Winning back-to-back track championships is always difficult, especially in a class like the modifieds, which in recent years has been the largest at the Bullring. Couple that with a plethora of talent and it’s doubly tough to go back-to-back.
But I think we’ll see a break from the recent norm in 2012. Steven DeLonjay rolled to this year’s title in record-setting fashion — his 161-point margin of victory was the most ever in the series. I would expect the chase to be much closer next summer, but my pick is for a DeLonjay repeat. That’s an impressive operation in the DeLonjay compound. There’s more than 30 years of experience with his dad, 13-time track champ Hank DeLonjay, turning the wrenches. Add to that the natural talent of 19-year-old Steven behind the wheel and that’s going to be a lot for any other team to overcome.
Here are my early picks for the 2012:
1. Steven DeLonjay: If he can avoid the early season DNF(s) that plagued him in 2008, 2009 and 2010, you can engrave his name on another title trophy.
2. Jared Schlipman: I look for the 2010 champion to roar back with a vengeance. Schlipman simply got caught up in the DeLonjay tempest this season. The Mendon hotshoe had a tremendous year in his own right, but DeLonjay was simply in another world.
3. Michael Long: OK, if Michael races the full points schedule this will need recalculated. But I’m guessing he runs “most,” but not all of the schedule and will finish just shy of what would be a third track title.
4. Dave Wietholder: “Sweet Wiet” will be there until the very end. The difference between third (2010) or fourth and first is usually feature victories, and No. 05 got shut out last year. He needs to find a way to wrestle a few of those checkered flags from DeLonjay, Long and Schlipman, who won all 17 main events this season. (By the way, that’s the second straight season those three drivers have won all the features.)
In recent years, a handful of drivers have dominated the feature wins in the modified series. Here’s a look since the mods went to one class in 2006 on how many different feaure winners there have been each season:
5. Shawn Deering: If Deering could erase that one disastrous month he had this season when everything possible went wrong, he would have finished a strong second in points. Those kind of things usually have a way of evening out the following season, so I’m looking for Deering to be a contender from the first green flag in 2012.