STAFFORD – It’s fair to say Keith Rocco is a polarizing figure in the Southern New England Modified racing circles. Rocco stands as one of those love him or hate him individuals. There’s usually no middle ground.
For many that stand on the hater side, the offseason news that Rocco had landed a fulltime NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride for the 2012 season with Boehler Racing Enterprises only served to intensify the vitriol.
He’s an over aggressive, overhyped SK Modified driver has been the common sentiment spewed by those lobbing criticism at the Rocco camp.
But over the first two races of the the 2012 Whelen Modified Tour season, Rocco has taken massive steps in helping to prove the naysayers wrong.
Rocco qualified fourth for the season opening Icebreaker 150 on April 15 at Thompson and ran with the leaders for much of the first half of the race before getting caught up wrong place, wrong time wreck started by others after going to the rear of the field following a pit stop. He had to settle for a 22nd place finish.
Sunday at Stafford Motor Speedway, Rocco should that his new relationship with BRE has blossomed quickly enough that not only has he already found a full level of comfort with the team in the division, but he’s ready to compete for wins.
Rocco finished third in the Tech-Net Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford. The former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series short track national champion ran with the leaders all day and was battling Ryan Preece for second place over the closing laps. The third place run represented the best finish in the division for Rocco in seven career starts on the Tour.
“It’s just really close and they make it so easy for me,” Rocco said of the relationship he has built with his team at BRE. “We all relate good and we communicate good and it’s just a great combination.
“At Thompson we were running in the top-three, top-four, we were very competitive and after the pit stop we just never got to show what we had,” Rocco said. “That really didn’t work to our favor, but we really got to show what kind of team we could be here. I’ve got a real good feeling. Granted at Thompson we didn’t finish, but we ran [at times] top-five there and we ran top-five here. I think it says a lot.”
Rocco made his first Whelen Modified Tour start with a 14th place finish in an event at Thompson driving for Joe Brady in 2008. In 2009 he made three starts for car owner Ed Partridge, recording a then career best fifth place finish in the division in his first start for the team. He made one start last year, running the division’s season ending event a car owned by himself and Mark Pane.
He has been the most dominant driver in the SK Modified division ranks in Connecticut over the last five seasons. He was the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion in 2010 and finished second in the national standings in 2011 and 2009 and fourth in the national standings in 2008 and 2007.
He said he feels he’s been adapting comfortably to going from 30-40 laps weekly division shootouts to longer races where patience is a necessity.
“I just try to pressure everybody else without burning my own stuff up and just try to make everybody else work,” Rocco said. “And at the same time try to show everybody that we’re going forward here. It’s just a fine line of making it look like we’re aggressive, but not burning the car up.”
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