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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A different season, but the same result.
For the fourth straight year, Doug Coby celebrated a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2017. The Milford, Connecticut driver added a fifth tour title to his already remarkable resume -- but this one did not come without a fight.
Coby started the new era of the unified Whelen Modified Tour by finishing 13th at South Carolina's Myrtle Beach Speedway, then ended up in the backstretch fence on lap one at Thompson in the second race of the season. Leaving the Icebreaker more than 40 points from the lead, Coby started an uphill climb that would need a dominant summer stretch if he wanted to become champion once again.
His performance on the track helped him claw his way back to the top of the standings through the summer, but it wasn't like years past.
"It's why we all race: to win races and win championships," Coby said during the celebration of champions in Charlotte. "The tracks that everyone thought we might struggle at, we surprised everyone at those and ran really strong this year. But the tracks everyone thought were a given for us to win, someone else, mainly Ryan (Preece), was usually a tick better and we ended up finishing second a bunch of times."
The title makes Coby the first driver in the history of the Whelen Modified Tour to capture four straight championships since the inception in 1985. He also joins NASCAR Hall of Famers Richie Evans and Jerry Cook as the only drivers to produce four straight in the history of NASCAR modifieds.
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Statistically, this season's championship run matches up closely to the 2014 title, Coby's first in the four-year stretch. However, in 2015 and 2016, Coby dominated the series -- scoring more wins and pole awards than anyone else. Although he got knocked down early in the year and appeared out of the fight, the team never quit.
"This wasn't really a year that most people would have thought we would end up winning the championship. I think it just shows that you are never down and out until it's over," Coby said. "It really taught us something. We never panicked, but there was a time where we said we were just going to do our best and see what happened.
"But then we went on a little bit of a roll and chipped away at it. When we got to the point where we were third or fourth in points, it put pressure on other people. I like being in that position and I think our team does well under pressure. We let everyone else worry about us."
Coby points to one specific string of races that allowed him to close in on Timmy Solomito, his closest challenger for the title. Solomito's season included five wins and 10 top fives in 16 races.
"It was really that stretch that started at Stafford in August that helped us," Coby said. "We finished second, went to Thompson and finished second, then went to Bristol and finished second, and won at Seekonk. Then after that we went to Oswego and finished fourth, so we had right around five or six races in a row where we strung together some really good finishes at a critical point of the season."
Those second place finishes may have looked easy on paper, but he didn't finish the race with the car in one piece at Thompson. On the final lap, heading towards turn one chasing Ryan Preece, Coby's No. 2 Mayhew Tools Chevrolet hit the outside and sent a shower of sparks flying.
"When we wrecked at Thompson on the last lap and still got a second-place finish, that certainly set the tone for the rest of the year," Coby said. "This was an interesting season, we started off with a couple of bad finishes that put us behind the eight ball, and we didn't win a race at Stafford or Thompson."
The season did only include that one victory, but it came at a crucial time in the title fight. Coby invaded the third-mile Seekonk Speedway and rolled to Victory Lane by dominating the second half of the 150-lap race after taking the lead from Matt Hirschman. From there, Coby finished the season with four finishes inside the top seven, including a fifth in the season-finale Sunoco World Series, right back at Thompson.
The year also included top five finishes in 10 of the 16 points events and a victory in the non-points special at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. Coby led 704 laps and only failed to finish the Icebreaker, allowing him to end with an average finish of just above seven.
He welcomed Turners Falls, Massachusetts, based company Mayhew Tools to his team in 2017 and took them right to the top of the series.
"This is really Mayhew's first endeavor into major motorsports marketing, they did a couple of part-time things in the Camping World Truck Series, but they got involved with us when they wanted something bigger. I think it was our teams performance the previous three seasons that really got them got their attention, we get a ton of TV time with our car and it helps when we win races," Coby said. "This was a great season to get to know the people there, bring them to the track, learn about their products. I don't think this is a short-term deal with them. They really see a huge benefit to getting their product in front of race fans."
Communication has been a major part of this championship stretch, and it all starts with the team Coby has behind him at the shop and the track. Whether it's sponsors like Dunleavy Truck and Trailer Repair or AJ Romano Construction, or his crew chief Phil Moran, a major part of the group has stuck together along the way.
"This was a tough year for us, NASCAR made some rules changes with the tires and it threw a curveball at us," Moran said. "We got ahold of things towards the end of the year, but we started out with some really bad luck. We strung a bunch of second-place finishes together that we really feltl like could have been wins."
For Moran, working with Coby has been easy.
"We are both down to business," Moran said. "When Coby is in the seat, it's all business for him and I'm the same way. This is my full-time job. My job is to make the cars the best that we can in the shop."
For Coby, it is never too early to look forward to the 2018 season, which will start right back at Myrtle Beach on March 17.
"It's just a lot of hard work, good equipment and a lot of luck that goes our way," Coby said. "We are going to try for five in a row for sure. We have a couple of new things we want to try with the car and make it even better. This wasn't our best championship season, that's for sure. It was probably our toughest out of all of them, but we still got the job done, and ultimately, that's what you need to do."
Coby was honored as champion at the NASCAR Home Tracks Awards Ceremony at the Charlotte Convention Center on December 9.
Coby scored only one victory in 2017, but it came at Seekonk, a crucial time in the championship chase. Adam Glanzman/NASCAR