Patrick Emerling picked a fine time to find a checkered flag. Despite never winning at the quarter-mile bullring before, Emerling claimed his first Riverhead Raceway victory on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in the Miller Lite 200 on Saturday night on New York’s Long Island.
Emerling posted two runner-up finishes at Riverhead earlier this season but had yet to break through to Victory Lane. In the penultimate race of the tour schedule, Emerling tightens the pressure on defending champion Justin Bonsignore heading into next week’s finale at Stafford Motor Speedway.
RELATED: Full race results
Points, though, weren’t the first thing on Emerling’s mind. Track owner and tour car owner Eddie Partridge lost his life to a heart attack following his win with Ryan Preece on Sept. 10 at Richmond Raceway. Partridge’s funeral was held Saturday morning and culminated with Partridge making one final lap around his racetrack.
“First off, I’d like to dedicate this race to Eddie Partridge there,” Emerling said. “Since I started racing, I was racing against his car. Hell of a team always, hell of a car. That was a team you always looked up to.
“So to win here today, I mean, we had two seconds in a row. It’s unbelievable. I mean, it’s kind of what we had to do with our points situation there. I’d just like to give it up to the team here and everyone involved here.”
Emerling started off eighth and didn’t pose a threat early, mired in the middle of the top 10 but not making quick work of any competitor in particular.
But a rash of cautions over the middle portion of the race allowed Emerling to methodically work into the top five.
Emerling got his best break after a lap 106 caution that saw leader Riverhead regular Dave Brigati turn another regular, Tim Rogers Jr., sideways in front of the field. Ron Silk climbed the left-front tire of Rogers’ car but all continued forward with the exception of Brigati and Mike Christopher Jr., who suffered a flat right front.
That chaos allowed Emerling to restart on the front row alongside Kyle Soper. Emerling got the better of Soper on that and multiple restarts and eventually pulled away to hold off a final charge from Bonsignore.
“Patrick and Soper just got through that mess and track position’s huge, but they had a really good car too,” Bonsignore said. “Can’t take anything away from them so congrats to them guys. It’s been a hell of a battle between the two of us all year, so they gained some tonight but we’ll see. We’ll go into Stafford next week, have a good run and then try and get another one here.”
Six-time modified tour champion Doug Coby was looking for the hat trick at Riverhead this year, but contact between him, Rogers and the outside wall entering Turn 3 destroyed his front suspension at lap 54. That sent Coby behind the wall early and jeopardizes his chances at the 2021 owner’s championship heading into Stafford.
The race started clean and green with a 45-lap run led entirely by Rogers before Tyler Rypkema turned around and brought out the first caution of the day. Shortly after the restart, Coby found his trouble in Turn 3 and saw his hopes of a three-peat vanish.
At lap 90, a pileup involving J.B. Fortin, Kyle Bonsignore and Craig Lutz in Turns 1 and 2 brought out the red flag after Lutz’s motor expired and laid oil on the racetrack.
The final caution of the race came at lap 133 when Dylan Slepian and Chuck Hossfeld got together and turned Slepian sideways in Turn 1. On the ensuing restart, Emerling got the jump and never looked back.