s really about taking the time to get the cars right,” Emerling said. “I think a lot of it contributes to more experience and I feel like I keep on getting better at every race. I feel like I am getting better at what I do and I’m learning more and more out there.”
For Emerling, the high-banks of Bristol come with a track record of success. In six starts at the Tennessee oval, Emerling has three top-five finishes and 148 laps led. His average finish is just over seven (7.3), a number that leads all active drivers that have three or more career starts there.
“It’s definitely a track that is unlike anywhere else we go, there is a ton of speed out there,” Emerling said. “The banking pushes you down into the car instead of over to the side. There is no where that we go where we drive around corners that fast. Nothing comes close to it.”
Even with prior success, the task of winning this edition is going to be a difficult one.
And Emerling knows it.
The LFR Chassis team has dominated with Justin Bonsignore winning five of the first 10 races, while Bobby Santos III and Doug Coby also won driving for the Chassis department. Emerling, much like Ryan Preece and Jon McKennedy — who won the other three races this year — drives a Troyer Chassis.
“LFR put a lot into their program, I call them a professional race team, that is what is what is racing on the Whelen Modified tour today. To get up and race with them, they are so much on their game, it is definitely going to be a challenge for us,” Emerling said. “We do our best and we keep things simple here. We know what we have in the race car, and in the end, we are able to run pretty close to them most of the time. It’s going to definitely be a challenge.”
Going forward, Emerling plans to compete in at least three of the final six races of the 2018 schedule. He will run Bristol, then follow it up with a return to Oswego Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first annual Musket 250 in September.
But for now, his focus is on winning again at ‘Thunder Valley’.
“We just want to execute like we did last year, we will try to put everything the exact same with the car, and then we will need to adjust to a slightly new rules package,” Emerling said. “We have a restrictor-plate now, so I have a feeling that during practice, qualifying and maybe even for most of the race, we will be flat-footed all the way around the track. We just wanna see what car we are going to have and dial it in during practice. I think we will be pretty good.”
Whelen Modified Tour News & Notes
Justin Bonsignore Looks To Run Away: Justin Bonsignore’s record start to the 2018 season with five victories meets its newest challenge on Thursday night. The high-banks of the .533-mile oval treated Bonsignore well last season when he scored a third-place finish. However, in the two previous years prior to his podium, Bonsignore failed to finish. He enters the 11th race of the season with a 58-point advantage in the championship standings — more than a one-race lead on the rest of the field as the path towards his first title continues.
Could Be The Right Time: Doug Coby’s tough start to the season seems to have turned around of late. The five-time and defending series champion won the Starrett Tools 150 on August 3, and followed it up with a third-place finish in the Bud “King of Beers” 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park last Wednesday night. Now, Coby looks to add Bristol to the list of tracks he has visited Victory Lane. In seven prior starts during his 17-year career, Coby has a best finish of second — which came last year — but has never tasted the glory of winning on the big stage in Tennessee.
Bristol Is A Wild-Card: Bristol will be one of many wildcards left in the championship points schedule, since it requires drivers to put together a mistake-free race in order to run well. In nine previous races, Ryan Newman is the only driver to visit Victory Lane more than once, while Donny Lia won the inaugural race in 2009 and went on to score the championship that year. In 2014, the caution flag fell a record 13 times, eliminating multiple drivers from contention. The top championship contenders will be looking to escape without damage to keep their path to the top of the standings in check.
NASCAR Camping World Trucks On Card: Even though the race has moved to Thursday, the racing action will remain the same on the schedule for the night. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will immediately follow the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour for their UNOH 200. The NASCAR Xfinity Series (Friday) and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (Saturday) will complete a full weekend of racing.
Up Next: Following the Bush’s Beans 150, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will take a much needed break for the remainder of the month of August. Drivers will return to the track as part of Budweiser Classic Weekend at Oswego Speedway in New York on Saturday, September 1.