Wraps Up Championship With Win In Finale
October 19, 2008 - 11:53pm
THOMPSON, Conn. – As one of the most accomplished short-track racers in NASCAR, Ted Christopher had nearly done it all. Christopher filled in the biggest remaining gap in his resume Sunday at Thompson International Speedway when he wrapped up his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in grand style.
Christopher (No. 36 Al-Lee Installations Chevrolet) won the Xtra Mart World Series 150, the final race of the season, to earn the title by 127 points over runner-up Matt Hirschman. Hirschman (No. 59 Furnace & Duct Supply Chevrolet) finished 25th on Sunday.
"I’ve really got to thank Eddie Whelan for giving me this ride a couple years ago and Brad Lafontaine, my crew chief. We won a couple championships here together when I drove for him back in the SK Modified days. Everybody in this whole team, we’ve really got a great group of guys," said the 50-year-old Christopher, from Plainville, Conn. "Brad said the best thing would be to win the race and the championship and be the only car up here in Victory Lane."
Christopher's title was virtually wrapped up when Hirschman suddenly slowed on lap 118 after battling for third place. Hischman came down pit road five laps later, while Christopher was running in the top five on the track. Hirschman's crew pushed the car behind the wall a short time later, effectively allowing Christopher to clinch his championship. Christopher passed Ronnie Silk on lap 135 for the lead following a late-race restart and cruised to the win and the title.
Chuck Hossfeld, Ronnie Silk, Doug Coby and rookie Erick Rudolph rounded out the top five.
"It was pretty nerve-racking," Christopher said, "but I want to thank all of my competitors. Everybody ran me really clean knowing what me and Matty (Hirschman) had on the line."
Christopher started fifth in the World Series, two spots in front of Hirschman and leading by 35 points. Both pitted, along with most of the leaders, on lap 69. Hirschman came out 10th and Christopher 12th. The two made contact on the front stretch on the lap 71 restart when the outside lane was slow coming up to speed, but both were able to maintain control and continue without incident.
"Its more relief than anything," Christopher said. "Everyone says you’ve won all this stuff in your career and you’ve never won the Tour championship."
Christopher made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut in 1988 when he ran three races. He had finished in the top six in points in each of the last eight seasons. Twice he was runner-up - in 2002 by 50 points to Mike Stefanik and in 2005 by 18 points to Matt Hirschman's father, Tony Hirschman Jr. In the latter, Christopher entered the final race of the season in a similar situation as Sunday. He led Tony Hirschman by 36 points and needed a finish of seventh or better to clinch. An early wreck at the World Series, however, relegated him to 30th and cost him the title.
Christopher won the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series championship in 2001 running in the Sunoco Modified division on a weekly basis at Thompson. He has 31 career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour wins, including four this year. He is the winningest driver in all divisions at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway, and has made starts in all three of NASCAR's national series, as well as the NASCAR Camping World Series and the Grand-Am Rolex 24 at Daytona.
As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, Christopher earned a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown. The Showdown, contested in NASCAR Camping World Series cars, will be Jan. 23-24, 2009 at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.).
Christopher had led Hirschman by has many as 99 points following his win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sept. 13. But Hirschman had whittled down the lead by finishing better than Christopher in three consecutive races leading up to the World Series.
Matt Hirschman was the crew chief on his father's championship teams in 2004 and '05. His best points finish as a driver was third place last season. He was 11th in points in his first full season as a driver in 2006.
Christopher's championship capped a season-long celebration by NASCAR and series sponsor Whelen Engineering of the 60 Years of Modified Champions. Prior to the race, three-time Modified champion Bugs Stevens was honored, along with the late Fred DeSarro and Bill Widenhouse. Christopher's official coronation will come Saturday, Dec. 13 in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Awards Banquet at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Conn.