Todd Szegedy battled back after losing the lead during on a pit stop and then making a pair of off-track excursions to win the NASCAR Whelen Modified 66/99 presented by Town Fair Tire at Lime Rock Park on Saturday.
It was a sweet win for the Ridgefield, Conn., driver - who led all but the last four laps before being relegated to second in last year's inaugural tour visit to the 1.5-mile, eight-turn road course. With his victory on Saturday, he took over the lead in the championship standings.
Szegedy, who had experience at Lime Rock in other racing series prior to his NASCAR career, dominated the early action on Saturday. He started from the pole in his No. 2 Wisk Detergent/A&J Romano Construction Ford and opened up a lead of more than two seconds early. However, he fell to fourth following a pit stop during a caution on Lap 44. He went off course twice during the last one-third of the race, but quickly recovered and set out after the leaders.
After moving up to second on Lap 60, Szegedy took the lead from Mike Stefanik a lap later and then pulled away from the field to win by a margin of 1.796 seconds.
“It got pretty dicey there, we got real tight with the new set of tires for some reason, it just wouldn’t come in and I drove off the track twice,” Szegedy said. “On that last restart I got a good restart and got by Justin Bonsignore and then I made a pass on Mike Stefanik in Turn 1. I had to out-brake him and out-down shift him. He ran me clean and I just had to hit my marks after that.”
The win was Szegedy's 17th career victory and the third this season for the 2003 tour champion. Three wins and podium finishes in six of the last eight events have propelled him to the top of the standings, with 2,004 points over 1,992 for Ron Silk, who finished 15th on Saturday.
Stefanik finished second followed by Bonsignore, Richie Pallai Jr., and Ted Christopher. Rowan Pennink, Erick Rudolph, Eric Beers, Kevin Goodale and Patrick Emerling rounded out the top 10.
Saturday marked the best career finish for Pallai and the fifth-consecutive top-10 finish for Bonsignore, who has vaulted from 19th to seventh in the season standings since his first career win at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway in late July.
“We’re still learning [road course racing] and every year we’re going to get better and better,” Bonsignore said from the podium at Lime Rock. “These guys [Szegedy and Stefanik] have done it a lot, but this is just my second time doing it, so I’m pretty proud.
“We’ve turned this season around since we got our first win and hopefully we can just build towards next year.”
The race winner last week at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway, Doug Coby looked poised to go back-to-back but wrecked while in the lead on Lap 55 and finished 18th.
The inaugural visit for the Whelen Modified Tout to Lime Rock had just one lead change, but Saturday’s return engagement featured seven among five different drivers. Szegedy led a race-high 49 circuits.
The Lime Rock race marked the fourth of six-consecutive weeks of racing for the Whelen Modified Tour. The busiest portion of the 2011 schedule started at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 24 and will get a one-week break following Stafford (Conn,) Motor Speedway on Oct. 2, a stretch of six races in 40 days.
The next event on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is the New Hampshire 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday, Sept. 24.