LOUDON, N.H. — It had been so long since Todd Szegedy had taken a checkered flag that when he saw it, he was willing to do anything to grab it.
The only thing keeping him from it was Donny Lia’s No. 4 Dodge.
On the final lap of Saturday’s F.W. Webb 100, Szegedy wasn’t going to let it stop him.
“I knew I was going to make my move and Donnie obviously knew,” Szegedy said. “Donnie threw a pretty good block on me at the same time when I tried passing him. We clanked a little bit, killed my momentum.”
Going into Turn 3 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Szegedy sent his No. 2 Chevrolet diving to the inside of the track.
“I mean, he did what he had to do and I sent it in,” Szegedy said. “I drove it in as hard as I could. I tried not to hit him, but I knew we were going to hit. As everyone knows, I don’t drive like that. I don’t knock guys out of the way to get victories. But I needed this win really bad.”
With Lia out of the picture, Szegedy was able to hang on and steal his first Whelen Modified tour win in two years. The victory snapped a stretch of 28 races without a win.
“It’s just been tough,” Szegedy said. “It’s been a struggle racing, on and off the track for me, so there’s a lot of emotion.”
It was the 18th win of his career, but his first since September 2011.
“When you don’t win, it puts a lot of wear on you,” Szegedy said. “It takes a while to get over things when you have a bad race weekend. So it’s nice to get this. It’s very nice. I felt like I was stuck at 17 wins for a long time.”
Lia, who was looking for his third win at NHMS, had to settle for third. Still, it was his sixth career podium finish in New Hampshire.
“He just kind of drove up there and knocked me into the marbles and that was it,” Lia said. “I was a sitting duck at that point.”
Even after passing Lia, Szegedy had to hold off pole winner Ryan Newman, who slid into second. He had a bird’s-eye view of the Szegedy-Lia tussle.
“I kind of wish they’d done that in Turn 1 instead of Turn 3 and given me a better shot at it,” Newman said. “But I’m guessing they weren’t thinking about me at the time.”
Change is good?
Just hours before last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, NASCAR told its drivers that it was tweaking its procedure on restarts so the second-place driver was now able to beat the leader to the start line after the green flag.
While the decision takes away the edge the leader has coming out of a restart, several drivers agree that it will make for better overall racing.
“I think it’s good,” said Jimmie Johnson, who qualified. “I think it’s taken a little bit away from the leader, which is OK. The leader, knowing that in most cases you couldn’t be beaten back to the start/finish line, you could set things up to get the person next to you to lift.
“It’s taking away some advantage from the leader, which is fine. I think it will promote a better start. Less controversy clearly, but a chance for better racing and maybe more lead changes. So that’s better for our sport.”
Custer’s first stand
With eight cautions that accounted for 33 laps, Cole Custer had to admit that getting his second career K&N Pro Series East victory was a lot more chaotic than his first.
“This one was a lot more hectic,” the 15-year-old said.
In all, nine were forced out of the North American Power 100 because of accidents.
Custer was able to navigate the carnage and able to pick up the win in his first-ever NHMS appearance, as well as his fifth top-10 finish in 12 starts.
“I just tried to stay calm the whole time,” he said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose best finish at NHMS was a third in 2004, was fastest in the final Sprint Cup practice Saturday with a fast lap of 133.059 miles per hour. Earnhardt, who turned 45 laps, was faster than Chase points leader Matt Kenseth (132.398) and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne (132.868), who was second-fastest during Friday’s pole qualifications. Earnhardt will start 17th in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 after qualifying in 134.477 m.p.h. Pole-sitter Ryan Newman, who set a track record with his qualifying run of 136.497, was well off his qualifying pace with a lap of 131.040 m.p.h. . . . Kenseth will make the 500th start of his Sprint Cup career when he starts ninth Sunday in the No. 20 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth, who recorded his career-high sixth win of the regular season with his victory in the Chase opener at Chicago, is in his first season with JGR after making 472 starts driving for Jack Roush at Roush Fenway Racing. “Couldn’t have gotten started any better than what we did at Chicago, but that was last week,’’ Kenseth said. “This week presents totally different challenges, totally different kind of racetrack, totally different style of racing — and the things you need in your car and the things you need to do from behind the wheel.’’