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RIVERHEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 8:   Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead Raceway on September 8, 2018 in Riverhead, New York. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore adds a seventh race winning sticker to his No. 51 Kenneth Massa Motorsports modified on Saturday. (Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

RAPID REWIND: Justin Bonsignore Steps Closer To First Championship

It doesn’t look like anyone is going to slow Justin Bonsignore down.

For the seventh time this season, he carried the checkered flag, winning on Saturday night at his home track of Riverhead Raceway. He didn’t seem to have the car to beat in the early laps, but he set the pace that he wanted and pounced when the opportunity presented itself on Lap 133.

The victory means the Holtsville, New York, driver has won more than half of this season’s 13 races and it marked his 16th Whelen Modified Tour win for him since the start of the 2014 season. After not winning last year, Bonsignore has stormed to the top driving the No. 51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Chevrolet putting himself in prime position to win his first championship over the final three races.

MILLER LITE 200: Race Results | Race Recap | Photo Gallery | Updated Point Standings

“Obviously we’re in a fairly comfortable position, but with the (Musket) 250 coming up at New Hampshire, no one knows what is going to take place,” Bonsignore, who has been adamant about racing for wins, said.

“Our goal is to go into Loudon and try to win the race. We just need to play it smart at the same time. We are going to go for the wins, but, you’ll just try to get out of there with a good run if that is what you have to do.”

With just three races remaining, Bonsignore extended his lead to 81 points on Chase Dowling. In his ninth full-time season of competition, he looks to be ready to hoist the title trophy. He can wrap up the title at Loudon if he finishes the race with a 96-point lead over Dowling. But even if he doesn’t, handing him the championship trophy seems a formality at this point.

Solomito Gets Back To Form

Timmy Solomito has done nothing but struggle this season.

The Islip, New York, native won five Whelen Modified Tour events last year and looked to be the driver who would contend to stop Doug Coby from winning a fifth straight championship in 2018.

But, entering Saturday night, Solomito only had three top-10 finishes in the first 13 races.

Back at his home track, Solomito found the speed he needed to contend for the victory. He started fourth, got to the front on Lap 65 and led a total of 69 laps. When it came down to crunch time he just didn’t quite have enough to hold off Bonsignore, but he was able to cross the line 1.744 seconds back and score his first podium finish of the season, a second.

In some ways it comes as a confidence booster for his entire Starrett Racing team and it could come as a turning point.

“We did what we had to do, we just faded a little at the end. The No. 51 team has been the class of the field all year, but we kept them honest tonight,” Solomito said. “I wish that the whole year went a little bit better, but I guess you have those years. It just shows you that when everything is where it needs to be, you can still run with these guys.”

Local Experience Rises To The Top

How about the locals?

Riverhead runs weekly modified action as part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, and some of those competitors decided to compete in the Miller Lite 200 on Saturday night. And, most of them put together a strong showing.

John Fortin, a former champion, started 11th and climbed through the field, staying out of trouble to score a sixth-place finish. Behind him, John Beatty, Jr., who has two wins on the weekly series this season, crossed the line seventh. Beatty was up inside the top five, but contact with Dave Sapienza sent him up near the wall and cost him multiple positions, forcing him to rally.

Shawn Solomito, who cut his teeth racing at the quarter-mile, finished eighth.

Miller Lite 200 Race Notebook:

  • Matt Swanson, who was back behind the wheel of the No. 3 for Boehler Racing, started 13th but found himself in the garage early, crashing out on Lap 8.
  • Chase Dowling continued his impressive season, finishing third, but he still lost ground to Bonsignore. Dowling has seven top-five finishes and an average finish of 6.6, but does have one DNF. Even still, the Roxbury, Connecticut, driver has been in contention every single race.
  • Doug Coby, who led the first 64 laps, was spun from the lead and had to travel back through the field over the second half of the race. The Milford, Connecticut, driver was able to finish fourth, but was frustrated following the checkered flag.

Up Next

The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is headed for the biggest stage in their history. The inaugural Musket 250 is next on the schedule on Saturday, September 22, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.