The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will return to Martinsville Speedway in May. Ryan Preece and Kevin Harvick used Tuesday as an opportunity to get a little test in before the big race.
Preece and Harvick tested the Modified that Preece will drive in Mayâs race. Preece, along with Ryan Newman, is one of two NASCAR Cup Series regulars expected to compete in the race, which will take place on a Friday night with the Cup Series race scheduled for Saturday, May 9.
For Harvick, it was a chance to get his first taste of driving a Modified.
Harvick was driving a modified for the first time. He said Tuesday the test had been in the works with Preece for âtwo years probably.â He said he made the three-hour drive up from Charlotte because he has built a great relationship with Preece and Stafford Motor Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track in Connecticut, and he felt safe and comfortable in Preeceâs car knowing the amount of work Preece has put into it.
Other than a go-kart, Harvick said Tuesday was his first time in a race car since the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami in November.
âItâs his fault, thatâs what I tell my wife, that all this happened today,â Harvick said with a laugh while pointing a Preece during a media session with the drivers. âWeâve been talking about just coming and seeing what driving one was like. So for me it was a great experience. Obviously it put a smile on my face. To get back in the car and to hear that power and see the tires moving and all the things that were so much different from my weekly view. Itâs always fun to do something different.â
While Harvick has driven thousands of laps around Martinsville, it took him some adjusting to get used to the modified. The biggest difference, he said, was being able to see the front tire and driving it further into the corners than he would a Cup car.
Harvick said Preeceâs advice was just to remember it was still a race car, and to just go out and drive.
âHe told me that before I got in it,â Harvick said. âI think as Iâve gone through the years itâs just been a long time since Iâve gone and driven anything else that wasnât at the Cup race or at the track. Even I havenât even driven trucks in a number of years. Itâs been a long time since. Iâve done something outside of my weekly racing routine. I like that because I think when you can challenge yourself and think about things that you donât think about on a weekly basis, because for the most part I can get in a car on a Cup weekend and I can say, âDo this, this, and this.â Iâve been to these track a million times, so you get into this and you go, âOkay, where do I start it? How do I put it into gear?’â
â Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) January 21, 2020
The good thing about Martinsville Speedway, Harvick said, was it is asphalt. Itâs the dirt tracks where heâs felt the most discomfort in the past.
âThatâs when I think I stepped out of bounds,â he said. âWhen they told me to push the clutch in to make the car go on the dirt tracks I was really confused and it did not go that well. So as long as itâs not on dirt I think Iâm okay.â
With so much extra time for the offseason, Preece has put in more work to his modified to make sure itâs ready for May. He admits his last three races in a modified âwerenât very good,â but come May 8 heâll be chasing another grandfather clock for his collection.
âWith this car there was a slot of time I put into the shop to make sure it was right,â said Preece, who won the tour race at Martinsville in 2008. âObviously having the time being the offseason right now, having that extra bit of time helps with preparation.â
Preece joked with Harvick that maybe one day heâll be able to get his fellow Cup Series driver to actually run a race in the modified.
That jokes may not be too far off. While Harvick said during the season he likes being able to focus on his one car and be there as much as possible to be hands-on with the team, and also have time to spend with his family, he certainly has plans for other races in the future.
âI wouldnât drive it if I didnât want to race it,â Harvick said with a smile. âLetâs just make that clear.
âAnd weâve talked about that. It was something that will definitely be on my bucket list to go do and I think Iâd have fun. After driving it today. That really takes a little bit of pressure off of me mentally thinking, âCan you drive it? Whatâs it like? Whatâs it feel like?â So thereâs a lot of those things that just kind of check that box today and just say âO.K., I can do that.’â
Max McLaughlin, the son of the former NASCAR Xfinity Series and Whelen Modified Tour winner Mike McLaughlin, tested Gary Putnamâs No. 77 that Newman will drive in Mayâs race. Max McLaughlin, who raced in the East Series last year, is expected to make a handful of starts on the Whelen Modified Tour this season.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour campaign will kick off on March 21 for the WhosYourDriver.org 150 at Virginiaâs South Boston Speedway. The day will also feature NASCAR Late Model Twin 75s. The season opener at South Boston and the modifieds race at Martinsville Speedway are the two stops in the south on the modifieds tour schedule for 2020.
The MAXPRO Window Films 200 at Martinsville will be the first trackâs first tour Modified race since 2010. It will be the 36th NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, and 117th modifieds race, the track has hosted in its more than 70 year history.