BY: Kyle Souza
PHOTO: Tom Morris/MyRaceNews
He isn’t sure when the season is going to start, but Craig Lutz is aiming for the championship on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020.
The Miller Place, New York, driver is like the rest of the racing community, waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out across the United States. The first three Whelen Modified Tour races have been postponed as part of a NASCAR announcement that says they will not compete in any race events through at least May 3 in connection with the current guidance by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Safety is top priority for NASCAR and all of the tracks involved.
It puts the opener for the 35th year of Whelen Modified Tour action slated for Friday, May 8, at Martinsville Speedway, under the lights as part of NASCAR Cup Series weekend.
“It’s a big disappointment, you work all winter trying to get everything ready for the first race and a week before it, it gets canceled,” Lutz said. “Ultimately, it’s the best decision for everyone to stay positive and healthy — then we can move forward with the racing season, once it’s all cleared up.”
Based on the rescheduled dates that have been announced for some of the tour’s largest events, it’s going to be a packed start to the season. Starting with Martinsville, and ending with Seekonk Speedway just under a month later, teams are scheduled to compete in five races in five weeks to open the year. It starts in Virginia, before Thompson Speedway’s Icebreaker (May 15-16), Jennerstown Speedway (May 23), Stafford Motor Speedway’s NAPA Spring Sizzler (May 30-31) and Seekonk (June 6). Talk about a tough stretch.
“It’s definitely going to have us with our hands full,” Lutz said. “But we have to do what we have to do. Hopefully it gets started in May and doesn’t get pushed back even more. We are racers, so either way, we will be at the track.”
RACING-REFERENCE: Craig Lutz Career Stats
Lutz is no stranger to running up front. But most of his tour success has come in the last two years driving for Russell Goodale and Goodie Motorsports. He joined forces with the effort in the middle of 2017, winning a pole together in their first outing. In 2018, he ran full-time for the team, scoring three top-five finishes, before really bursting to the front last year. Lutz won his first race in the NAPA Fall Final at Stafford in October, finished fourth in the championship standings, and scored top-10 finishes in all but four races.
“A huge part of your season is dictated by the first three races, if you get the season kicked-off on a strong note, that’s a huge part of being able to contend for the championship,” Lutz said. “if we are able to qualify in the top five, I think that would make it a lot easier. In the race, we are always good — it’s just getting that starting spot you need since everyone is so close.”
Heading to Martinsville, Jennerstown and Iowa Speedway for the first time as a driver will be a difficult task for Lutz, but he’s no stranger to venturing to new facilities.
“I think it’s a dream come true going to Martinsville, as a driver I have never been there, and it’s something you look forward to in short-track racing,” Lutz said. “I think it’s going to be a big learning curve for me, and hopefully after we get some laps under our belt we will be good to go.”
“I haven’t seen any of the new tracks besides Martinsville, I’m going to try and get on iRacing before we get there (to Iowa). My whole career, I’ve always been to tracks I haven’t seen before and I was able to be successful,” he said. “But I’m not intimidated by it. We have an hour practice and that’s a lot of time to find a line and get some laps in order to be competitive during the race. I have an awesome team and I’m in competitive equipment going to the race track. That’s most of the battle.”
He’s also heading back to some staple tracks on the tour schedule like Thompson, Stafford, Seekonk, Riverhead Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He will also visit Wall Stadium Speedway and Oswego Speedway as part of the 17-race schedule.
“Stafford just seems to be one of those places where everything works out in our favor,” he said. “I felt like I had some slip through my hands, but they say it takes losing one before winning one. It was a huge accomplishment for me and the team to be able to win a tour race. It was my fourth season on the tour, and seeing guys like Justin Bonsignore, Doug Coby, and even Timmy Solomito when he was unbeatable… it just takes time. We have made a lot of positive gains and we are becoming a top-five car to beat every week.”
Prior to the start of the season, and prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lutz took his family-owned team to New Smyrna Speedway for the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, finishing second in the weekly points and scoring a win.
Was it important to head to Florida?
“Without a doubt, anytime you can get in the car and get some laps under your belt before the important season starts is so crucial,” Lutz said. “We had a really solid week, winning a race and finishing second in points. As our second year down there, I think it was a huge accomplishment.”
NASCAR MODIFIED TOUR: 2020 Schedule
Once the season starts, Lutz will be chasing the championship on a competitive tour with the likes of six-time champion Doug Coby, 2018 champion Justin Bonsignore and 2012 champion Ron Silk joining him as some of the favorites for the crown. Add those three, Lutz, and about 25 more per event, the races are going to be something fans want to want.
Does he feel like his team is ready for the championship crown?
“I do,” Lutz said. “I’ve got probably the best car owner out there, Russell Goodale, he puts everything he needs out there to be successful, and I have a dedicated crew, which is ultimately what it takes. There are so many pieces of the puzzle that make it work every week. Getting everything together like we have been doing is definitely why the success is coming.”