Former NASCAR champion Mike Stefanik dies in airplane crash

Michael Stefanik, one of the top-earning drivers in NASCAR, died Sunday night in a plane crash. He was 61.

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Few drivers had the level of success as Stefanik during his career that spanned more than three decades. He began to hit his stride in the late 1990s. In 1997, he won two races and placed in the top five in 22 races in the NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East Statistics, a regional stock car race series where drivers and race crews gain experience before moving on to larger NASCAR races. The next year, he won four races and had nine top-five placements in 19 races in the same series.

During 12 years of racing on the K&N Pro Series East, Stefanik won $615,752.

Stefanik died on Sunday when the single-engine plane he piloted crashed in Connecticut, not far from his home in Rhode Island.

A Stefanik was a fan-favorite and respected driver. He drove – and won – across a variety of NASCAR series.

In the  Whelen Modified Tour Statistics, NASCAR's only open-wheeled series, Stefanik had 74 wins in 453 races with career earnings of $846,190 on the circuit between 1985 and 2012.

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Stefanik was the Whelen Modified Tour Champion several times throughout his career and he was crowned the Busch North Series Champion twice. His nine NASCAR championships across different series is tied for the most ever.