A season filled with accolades ended with two celebrations for Justin Bonsignore on Sunday.
While he relished in the glory of his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship, Bonsignore wasn’t going to let the final trophy of the season slip away. The 30-year-old veteran used a quick stop by his pit crew to take the lead on lap 84 and he never looked back from there, capturing the victory in the Sunoco World Series 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The win marked the eighth for Bonsignore, capping the season having won exactly half of the championship points races. It was his 20th career Whelen Modified Tour victory and his ninth at Thompson, a number that leads all active drivers.
“You can’t even script this. I owe it to the pit crew again, they literally won us the race. I got stuck on the bottom on a lot of early restarts, but I knew we would get to a pit stop and I knew our guys would get us some spots,” Bonsignore said. “We said all week that we were going to race hard and be aggressive with the strategy.”
Having already clinched the championship entering the season-finale, the opportunity to race on the aggressive side definitely paid off for the Holtsville, New York, driver.
“Having control of the restarts here is so important. When you have Doug (Coby) and (Craig) Lutz pinned on the bottom and they get shuffled back, it really helps us to open up a gap. “Luckily our car was just really good.”
Bonsignore also completed the sweep at the Connecticut oval, winning all four events on the high-banks in 2018 driving for Ken Massa. He becomes just the fourth driver in the modern era of the Whelen Modified Tour to accomplish the goal, joining Doug Coby, Mike Stefanik and Steve Park.
“It’s huge and it’s important,” Bonsignore said. “Mike Stefanik, Steve Park and Doug Coby, those are three names of the past and one of them is current and has been killing everyone. It’s elite company and I’m really proud of it. Every time we come here I know we are going to have good cars. I hope we keep bringing cars like that here for the rest of my career.”
And with the season of his career into the record books, Bonsignore will now have the chance to look back at some of the statistics that made the season so remarkable. In 16 races, he finished inside the top five 12 times, and inside the top-10 in all but one start. He led 695 laps and finished the season with an average finish of 3.4. He is the first Whelen Modified Tour champion to have an average finish of fourth or better since Mike Stefanik in 1998 (3.1).
#NWMT Wow. These are the average finishes for Whelen Modified Tour champions since 1998. @JBonsignore ended this season with an average finish of 3.4, and you will see that the only driver to top that in the last 20 years was Mike Stefanik. What. A. Season. pic.twitter.com/LCf0mOVYkI
— Kyle Souza (@ksouza261) October 15, 2018
RACING-REFERENCE: Bonsignore’s 2018 Season Stats
“You check the points every week and you see the average finish, and I know what we have been accomplishing, but you can’t take it for granted. I’ve said it many times, but last year we struggled. Even with everything we have gone through, I’m still not going to take it for granted,” Bonsignore said. “I can’t even put this into words. After Stafford, I was driving to work by myself, and it started to sink in. You think of the people that got you here.”
It’s well documented that Bonsignore’s Kenneth Massa Motorsports team switched to LFR Chassis over the winter, and they brought Ryan Stone to the team as their new crew chief. The combination jelled quickly, and it all ended with a championship.
“Ryan has been through a lot, he was driver for a long time, which I really think helps us as a team. He can see things in the race car. It’s a huge asset to our team and he is dedicated to his craft. He just wants to win and he doesn’t take a day off. He was unbelievable all year, between the shop crew and the pit crew, they did a great job. You are nothing without your team. Other than Ryan, this is everybody’s first championship at the tour level.”
Sunoco World Series 150 Race Notebook:
- Jon McKennedy, who showed speed all weekend, used a different pit strategy to find his way to the front at the finish. McKennedy charged through traffic and passed Ron Silk on the final lap to score a second-place finish driving for Tommy Baldwin. It was the second top five finish of the season for the Chelmsford, Massachusetts, driver who picked up the victory in the season opener at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway in March.
- Driving for Kevin Stuart, Ron Silk picked up his second straight third-place finish at the Sunoco World Series 150. Last year, Silk led 45 laps before grabbing his podium finish, but this season, he rode inside the top-10 for the entire race and his pit crew put him in position to have a shot at the victory. Although Bonsignore drove away from him in the final laps, Silk was running second into turn three on the final lap when McKennedy cleared him.
- Ryan Preece, who led the first 83 laps of the race from the outside pole, pitted from the lead during a lap 81 caution, but didn’t put a fresh tire on. “I didn’t pit for a tire,” Preece told Short Track Scene. “I thought something was breaking with the left front. Didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to break the car like I did at Oswego and wreck the race car, so we came down. They said nothing was wrong, and we put our scuff right-side tire on.” He ended up fourth in the final running order.
- After scoring his second career pole, Ronnie Williams didn’t lead a lap and finished 14th.