The NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour begins its sprint to the 2011 championship this Saturday night when the annual visit to historic Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., for the Strutmasters.com 199.
The race will be the first of nine over the next 11 weeks to determine the champion, and although George Brunnhoelzl III has driven his No. 09 Phoenix Pre-owned/Triad Auto Sales to two wins and an 85-point lead over John Smith in the season standings (875-790), there is plenty of time to trim his lead.
Smith has driven his No. 25 Tutterow Surveying/Rick's Home Repair Chevrolet to a top-five finish in every race this season and is the only driver besides Brunnhoelzl III to hold that distinction among tour regulars. Smith's consistent top finishes have allowed him remain within striking distance of Brunnhoelzl.
Smith enters the Strutmasters.com 199 with an up-and-down history at Bowman Gray. Smith has led a total of 109 laps at Bowman Gray, including 102 in 2009 before mechanical issues cost him the chance for a win.
Brunnhoelzl has yet to win at Bowman Gray, but finished second in his last start at the track in 2009.
L.W. Miller is the defending winner of this race and he also enters this weekend as the most recent winner on the tour at Caraway back in July.
"We certainly feel we have some momentum entering Bowman Gray and I know we are going to go out there and do our best to bring our Speedco/Lucas Oil/John Baker Plumbing & Utilities Chevrolet into Victory Lane again," Miller said.
While Miller should be considered a favorite with Brunnhoelzl and Smith, the event has proven to be one of the more unpredictable races on the schedule as there have been five winners in the six Whelen Southern Modified Tour events held at the track since 2005. Burt Myers is the only driver to have multiple wins at the track with triumphs in 2005 and 2007.
Luke Fleming took advantage of a late opportunity to drive his father, Chris', modified car to win the race in 2009 in his first start on the tour. Jason Myers picked up his only win on the tour when he took home the checkered flag in 2006 at his home track.
Miller will be one of four previous race winners at Bowman Gray expected to compete in the Strutmasters.com 199 this Saturday. The others include: Burt Myers (2005 & 2007), Jason Myers (2006), and Brian Loftin (2008).
Here is a quick 'By the Numbers' look at Bowman Gray Stadium.
.219 - In seconds, the closest margin of victory at Bowman Gray Stadium since the first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race held at the track. On Aug. 4, 2007, Bowman Gray weekly racing veterans Burt Myers and Smith battled for the win with Myers picking up his second win at the track.
4 - The record for number of top-five finishes at Bowman Gray shared by Burt Myers and Brown in the previous six races held at the track since 2005.
5- The number of drivers who have won races at the track since it started hosting Whelen Southern Modified Tour events in 2005. Burt Myers is the only driver with multiple wins (2005 & 2006).
6 - The number of drivers who have started in all six Whelen Southern Modified Tour events at Bowman Gray Stadium. Those drivers are Burt Myers, Jason Myers, John Smith, Frank Fleming, Gene Pack and Randy Butner.
5 - The best average finish at Bowman Gray for a driver with a minimum of five starts in the previous six races. L.W. Miller holds the record. He has finishes of first, second, fourth, eighth and 10th in his five starts to secure the best average finish.
1 - The number of wire-to-wire wins at Bowman Gray. Brian Loftin led all 202 laps of the race held on Aug. 2, 2008.
1 - Fewest number of laps led by the race winner when Burt Myers passed John Smith on the final lap to pick up the win.
Regular faces: Nearly half the field in this weekend's Strutmasters.com 199 also compete in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Double duty at the stadium: Several drivers will compete in the NWAAS race night on Friday, Aug. 5 with twin 50-lap modified races. Among the drivers scheduled to compete on both nights are: Burt Myers, Jason Myers, Brian Loftin, Mike Norman and Austin Pack.
Extra Distance: The Strutmasters.com 199 will be the longest race of the season in terms of laps. The distance in miles will be 49.75 miles.
Home Tracks: Burt Myers Leads The Way
Defending track champion Burt Myers currently leads the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series point standings by 62 points over Tim Brown (526-464) at Bowman Gray Stadium as he continues his quest for his fifth track title and back-to-back championships.
Myers has visited Victory Lane four times so far in 2011 and he also leads the NWAAS point standings for the North Carolina championship. Myers won that honor as well last season.
Bowman Gray's other division leaders include: Robbie Brewer (Sportsman), John McNeal (Street Stock) and Michael Wells (Stadium Stock).
Last Time Out: Miller Gets Record Win
L.W. Miller led the final 151 laps and had to withstand a challenge from point leader George Brunnhoelzl III on two green-white-checkered finish attempts before claiming the Firecracker 150 presented by Budweiser at Caraway Speedway on July 1.
Brunnhoelzl settled for second and Andy Seuss finished third. John Smith and Burt Myers were fourth and fifth, respectively.
It appeared that Miller just needed to turn laps as he was able to build leads by as much as eight car lengths before lapped traffic and late-race cautions brought the field to him.
Jason Myers brought out the fifth caution flag of the race on Lap 145 after his car stalled in Turn 2. That set up the first green-white-checkered finish attempt putting Brunnhoelzl alongside Miller and erasing his three car length lead.
On the restart on Lap 151, the field got bunched up on the front stretch sending Frank Fleming, Myers and Thomas Stinson spinning.
Miller got a good restart and was able to move ahead of Brunnhoelzl in Turn 2 and went on for the historic win. For Miller it was more than just his first win of the season, his 12th career win gave him sole possession of first place in the tour record book. Miller, the 2007 champion, had been tied atop the career wins list with 2008 champion Brian Loftin. It marked his first NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified win since Aug. 10, 2010. Seven of Miller's wins have come at Caraway.
John Smith followed Seuss in fourth with Burt Myers fifth. NASCAR "Next 9" driver Corey LaJoie returned for his first modified start since winning the season-opener in Atlanta in 2010 to finish sixth which gave him Sunoco Rookie of the Race honors.
Up Next: UNOH Perfect Storm 150
The next event for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will be the UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. This will be the third consecutive year the Southern Modified Tour will compete with the Whelen Modified Tour in a combination event at the track. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be the second race of the night on Wednesday, Aug. 24.