Column By: KYLE SOUZA / NASCAR – WALL TOWNSHIP, NJ – For the first time in 12 years, NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams unloaded at Wall Stadium Speedway on Saturday.
Early on in the fifth race of the season, it looked like hometown favorite Andrew Krause was going to be the story of the night, as he took the lead for the early stages. Then, it was five-time series champion Doug Coby who was in control for the middle stages.
But a flurry of cautions and crashes in the second half of the race resulted in a battle to the finish between a rising star and a polished veteran.
All of that, and more, in the Whelen Modified Tour Rapid Rewind from Wall Stadium.
Woody Pitkat Gets Back To Victory Lane
After a chaotic final laps, it was a familiar face rolling into Victory Lane in Saturday’s Jersey Shore 150.
Stafford, Connecticut, driver Woody Pitkat may have started deep in the field, and may have had some damage all around his No. 82 Horton Avenue Materials Chevrolet, but it didn’t matter when the checkered flag went in the air and he was in at the front of the field.
The win broke a dry spell for Pitkat dating back to the 2015 season, where he picked up a victory driving for Buzz Chew, in what was the final season behind the wheel of the No. 88 for the veteran. From there, Pitkat has swapped teams, driven for five different car owners, and been searching to get back to the point.
To say the least, it had been a difficult ride for the 39-year-old before Saturday’s victory turned his mojo around.
“I’ve been down on myself, the way we’ve been running ever since the No. 88 ride, just trying to get back there. That proved to me and everyone else that I could run for top fives and contend for the championship, and that’s where I want to get back at,” Pitkat said.
“I was pretty emotional in that car today during practice. I told the crew I was because it was frustrating. You know you can run better than that. I just never give up. That’s how I’ve been my whole life. You just try to do the best you can with what you have and keep making it better and better.”
Pitkat’s quest to return to Victory Lane was certainly one of those never give up efforts. He wasn’t in contention at the front of the pack for much of the race, and he was just fine with that.
“The biggest thing was trying to get lap 100, we’ve struggled with the right-rear we start the races with,” Pitkat said. “We talked about what we needed to do at the break and we talked about fixing the toe because I had knocked it out. Our crew chief made a couple of really good calls. We tried to go back out there and keep the wheels on it. I was just trying to ride at the beginning.”
When leaders got together on countless occasions in the final laps, although Pitkat certainly did sustain some damage to his No. 82, it was still running straight when he ended up second for the final restart in NASCAR overtime. Rising star and Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Timmy Catalano was at the point for the restart, and once he took off, he quickly slowed, realizing he likely had fired earlier than NASCAR officials would have liked. In the end, it was Pitkat who rolled the top, and rolled to the win.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, I know cautions usually breed cautions, but I didn’t think it was going to be like that. My car owner Danny came over the radio and said we should just have the race red-checkered and take a second just before the final restart, and I told him there was no way, we were going to win the race, we had a really good car,” Pitkat said. “I struggled the first half of the race on restarts and I found something halfway through. I thought that I could beat him.”
The victory was the fourth career in Whelen Modified Tour competition for Pitkat, and his first at a track that wasn’t named Stafford Motor Speedway or New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Although it’s been a trying year, Pitkat did move to fifth in the championship standings with the win.
“If it wasn’t for what happened with Ted (Christopher) passing, I don’t think I’d be in this car. To be able to put this car in Victory Lane knowing he has driven it before is a big honor for me,” he said. “I have a lot of memories with him.”
And even though Saturday’s victory meant a lot to him for a lot of reasons, maybe one of the highlights of the night was putting a past memory at the third-mile in the rear-view mirror.
“The first time I came here I actually hit the pit gate and when the race was red flagged Jimmy Blewett came running down to make sure I was okay,” Pitkat said. “Even Joey Logano, when I see him, he calls me Woody ‘Pit-gate’ every time. Hopefully he sees that I won at this place. It just hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Blake Barney, Rob Summers Grab Podium Finishes
It was clear entering the Jersey Shore 150 that certain drivers had the home track advantage. Blake Barney, driving the famed No. 14, a car that had won multiple times at Wall over the last few decades, was at the front of the field again in the final stages Saturday.
This time, it was Barney, a 19-year-old rising star, who took the controls and piloted the car to a podium finish at his home track. He started racing Wall as part of their Sunday Series, and has recently also competed in a Modified at the third-mile. The second-place effort was the first career top five for the New Jersey native.
“I have to thank everyone for coming out and supporting us,” Barney said. “It was definitely wild. Some guys just didn’t have any patience out there. We were a lap down at some point, we cut a tire, and the front bumper is smashed in. I thought we were done. We always seem to race well and just be there at the end. The crew sticks with me through thick and thin. I’m so glad to get this run for them.”
Rob Summers was also celebrating a podium finish Saturday, but it wasn’t quite what he was looking for. Much like Barney, Summers survived the flurry of crashes at the end of the race with a mangled race car. In fact, just a few feet after he crossed the finish line, the car came to a rest and Summers needed the assistance of safety vehicles to get the car back to the paddock area.
“I’ve been racing a long time and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like that. I spent more time in the air tonight than I did on the track,” Summers said. “We had a great car, and to finish third with no wheels left on the car, we’ve had a tough year. So it’s like a win for us.”
Flurry Of Second Half Trouble Mixes Up The Field
The first half of the Jersey Shore 150 may have had a few caution flags, but the second half truly became a battle of who could make it until the end with the wheels pointing straight. Justin Bonsignore started from the pole and led the first 31 laps, but after slight contact with Andrew Krause racing for the lead, Bonsignore lost positions and the uphill battle started for the defending series champion.
Krause was at the point from laps 32 to 65, then it was five-time series champion Doug Coby, who started sixth, taking control of the race at the front of the field. Coby led 44 laps until the field slowed for a controlled break during a caution on lap 102. During the break, teams were allowed to pit, change tires, and make adjustments to their cars. The order of running did not change while teams were down pit road.
That put Coby at the front for the restart, and Krause on the outside. It looked as though the two of them were going to battle for the trophy, but contact between both of them sent Coby and Krause both spinning on lap 139, ending both of their chances to win, while they spun in front of the field.
Just after, former series champion Ron Silk took command, looking to eat into Coby’s championship lead as the leader in the final circuits. But on the restart, Silk made contact with others and went spinning, ending his night, and many others nights. It was then a battle of attrition as Timmy Catalano and Pitkat lined up on the front row, with Pitkat eventually sliding by and taking the checkered flag.
Just nine of the 28 starters finished on the lead lap. Although he did finish 10th, Coby’s championship lead is 19 points over Ron Silk, and 30 over Jimmy Blewett.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams are off next weekend, before making a return to Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts on Saturday, June 1, for the Seekonk 150.