2023 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 200 at New Smyrna Speedway

Top Storylines Entering 2023 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Season

Top Storylines Entering 2023 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Season

There's no shortage of storylines surrounding the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, which is set to kick off the 2023 season at New Smyrna Speedway February 11.

Feb 1, 2023 by Rob Blount
Top Storylines Entering 2023 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Season

With the start of the 2023 season right around the corner, it’s time to get caught up on all of the storylines that you should keep an eye on throughout the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.

Doug Coby Joins Tommy Baldwin Racing

The top story heading into Saturday’s season-opener at New Smyrna Speedway is the one that was most recently announced. Six-time champion Doug Coby has partnered with Tommy Baldwin Racing for the entire 19-race schedule.

Coby first partnered with Baldwin in relief of Jimmy Blewett, who was dealing with a family health emergency, at the May race at Riverhead Raceway. Coby drove to the win that night, the first of three victories for Coby in the legendary 7NY.


Coby Scores Special Victory With Baldwin At Riverhead

But those weren’t the only races that saw the black 7NY in victory lane last season. Tommy Baldwin Racing also scored wins at Pennsylvania’s Jennerstown Speedway with Mike Christopher Jr., and at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium with Blewett behind the wheel.

Those five victories propelled Tommy Baldwin Racing to the owner’s championship last season. Now with Coby behind the wheel for the full season, it seems like they are primed to contend for the championship this season. As it is, Coby’s three wins in 2022 were the second most of any driver, just one behind Justin Bonsignore for the most wins on the year, and Coby didn’t even run the full season.

Coby’s six championships put him second all-time, one behind the late Mike Stefanik, since the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was officially formed in 1985. A championship this year would put Coby tied with Stefanik, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021.

Will Justin Bonsignore Rebound To A Fourth Title?

One of the surprises of 2022 was the inconsistency of three-time champion Justin Bonsignore and his Ken Massa Motorsports team. It was a feast-or-famine type of year for Bonsignore, one that was more reminiscent of his earlier years on the Tour before he became the champion that he is today.

Their season started off with a premature exit at the season-opener at New Smyrna. Bonsignore exited that race with overheating issues after just 32 laps, putting him in a massive hole for the rest of the season.

Bonsignore made up a large chunk of his deficit at the next race by winning at Virginia’s Richmond Raceway. He left the second race of the year just 20 points out of the lead.

Unfortunately, race three at Riverhead Raceway was filled with more trouble, putting Bonsignore back into a deeper hole. Mechanical issues forced Bonsignore to drop 57 laps to the leader. He finished 25th that night, completing just 143 laps, and left his home track with a 36-point deficit in front of him.

Bonsignore went back to victory lane three races later at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway, but erasing the points deficit was proving to be a difficult task. Even with the win, Bonsigore found himself still 35 points out of the lead.

A second-place run the following week at Riverhead helped him gain another three points, but he gave back two of those points the following race at Wall Stadium with a sixth-place run.

His first big gain of the year came in July’s trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Even though he didn’t even score a top 10, he was still able to gain 10 markers thanks to point leader Ron Silk getting swept up in a crash and finishing 21st.


Three-time NWMT Champ Bonsignore Reflects On Career And Legacy

Bonsignore stayed around 25 points back of the leader for the next few races before he rattled off back-to-back wins at Oswego Speedway and Riverhead. He gained eight points with the win at Oswego to be 17 back, and then gained a whopping 14 points with the win at Riverhead. Suddenly Bonsignore was in second in points, just three points behind Jon McKennedy with two races remaining.

Even as it started to seem inevitable that Bonsignore would win a fourth championship, the bad luck crept right back in. Bonsignore went to Thompson Speedway, one of his best tracks, and finished two laps down in 14th, dropping nine points in the process.

The season ended the same way it started, with a premature exit. Bonsignore retired from the finale at Martinsville Speedway with rear end issues after completing 153 laps. He finished 29th, 29 points behind eventual champion Jon McKennedy.

The odds are in Bonsignore’s favor to not have a second year in a row like last year’s. He is too good of a driver, and his team is too strong to have repeat misfortunes in 2023. It would be a total shock if Bonsignore isn’t in contention for a fourth championship at the end of the year.

Ending A Drought

Ron Silk began 2022 with a brand new team and nearly won a championship with them. In fact, he came just six points short of his second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship. The one thing that most likely prevented him from the title was that he couldn’t find victory lane.

The 2011 champion partnered with car owners Tyler Haydt and Joe Yannone, and multi-time championship-winning crew chief, Phil Moran. The 17-time winner on the Tour scored eight top-five finishes and 12 top-10 finishes in 16 races, along with two poles.

When you look back on his season, it’s surprising Silk didn’t win a single race, considering he had three great chances to do so.

Silk led 55 laps in the season-opener at New Smyrna before fading to finish seventh. He led 110 of the 200 laps at Monadnock Speedway before finishing third, and then led 67 laps at Wall Stadium before finishing fifth.

