A two-month break in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour schedule has brought about a number of changes, but one thing that will remain the same heading into this week's Firecracker 150 presented by Budweiser at Caraway Speedway and that is George Brunnhoelzl III enjoys a comfortable lead in the standings.
Brunnhoelzl won two of the first four races this season to push ahead of John Smith by 75 points (705-630). Brunnhoelzl's first win in the season opener at Caraway in March and he followed that with a win at Hickory in April. He moved into the No. 09 Phoenix Pre-owned/Triad Auto Sales Chevrolet this season and is the frontrunner to win his second NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified title. The West Babylon, N.Y native won his first title in 2009.
Smith will attempt to pilot his No. 25 Tutterow Surveying/Rick's Home Repair Chevrolet to another win after outdueling L.W. Miller last July in an exciting green-white-checkered finish for his win. Smith is just one of three drivers to finish in the top-10 in the four previous races of 2011. The other two are Brunnhoelzl and Jason Myers.
While the top of the standings hasn't changed since April, there have been many changes with the tour since the last race at Caraway. Andy Seuss, who was in the No. 44 Crane & Rigging/Kooks Custom Headers Chevrolet at the start of the season, has moved over to the No. 11 Chevrolet formerly driven by Zach Brewer and will be a teammate of Brunnhoelzl the rest of the season.
Brewer, who is tied for sixth in the standings tied with James Civali, is still trying to secure a ride for the remainder of the season. Another change will be with the No. 02 team owned by Tommy Lythgoe. Longtime crew chief Ryan Jallick has decided to move on and Lythgoe will assume crew chief duties for the foreseable future. Jallick led the team to its only win at Langley Speedway last September.
Brunnhoelzl will be one of six previous race winners at Caraway expected to race this weekend. The others include: Brian Loftin (7), L.W. Miller (6), Seuss (4), Tim Brown (2) and Smith.
Here is a quick 'By the Numbers' look at Caraway.
.160 - In seconds, the closest margin of victory at Caraway since the first tour race held at the track. On Oct. 24, 2009, in a race Brunnhoelzl only had to start to clinch the championship, he held off John Smith in an exciting final lap dash to the finish line.
8 - The number of top-five finishes at Caraway in the past eight starts for Brunnhoelzl since July 3, 2009.
2- The number of drivers, (L.W. Miller and Loftin) who won races at the track during a nine-race stretch between March 24, 2007 and August 22, 2008.
19 - How many top-five finishes Loftin has at Caraway to lead all drivers on the tour. Of the 19 top-five showings, seven of them resulted in Loftin taking home the checkered flag.
5 - The record for consecutive wins at Caraway. L.W. Miller accomplished this from Sept. 23, 2006, to Sept. 8, 2007.
3 - The number of wire-to-wire wins at Caraway. Seuss led every lap twice in 2010 (March 14, Aug. 28) and Junior Miller dominated on June 30, 2006.
Home sweet home: This will be the 35th NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour race at Caraway, which is considered the home track for the tour.
Looking for a win: Several drivers are still looking for their first win on the tour. Frank Fleming and Thomas Stinson could be considered the leading the candidates to break through for their first win. Fleming, who is tied with Jason Myers for the most starts in the history of the tour (75), has a career-best second-place finish at Caraway in 2009. Stinson is also knocking on the door after finishing third and second, respectively, in his last two starts at Caraway.
Busy Schedule: This weekend's race will be the first of 10 between July 1 and Oct. 14 for the modifieds. Nine of the 10 races will be run in an 11-week span from Aug. 6 at Bowman Gray to the season finale at Charlotte on Oct. 14.
Taking A Week Off: The No. 44 Chevrolet owned by Bryan Fishel will take the week off and the plan is for the team to return to action with a new driver at Bowman Gray in August.
Burt Myers Ready To Return
After suffering three broken ribs and a punctured lung in a non-NASCAR sanctioned event in April that caused him to miss the two most recent events at South Boston and Caraway on April 17 and 23, respectively. Myers has recovered and will be at Caraway Speedway this weekend.
Veteran modified driver Lee Jeffreys replaced Myers in the car in both events and has kept car owner Philip Smith is contention for his second-consecutive car owners championship.
"I just want to thank everyone for their prayers and support," Myers said. "It was a tough couple of weeks but we have been racing in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series at Bowman Gray Stadium and we are ready to get back to Victory Lane on the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Lee did a great job for us and we are going to go out and do our best to win as many races as possible and give Philip another championship as car owner."
Home Tracks: Brinkley Leads The Way
Brad Brinkley has proven so far this season that consistency and dedication can provide positive results. Brinkley leads the Caraway Speedway Late Model Stock point standings in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action by 22 points over Dan Moore (328-306). Brinkley is the only driver in the division at Caraway this season to finish in the top 10 in every race.
While Brinkley leads the point standings, B.J. Mackey has been the most successful driver at the track in terms of race wins in the Late Model Stock division. Mackey has four wins in his six starts at Caraway and is the only driver with multiple wins. Other winners in the Late Model Stock classification are: Mack Little III, Travis Swaim, Davin Scites and Mike Dame.
Mackey sits 14th in the North Carolina points standings while Brinkley is 16th overall.
Caraway's other current division leaders include: Josh Lowder (Limited Late Model), Andrew Sanders (Mini Stock), Glenn Chriscoe Jr. (Mini Truck), Jimmy Wallace (Late Model Truck), Carl Auman (Sportsman), Jan Ingram (Legends), Allen Vance (U-Car) and Jamie Ruddock (Street Stock).
Last Time Out: Christopher Goes Back-To-Back
Ted Christopher used his win a week earlier at South Boston for momentum that continued into Caraway Speedway on April 23. Christopher, who won the first NASCAR-sanctioned Southern Modified event at Caraway back in 2005, passed George Brunnhoelzl III on Lap 6 and remained in front the rest of the way for with win.
Although he remained in the lead once he passed Brunnhoelzl, Christopher had to hold off a hard-charging Thomas Stinson in a three-lap sprint to the finish after a late caution brought the field together for one last restart. Stinson, who has finished in the top-five in the previous two races at Caraway, held off John Smith for second and Smith followed in third.
Brunnhoelzl held on for fourth and Frank Fleming completed the top five. Brunnhoelzl used another top-five finish to build his lead to 75 points over Smith in the season standings (705-630).
Stinson also won the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award for moving up from his starting position of 17th to second in the final rundown. Stinson also collected the Featherlite Most Improved Driver Award for most positions improved from his finish at South Boston a week earlier. Austin Pack earned Sunoco Rookie of the Race Award and Brunnhoelzl won the Coors Light Pole Award in qualifying.
Up Next: Bowman Gray
The next event for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour will be the Strutmasters.com 199 at Bowman Gray Stadium. Practice and qualifying will be held on Friday, Aug. 5 and the race will be held Saturday, Aug. 6.