Best Of 2015: Whelen Modified Tour

Photo Credit: Billy Weiss/Getty Images North America

Third Title In Four Years For Coby In Another Tight Championship

By Jason Cunningham, NASCAR

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Doug Coby capped the 2015 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season with his third title in four years, and in the process became just the third driver to claim three or more titles in the 31-year history of the tour.

For the fourth consecutive season Coby and Ryan Preece finished 1-2 in the championship standings in what has become one of the premiere rivalries in all of NASCAR. In 2015 the duo combined to lead 62 percent of the laps contested and captured 11 of the 15 checkered flags.

Coby, who earned his first title in 2012 with Darling Racing, made the move to Mike Smeriglio III Racing for the 2014 campaign and has delivered the team its first two titles. After one win together last year, they rolled to seven in the title defense.

Despite the gaudy numbers, Coby needed to come from behind in the final stretch of the season to earn the title, and it was done in grand fashion as he became the first driver in tour history to win each of a season’s final three races.

The Milford, Connecticut, native Coby’s run at a third crown wasn’t the only story of 2015 though. The 15-race slate produced five different winners and for the eighth season in a row the championship wasn’t decided until the finale.

Top Driver
Doug Coby:
  Coby ended his third championship season the way he started it: in Victory Lane at Thompson Speedway Motorsport Park. In fact, he became just the third driver in tour history to sweep a season of events at the venerable Connecticut oval when he won all four there this year. But that was just one of his many historic accomplishments in 2015. Coby’s career-best seven wins were tied for the most in a single season since Mike Stefanik’s record 13 in 1998. Likewise, his single-season win percentage of 47 ranked second all-time to Stefanik’s 1998 59-percent mark. The champ also turned in career highs for poles (six), top fives (11) and laps led (830), and tied his career best with 12 top 10s.

WATCH: DOUG COBY CHAMPION PROFILE | DOUG COBY AWARDS SPEECH

Ryan Preece (Honorable Mention):  The flip side to Coby’s three titles in four years is that Preece has been the runner-up in each of those instances. Once again Preece turned in a magnificent season as he matched his career-high with four wins and set a new personal mark with 14 top 10s – three more than his previous best. Preece, who topped Coby for the 2013 championship, posted a pair of poles and led the points standings following nine events. Along the way he moved into the top 10 on the tour’s career laps led list and is now tied with Jimmy Spence for 15th on the all-time wins list.

Top Team
Mike Smeriglio III Racing: 
The No. 2 Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair/HEX Performance team turned in a performance for the ages in 2015. For starters, seven wins in 15 events is nearly unheard-of with the depth of talent on the tour, but it wasn’t just checkered flags that the team hoarded. Coby piloted the No. 2 Chevrolet to six poles and led an astounding 36-percent (830 of 2,280) of the laps on the year.

TS Haulers Racing (Honorable Mention):  In any other season, their performance may have been enough for a title. The TS Haulers/East West Marine No. 6 team visited Victory Lane four times, tied for the tour lead with 14 top 10s and led 589 of 2,280 (26-percent) laps contested in 2015 with Preece behind the wheel, but they came up 11 points shy of the top spot. The four wins were tied for the most by a non-champ since 2005.

Top Breakthrough Performance
Woody Pitkat: 
The veteran returns to top this category for the second year in a row. In 2014, Pitkat established himself as a driver that can win races. This past season he became a championship contender. In four previous full campaigns, Pitkat’s best points finish was ninth on three occasions. In 2015 he was in the championship mix until the last race of the season and led the standings four different times across the 15-race schedule. In addition to wins in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 and the non-points All-Star Shootout, he tied for the tour lead in top fives (11) and top 10s (14), both totals double his previous career highs.

Patrick Emerling (Honorable Mention):  The 2011 Sunoco Rookie of the Year had just one top-10 points finish in his previous four seasons on the tour: 10th in 2014. Emerling cut that career best in half this season as he finished fifth on the strength of a career-high nine top-10 finishes. In back-to-back fashion, Emerling recorded the first two Coors Light Pole Awards of his career in the summer visits to Stafford and Thompson, and he finished top-five in both events at New Hampshire. The runner-up result at the “Magic Mile” in September is his best in 69 career starts.

Top Races
Andy Blacksmith 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, July 18:
  Todd Szegedy edged Donny Lia at the granite stripe in yet another textbook tour race at New Hampshire that featured the most lead changes and the closest finish of the 15 events on the schedule. Szegedy took the lead for the second and final time with 10 circuits to go – the 29th lead swap of the afternoon – and held off the field on a restart with four remaining for his first win in the Mystic Missile Racing No. 4. The charging Lia finished 0.041 seconds behind in second.

Budweiser King of Beers 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Aug. 12 (Honorable Mention):  In perhaps the greatest showing of determination by one driver this year, Coby furiously rallied from a late-race penalty to capture the Bud 150 win. Coby was black flagged while leading the race on Lap 93 and restarted 18th after his restart penalty was served. The seventh lead change of the event – a Thompson season high – saw Coby regain the top spot on Lap 142 after he deftly knifed through the field, and he held off Pitkat by 0.65 seconds for the win.

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Todd Szegedy (4) edged Donny Lia at the finish line at New Hampshire Motor Speedway by .041 seconds in July.NASCAR via Getty Images