If Silk and his team can repeat their strong performances as consistently as they did last year and add in even just one win, Silk could be looking at a second NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship 12 years after his first.

A Sprinkle of Cup Series Flavor

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has had its share of invaders from the NASCAR Cup Series throughout the years. It’s also seen its share of drivers graduate from the Modifieds and head to the Cup Series like Geoff Bodine, Steve Park, and most recently Ryan Preece.

But lately the Tour has been seeing some names best known for their time in the Cup Series moonlighting with the Modifieds on occasion.

2008 Daytona 500 champion Ryan Newman has made 32 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour starts and has won four times. 

Most recently, Corey LaJoie ran at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. LaJoie went to victory lane in a thrilling finish at Martinsville after dominating much of the race last fall. One would assume that LaJoie would be back whenever possible this season after seeing that level of success last year.

That same race also saw the 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Bobby Labonte make his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at the age of 58 years young. 

So who can we expect to see this year? Newman and Labonte have already announced their plans to run as many races as possible this season as teammates at Sadler Stanley Racing. And the fun part is both drivers are still very competitive.

Labonte won a couple SMART Modified Tour races in 2021 and contended for the championship that year. He nearly won a couple more races with that tour last year. 

Newman also has a recent Modified victory as he claimed the win in the first race held at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in years last summer.

And then there’s the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion. Ryan Preece is a 25-time winner on the Tour. He ran a handful of races in 2022 driving for three different teams. Preece reunited with the Boehler family to run the legendary “Ole Blue” car for three races, which is the first team he ever won with in NWMT competition. He ran a car built and owned by himself at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he filled in for the Tinio Racing team one time as well.

But now Preece is back full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series after a year away, with the best opportunity he’s had yet. After signing a deal with Stewart-Haas Racing in a reserve driver role last year, Preece was promoted to the No. 41 car for the full season this year. 

Will Preece have any time to make Modified starts this year? Will he even want to, knowing he’s in a make-or-break put-up-or-shut-up position in the Cup Series? We’ll have to keep an eye on the entry list every race to see if Preece will make an appearance.

Primed For a Breakout

The top four in points after last season weren’t entirely unexpected, although Jon McKennedy’s championship was definitely a surprise. But right behind him were Ron Silk, Justin Bonsignore, and Eric Goodale, all household names among Modified fans.

But there were three other names in the top 10 in points that are far from household names, though they’re in a perfect position to get there this year. Those names are: Austin Beers, Tommy Catalano, and Craig Lutz.

We’ll start with Austin Beers, a second-generation driver who comes from a town that has a history of producing top Modified talent, Northampton, Pennsylvania. Beers won the Rookie of the Year title and finished fifth in points. 

Beers finished third at Langley Speedway last August for his only top-five of the season, but he scored seven top-10 finishes and completed all but five of the 2,750 laps run throughout the season.

Two spots behind Beers in the points standings was Ontario, New York’s Tommy Catalano who came oh so close to scoring his first win at Richmond Raceway last April.

Catalano scored two top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes, and also led 75 laps throughout the season. 69 of those laps were led en route to a second-place finish at Richmond. Catalano lost the lead with less than 10 laps to go to eventual winner Justin Bonsignore.

One spot behind Catalano was Long Island’s Craig Lutz. It’s a bit unfair to put Lutz in this category because he does have four career victories and he’s finished in the top five in points on three occasions. Lutz scored one win in 2022, a dominating performance in the summer trip to Connecticut's Thompson Speedway that saw him lead 119 of the 150 laps that night.

But Lutz has yet to have that type of season that makes you feel like he’s firmly established himself as an elite NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver.

In some ways, Lutz’s first handful of full-time seasons are reminiscient of Justin Bonsignore’s first full seasons. At this point, Lutz has run four full seasons, and in 2016 and 2017 he missed one race each year. To date he has four wins, 21 top-five finishes, and 44 top-10 finishes. 

After running four full seasons, Bonsignore had just three wins. In 2014, Bonsignore rattled off three wins and finished third in points. Two years later he scored four wins and finished second in points, but it wasn’t until his ninth season where he really busted loose. In 2018, Bonsignore scored eight wins to win his first championship. Since then he’s been a title threat every single year and has a total of three championships.

Will Lutz’s career follow a similar path? It’s still hard to say, but the Miller Place, New York native has proven that he knows how to lead laps and win races when the opportunities present themselves. It’s just that so far there hasn’t been enough opportunities to show it consistently.

FloRacing Continues to Be the Home for Modifieds

FloRacing has established itself as the streaming home for fans of Tour-type Modified racing, and that will continue in 2023. 

FloRacing will once again be the broadcast home for every single NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race in 2023. Fans will be able to watch how all of these storylines play out across the 19-race schedule beginning at New Smyrna Speedway in February and ending at Martinsville Speedway in October.

Race fans can subscribe to FloRacing by clicking here.