Matt Hirschman captured a historic victory in Saturday night’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opener, the New Smyrna Visitors Bureau 200. Not only did the race mark the beginning of the 2022 NWMT season, but the race also marked the first ever NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at New Smyrna Speedway.
“It means a lot,” Hirschman stated in victory lane. “I never made it to Daytona or the Daytona 500. But coming down here to be a part of Speedweeks and win races, this being the first time the Whelen Modifieds are ever here, it just means a lot.”
Hirschman rolled from the pole in Saturday’s race and in the early laps, it looked like it would be a knock-out drag-out fight for the win between the 39-year old and Ryan Preece, who was in the No. 3 entry.
While Hirschman led the early portion of the race, Preece zoomed past for the lead on lap 74 and it appeared the Modified star turned NASCAR National Series driver could potentially steal the show.
However, after being mired in the field due to pit strategy, Preece would make contact with Andrew Krause with 60 laps left in the 200 lap race, while battling for a top-five spot. The contact would send Krause hard into the inside wall, which ended Krause’s night.
Fortunately, for Preece, his car sustained mainly cosmetic damage and was able to continue on. Preece would finish the race in 10th.
When the race got back underway, things got a bit chippy, which led to a massive pileup on the backstretch with just 51 laps left.
Jimmy Blewitt, Kyle Ebersole, Jeremy Gerstner, Chris Young, David Sapienza and Ken Heagy were among those involved in the big crash.
At this point in the race, Michael Christopher Jr. had the lead following an array of pit strategies throughout the night, but it was only a matter of time before the dominant horse came back to the front.
Hirschman regained the lead with 38 to go and this time, Hirschman did not look back as he cruised to the victory over Eric Goodale.
This victory marks Hirschman’s fifth-career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory. For those in the NASCAR National Series circle that recognize the name, yes, Hirschman is the brother of Kyle Busch’s spotter Tony Hirschman.
Matt and Tony Hirschman’s father the elder Tony Hirschman was a five-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion.
For runner-up Goodale, he was happy with the speed of his car, but said he realized with 15 laps left that the race was Hirschman’s to lose.
“I knew I probably wanted to get him early on in that run,” Goodale said. “Matt is way too good of a driver to make mistakes late in a race. I knew with about 15 laps to go that he probably had the better car. I was hoping lapped traffic or a mistake on his behalf would put us back in the mix.”
Christopher faded late but held on to finish third, while Jon McKennedy was in fourth and Tyler Rypkema finished fifth.
Craig Lutz, Ron Silk, Tommy Catalano, Patrick Emerling and Preece rounded out the top-10 finishers in Saturday night’s season-opener.
Justin Bonsignore, the defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series Champion and champion in three of the last four seasons, finished last after mechanical problems ended his race early.