BRISTOL, Tenn. — Ted Christopher and Mike Stefanik were engaged in an epic battle for the lead during most of the second half of the Whelen Modified Series UNOH Perfect Storm 150 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Wednesday night.
But with 22 laps to go, Ryan Newman came out of nowhere to join the battle. Two laps later, Newman was in the lead and on his way to victory lane after wrecking out of last year’s race on the first lap.
“It was a lot more fun than last year,” said Newman, who finished 37th a year ago. “That’s my opening statement. It might be my best win here — it was a fun race. It was a great modified race and a great race at Bristol.”
For most of the race, Newman didn’t seem to have a good enough car to contend for the win. Driving the No. 7 Chevrolet owned by Kevin Manion, Jamie McMurray’s crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series, Newman was fighting a loose car for the first half of the race and was running fifth when the red flag came out on lap 76 for the 10-minute halftime break.
“All the guys, we worked hard for two years here to tighten the car up and we still didn’t,” Manion said. “It didn’t look too good there. I think (Ryan) was saving his tires there at the start of the second run and the leaders started racing really hard.”
To say Christopher and Stefanik were racing hard might be the understatement of the year. Stefanik caught Christopher on lap 87 and proceeded to wear out the bumper of the No. 13 for four laps before he was able to make the pass for the lead on lap 91.
Christopher returned the favor for the next 17 laps as the top five bunched up while navigating slower traffic.
Christopher was able to retake the lead on lap 108, but Stefanik was back in front by lap 125 as Newman started looking for an opportunity to move up from the fourth position.
Newman got the opportunity he was looking for on lap 128 when the leaders slowed ever so slightly on the exit of turn four. Newman kept the pedal to the metal, bumped Christopher and set his sights on Stefanik.
“I tried to manage my tires a little bit,” Newman said. “I wasn’t as quick as those guys at the beginning of that segment, but I just caught a really good break coming off of turn 4.
“I had to rough Teddy up a little bit, but he’s done that to me before. I just put everything together at the right time and the way it worked out with the lapped cars, it was a good ending.”
Newman tried to get by Stefanik on the high side coming out of turn two on lap 130, but was blocked. When Newman tried the high side coming out of turn four, however, he was not to be denied. He stayed in the high line and fought off Stefanik for the last 20 laps to pick up his sixth career Whelen Modified victory and second this season.
“I was just kind of hanging on there at the end, riding the high side and guarding,” Newman said.
Christopher slowed in the final laps and was forced to the pits. James Civali, Bobby Santos and Todd Szegedy rounded out the top five.
Stefanik took responsibility for changes made to his car during the break that may have cost him the win, but said he had a blast anyway.
“It was my fault on the stop,” he said. “I made the call to loosen it up. We’ve had some tough runs this year, but it was dog-eat-dog up there in front. We were sideways and gouging the right front tires — there was a lot of turning the wheel to the right and holding on.”
Burt Myers, a regular on the History Channel show “Madhouse,” made a great charge from the back of the field to finish 11th.