In a historic night of doubleheader modified racing, Matt Hirschman excelled en-route to victory in the Brushy Mountain Powersports 150, the first-ever NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Making his first NWMT start since suffering a broken arm at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Aug. 16, Hirschman was as sharp as ever behind the wheel and survived a green-white-checkered finish to earn the elevator ride to victory lane Saturday night.
“(It’s) good to be back racing again after a month off with an injury,” Hirschman said. “This is going to be one of the biggest wins of the year, probably the biggest one to date so far.”
With an abrasive racing surface quickly wearing through competitors’ tires throughout the night, savvy pit strategy by Hirschman’s Pee Dee Motorsports team was key to victory. Hirschman was first among a large group that opted to pit for the first time under caution on lap 44. After restarting 13th, it took Hirschman just 15 laps to pilot his No. 60 to the race lead.
“I was thinking before this race this was going to be a really hard race to win just because of the amount of strategy, the amount of pit stops,” explained Hirschman. “Two stops, three stops, [we] didn’t really know.”
With 50 laps to go Hirschman surrendered the race lead to Ryan Newman, who took advantage of a caution on lap 67 to get fresher rubber on his No. 39. However, a yellow flag two laps later prompted almost the entire field to visit pit lane again. Hirschman trailed Newman after pit stops, but regained the lead on the restart with 38 laps to go.
Hirschman never looked back, repeatedly establishing a commanding lead on a series of restarts inside 25 laps to go, including on the green-white-checkered to end the race. He was followed across the stripe by NWMT title contenders Ron Silk and Justin Bonsignore, who remain in a tight championship race with just two races remaining.
“It’s really close. Every point matters. When you’re out there racing at the end you’re thinking about winning the race and not really about the points, but it’s close and probably going to be close right to the end,” said Silk, who trails Bonsignore by two points in the title fight.
“That green-white-checkered kind of saved us and gained us a couple spots there, got us back to the podium,” added Bonsignore. “We were struggling to hold onto 5th coming to the white right before the caution. The tires cooled off, and we just had a really good start, the outside line didn’t go and Ron and I were able to kind of sneak by them guys and stole a couple spots.
“This is going to be a championship for the ages.”
Eric Goodale and Patrick Emerling finished 4th and 5th, with Newman coming home 6th. Andrew Krause, Doug Coby, Kyle Ebersole, and Bobby Santos III unofficially rounding out the top-10. Former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte wrecked out of the race on lap 120, finishing 33rd.
The second leg of the night’s doubleheader, the Carolina Crate Modified Series Central Logistics 75, was a rough-and-tumble affair, with two red flags triggered before five laps were completed. With the pace repeatedly slowed for incidents, the race was paused for two hours with under 20 laps remaining to make way for the NWMT feature.
There was little patience on display when the race resumed, with the victory decided through a multitude of restarts and full-contact racing for the lead. After leading most of the event, Josh Lowder surrendered the top spot when Paul Hartwig III dove to the inside and ran Lowder’s car up the racetrack with five laps remaining.
A caution gave Lowder the opportunity to line up right behind Hartwig in the final laps, and Lowder didn’t hesitate to use his bumper to regain the lead coming to the white flag and ultimately the victory.
Jaxson Casper followed Lowder through to take 2nd while Hartwig settled for 3rd. Eric Goodale and Cody Norman rounded out the top-5.
With tonight’s modified action now in the books, race fans can look forward to 2024 and the NASCAR All-Star Race weekend May 17-19. Tickets will go on sale to at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 5.
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