Story By: NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Tyler Rypkema did not head into the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opener at Martinsville Speedway almost two weeks ago expecting a top-five finish.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Rypkema charged through the field late in the 200-lap race on fresh tires to finish second to Eric Goodale. It marked the 24-year-old Rypkema’s career-best finish.
After four straight top-10 finishes to close out 2020 season, Rypkema’s No. 32 team continues to bring speed to the track in their second full-time season on the Tour.
Even though Rypkema had to rally late to finish where he did at Martinsville, he ran second in the only practice session of the day and qualified 10th. There is no doubt about it: Rypkema has improved from the beginning of 2020, when he finished 18th at Pennsylvania’s Jennerstown Speedway.
“We keep gaining on everything and building as a team,” Rypkema said. “We said a few times last year, ‘We probably had a top-five car, just came up short.’ So just to have it all come together and finally get that first top five is huge for everybody involved.
“As a team, we’re just looking to be competitive and really learn. We still have a ton to learn. All we’re looking to do is just finish the race, gain some more respect and gain some more knowledge.”
Rypkema credits crew chief Zach Truesdall for much of that improvement. It was Truesdall’s decision to save a set of tires for the final run at Martinsville.
“It really panned out for us,” Rypkema recalled. “It was huge for all of us to have that outcome and have that good of a run for us. … I’ve always been one that I want to be fast at the end of the race. I don’t want to be backing up. I want to be going forward. That’s how Zach likes it, too.”
Now Rypkema heads north to run the 49th edition of the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway, where tires almost certainly will play a role in deciding who wins.
“You gotta be there at the end,” Rypkema said. “You gotta be quick at the end. You can’t just be there by luck.”
Like Martinsville, Stafford is a track with plenty of historical significance dating back to the 1950s.
“Obviously, the Spring Sizzler is huge,” Rypkema said. “It dates back all the way to Richie Evans and before him. It’s incredible to see the list of drivers that have won that race. To think that that’s a possibility, that you might someday be on that list, too, is incredible. Everybody wants a Stafford Spring Sizzler trophy.”
Despite the string of strong finishes, Rypkema is keeping expectations cautiously optimistic for the rest of the season.
“Yeah, we had a good run,” he allowed. “It was huge to do that, but, don’t think just because you did that one time, you can do it every race. Prepare yourself. You’re going to have bad races. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll learn from even the bad races.”