“Fifteen guys could win during each and every week.”

Those are the words from 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece about the 2014 NWMT season.

Preece, along with a long list of other Modified drivers will head to Thompson Motorsports Park (CT) on April 4-5 to begin the 2014 NWMT season.  With a roster full of talent and a number of teams consistently improving their racing programs, Preece knows that defending his title will be no easy task.

“There are a lot of guys that are capable of winning,” Preece told Speed51.com powered by JEGS.  “It’s so hard to do.  Doug (Coby) is always strong, guys like Ronnie Silk, Rowan (Pennink), and (Mike) Stefanik if he runs the full season.  It will be tough, but we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and not change anything.  I think we’re going to be good.  It’s one of those things that depend on how your season starts and how your momentum goes.”

The Berlin, Connecticut driver hopes to begin his title defense this upcoming weekend, but for now his sights are focused in on being able to win his first career NWMT event at Thompson.

“It’s nice to go back racing, but it’s even better going back racing when you’re the champion,” Preece said.  “I’m just looking to win some races this year.  If you talk to Ted Christopher, if you talk to Keith Rocco, if you talk to anybody that’s won a race, they’ll tell you there’s no better feeling.

“At Thompson, I’ve finished second so many times in a Modified Tour race and came some close.  Hopefully this year we can pull it off and go to victory lane at Thompson.  It would mean a lot to me to be able to do that.”

After a season-opening victory in the UNOH Battle at the Beach Modified event at Daytona International Speedway (FL), 2012 NWMT champion and 2013 NWMT championship runner-up Doug Coby is hoping to spoil Preece’s title defense and make his way back to the top spot in 2014.

“It’s definitely at the top of my mind right now,” Coby said about the 2014 NWMT championship.  “I’d love to do it with another team.  Todd and the No. 2 car always ran well and I’d like to be able to hop into this car and still have us be the same way it was when I was in the 52.  I think that would be the most impressive thing for me.

“That’s kind of where I’m at with my career.  I don’t think I have too much to prove, but I think it’d be pretty cool to get into a brand new car and get to the level I was at the last couple years.”

This season, Coby will be driving the No. 2 Mike Smeriglio III Racing machine previously piloted by Todd Szegedy.  Coby is hoping to use the momentum gained from his win at Daytona as the team starts their march towards the 2014 NWMT championship.

“There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the start of the season based on how we did at Daytona,” Coby said.  “How we did in Daytona is not going to make us do better at Thompson, but it certainly is going to make everybody feel like the potential is there right out the gate to do something special.”

Another driver using the word “momentum” is 2013 NWMT World Series winner Rowan Pennink.  The Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania driver is itching to get back to racing in his RP Motorsports No. 93 after ending the season on a high note in 2013.  With a little bit of “Lady Luck” on his team’s side, Pennink is confident his team can compete for the title this season.

“That win was huge for us at the end of the season with the 93, especially since we had some pretty big ups and downs throughout the season,” Pennink told Speed51.com.  “That really boosted some team morale and I think with almost winning the Icebreaker last year, we ended up finishing second, along with winning the World Series I think the 93 should be very strong at the Icebreaker and in 2014.”

Another championship hopeful is the winner of last season’s NWMT event at Monadnock Speedway (NH), Long Island-based driver Justin Bonsignore.  Throughout the course of the last five seasons, Bonsignore’s M3 Racing team has shown steady progress but their path towards competing for a championship has been derailed by bad luck and engine problems.

Heading into a new season, Bonsignore is hoping a fresh start with the team’s new engine program will help propel them to the next level.

“I think if we can continue in the direction we were going in down in Florida with our new engine program being a lot better, I think we can be contending for that title,” Bonsignore said.  “It’s going to be tough, but I go into it thinking come October we should be in position to have a chance.  That’s all you can ask for.  You can’t go out and say, ‘yeah, come October we’re going to be celebrating.’”

A Rookie to Watch Out For

It’s not often that a rookie is able to burst onto the scene and compete for wins on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but rookie competitor Tommy Barrett, Jr. hopes to do just that this season.  Barrett, a multi-time Valenti Modified Racing Series feature winner, will be in the driver’s seat previously filled by one of the most recognizable names in Modified racing – Mike Stefanik.   With a proven team and one of the best young talents in Modified racing, the No. 22 Chris Our-led team will be a team to watch out for in 2014.

Silk Looking to Carry Momentum from Dominating Speedweeks

2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ron Silk went without a victory on the tour in 2013. After a dominating performance at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks that included three wins and the Tour-Type Modified championship, Silk will look for his team to carry some momentum into Thompson for the Icebreaker.

Don’t Sleep on The Mystic Missile 

A team that may fly under the radar in 2014 is Donny Lia’s No. 4 “Mystic Missile” team.  Lia finished third in the championship standings last season with one win coming at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) in September.  The “Mystic Missile” team showed speed all season long last year with seven top-10 finishes, but bad luck and uncontrollable circumstances relegated the team’s finishes during multiple events.  If his team can find even a slight bit of luck in 2014, Lia will be a threat to contend for the championship.

Performance at Thompson Crucial for Championship Hopefuls

It’s far-fetched to say that a team’s performance at one track could make or break their chances at a championship; however, there’s no track on the schedule that has the possibility to have as much of an impact on championship hopefuls as Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.  Thompson will host three NWMT events in 2014 including the season-opener, a race that starts the final stretch run, and the final race of the season.

It will be crucial for teams to start off the season well at Thompson, build momentum for the final stretch during the tour’s second visit to the track, and close out the deal during the final event of the season during World Series weekend.

Preece, Coby Ready to Continue Friendly Rivalry in 2014

In 2012, it was Doug Coby beating out Ryan Preece for the NWMT championship. In 2013, it was Ryan Preece beating out Doug Coby to win the NWMT championship. At the 2014 UNOH Battle at the Beach, it was Coby that was able to capitalize on Preece’s misfortune to win the event.

Starting to notice a trend here?  Doug Coby is.

“One team doesn’t do well, the other team is right there to capitalize on it,” Coby said.  “That’s how Daytona was.  It’s a friendly rivalry.  We’ve had some heated moments in a couple races and I’m sure there will be more.  His whole team and my whole team both know that when you run up front as often as the two of us have lately there’s going to be times where you have to battle for the win.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t like the guy or that you’re going to drive the guy that way every time you’re around him, it just means the more often you run up front the more often you have to race with each other and push each other around a little bit.  I think we’re both ok with that.”

NWMT Championship Battle Begins at Thompson Icebreaker
Preece, Coby, Pennink, and Bonsignore Ready to Chase Title in 2014
By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Northeast Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
Doug Coby hopes to return to the top spot in 2014 (Speed51.com Photo)
Justin Bonsignore looks to be primed for a championship run in 2014 (Speed51.com Photo)