Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – Over the past three seasons when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour visits Stafford Speedway, Craig Lutz has been one of the drivers to watch.
Lutz is currently riding a 9-race top-10 streak at the ½ mile, including his first career Tour win at the 2019 running of the NAPA Fall Final. Lutz will be looking to add to his stellar Stafford totals as he has registered to compete in all four Open Modified 80 events this season.
Lutz will pilot the #56 Riverhead Building Supply Chevrolet owned by Russell Goodale in each of the 80’s including the Open Mod 80 on May 15, the Twisted Tea Open 80 on June 12, the Bud Light Open 80 on July 10, and the Lincoln Tech Open 80 on August 21.
“I can’t wait to come back to Stafford,” said Lutz. “Last year we purchased an open motor so we could be part of the open modified shows at Stafford this season. My Dad and I were able to put this deal together with my car owner Russell Goodale and we’re coming to Stafford looking to win races. We’re looking forward to running the four extra shows at Stafford in addition to the three Tour races.”
Lutz and the #56 team were able to make one start at the end of the 2019 season at Thompson Speedway to shake the new car and engine combination down and help prepare for the 2020 season.
“We got everything put together and we ran the last MRS show at Thompson,” said Lutz. “We started 25th and finished 3rd, so that was pretty good for our first time running the open motor.”
With 13 career starts under his belt at Stafford, Lutz is hoping to avoid any learning curve when he comes to Stafford for the first time in an open modified format. Lutz is also excited about the 80 lap race format that allows teams to change 2 tires during the race, noting that he will be able to go all out for the entire 80 lap distance.
“The tire compounds are a little different to what we run on the Tour so there might be a small learning curve for us,” said Lutz. “The races are 80 laps and we get to change 2 tires, so there doesn’t seem to be much saving of anything with the car. I think we can afford to set the car up a little bit looser than we normally would set up our car for a Tour race at Stafford and we’ll take our 2 tires during the race and we’ll see where we end up. We typically don’t race all out during Tour races that much and I like the longer distance races, but this is going to be pretty cool to change things up. I’ve never ran a shorter race at Stafford so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Lutz will also be hoping to pick up anything that he can apply towards his #46 Riverhead Building Supply car for the three visits the NWMT will make to Stafford in 2020.
“Any time you’re in a car getting laps at a track where the Tour runs is always a good thing,” said Lutz. “These races will help keep everyone on the team fluid and working together and by being repetitive each weekend you’re only going to get better and better and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish this year with running more races than we did last year.”
Lutz will have some stiff competition in the fight to be the first driver to see the checkered flag in the Open 80 races at Stafford. Each of the first five Open 80’s at Stafford have been won by different drivers with Tommy Barrett, Jr. and Eric Goodale winning in 2018 and Keith Rocco, Ryan Preece, and Ronnie Williams winning in 2019. Barrett, Rocco, Preece, and Williams are either current or former weekly racers at Stafford and Lutz knows the Stafford regulars will be strong again in 2020. Lutz can always turn to his Riverhead Building Supply teammate Goodale for advice regarding how to properly attack the 80-lap Open Modified events.
“Guys like Ronnie Williams and Keith Rocco have been racing at Stafford every Friday for the last however many years and they know every crack there is in the track. Those guys are going to be tough to beat for sure,” said Lutz. “Eric [Goodale] always runs good at Stafford but I haven’t really had a chance to sit down with him yet to discuss any strategy. I’m sure he’s going to be one of the guys to beat so we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we can pull off a win.”
In addition to the four Open Mod 80 shows, Lutz will be looking to continue his good Stafford fortunes in the NAPA Spring Sizzler® on April 26, the Stafford 150 on Aug. 7, and defending his NAPA Fall Final victory of one year ago on Sept. 27.
“Winning the Fall Final last year was a big morale booster for the entire team,” said Lutz. “It seemed whenever we were in position to possibly get a win something stupid would happen and we would end up finishing second. To finally be able to say we were winners on the Tour is something special. We’ve purchased two new LFR cars for this season and our plan is to come in full tilt and try to make a run at the championship.”
Lutz will look to add more Stafford wins to his resume when he takes to the track for the Open Mod 80 on May 15, the Twisted Tea Open 80 on June 12, the Bud Light Open 80 on July 10, and the Lincoln Tech Open 80 on August 21.