RIVERHEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Chevy Phoenix Communications Inc., celebrates in victory lane during the 2019 Miller Lite 200 on Sept. 06, 2019 at Riverhead Raceway, Riverhead, NY. (Photo by Ruby Wallau/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore celebrates his fifth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory of the season at Riverhead Raceway. (Ruby Wallau/NASCAR)

RAPID REWIND: Bonsignore & Solomito Duel For Home Track Win

A classic short-track battle on a Saturday night on Long Island.

Justin Bonsignore and Timmy Solomito both cut their teeth racing Modifieds at Riverhead Raceway, and Saturday, they battled for the victory in the 13th race of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season at their home track.

Bonsignore wasn’t the dominant car all night, but a restart in the final stages gave him the chance to slide around Solomito, who was itching for his first win since 2017.  In the midst of it all, the Whelen Modified Tour championship chase closed up a bit more heading for the final three races.

All of this and more in the Rapid Rewind from the Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead Raceway.

Miller Lite 200: Race Results | Race Recap | Point Standings

While Coby Struggles, Bonsignore Inches Closer in Title Chase

It was the fourth straight win at Riverhead for Bonsignore — as the Holtsville, New York, driver became the only driver in series history to win four in a row at the New York oval. But the storylines from this win are endless.

Not only did Bonsignore add his fifth win in the first 13 races of the season, and his 25th career in Whelen Modified Tour action, he closed the championship battle to just 19 points behind Doug Coby with three races to go. The defending Whelen Modified Tour champion is back within striking distance heading for the stretch, while Coby struggled, spinning twice and finishing outside the top 10 for the first time this season in 15th.

Early in the race, the two championship contenders were racing hard for position inside the top five, when Bonsignore made contact with the wall, then made contact with Coby a few corners later. Coby would spin off Turn 4, sending him to the tail of the field, and starting the swing in the title battle.

Meanwhile, Bonsignore would ride behind track regular Tom Rogers Jr. and Solomito early, then pounce on Solomito on a late restart, taking the lead, and holding Solomito off in overtime to score the victory.

“I wanted to give him a shot to let him know he didn’t have to put me in the fence on lap five,” Bonsignore said of the incident with Coby. “Unfortunately it turned him around.”

Bonsignore was approaching Solomito for the lead in the final 30 laps, but with lapped cars playing in a role in front of both of them, it was going to be a difficult task for Bonsignore to make a move to get around him. That all changed when the yellow flag came out. That gave Bonsignore the chance to restart to the outside of his fellow home track favorite.

“The restarts were really weird tonight, getting back to second late, I ran Timmy down but it was going to be tough to get by him I think,” Bonsignore said. “I was able to pin him down getting into turn one and beat him off two.”

With three races left, it is still comfortable lead for Coby, but Bonsignore has sliced nearly 30 points off it in the last two races.

“We’ll see what we can do the rest of the year,” Bonsignore said. “We’re not out of it. We have a lot good tracks in a row for us. New Hampshire will be tough — it’s definitely a wild card. It’d be nice to try and get the Musket 250 as a little bit of redemption from last year’s race.”

Coby, who was not pleased with his 15th place finish, spoke with shortly after the checkered.

“We did make some contact, but never my front bumper to someone’s back bumper here, and a couple of other guys have done that to me here before, always seems like I’m on the short end of the stick,” Coby said. “I don’t expect much when I come here — anytime I come here and get out of it with a top five, it’s okay. I was proud of our car coming through the field.”

“It’s going to get down to every position counting. Up until this point, we’ve had a good cushion,” Coby said. “If it closes up even tighter, or we have a bad race at New Hampshire, we might be second-place in points. No matter what, it’s going to be close.”

Solomito Nearly Breaks Back Into Victory Lane

So, so close.

Timmy Solomito was just laps away from scoring his first Whelen Modified Tour win since Thompson Speedway in October of 2017. Almost two years of struggling, fighting and clawing to get back to the top. And he was there on Saturday before Bonsignore took it all away.

Solomito started third, his best qualifying effort of the year, but got kicked back to the bottom of the top five early. He worked his way back to the front, and trailed the back bumper of Rogers through lapped traffic for most of the first half of the race, before a restart played to his advantage. Solomito passed Rogers for the lead on lap 146, and was in prime position to score.

RIVERHEAD, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Timmy Solomito, driver of the #16 Ford RB Enterprise, and Tom Rogers, Jr., driver of the #82 Chevy Horton Avenue Materials, during the 2019 Miller Lite 200 on Sept. 06, 2019 at Riverhead Raceway, Riverhead, NY. (Photo by Ruby Wallau/NASCAR)
Timmy Solomito (16) shortly after passing Tom Rogers Jr. (82) late in the Miller Lite 200 at Riverhead Raceway. (Ruby Wallau/NASCAR)

But a restart late gave Bonsignore the chance he needed.

“I knew once we got side-by-side, it was going to be a battle royal,” Solomito said. “I wanted the lead because I felt like I could control it better. The lapped traffic was lining up where I thought it was going to be great. We had a line of four or five cars and I figured it would work out just where I needed it. I was just trying to save it because I knew Justin would make a run at the end.”

Solomito took the bottom as the leader on one of the final restarts, with Bonsignore lined up just to the outside when the field went down into turn one. Bonsignore was able to clear him for the top spot, but another quick caution gave Solomito another chance.

“Since they sprayed the outside groove, it makes that the leader has to run the guy on the outside rough,” Solomito said. “I thought I almost had him beat on one of those last restarts, but he did what he had to do to keep the lead.”

For Solomito, there was some obvious frustration flowing at the end of the battle. But after the rough season he’s had, a podium finish left him with a bit of a smile.

“It’s 200 laps on the same set of tires, so you’re on the edge of your seat. It was a good run for our team. I’m more disappointed today than I am when we finish eighth-place,” he said. “It’s hard not to beat yourself up when you go through a slump. I have the heart to do it. We will just keep fighting.”

Miller Lite 200 Race Notes:

  • Former Riverhead track regular J.B. Fortin earned his first top 10 finish in his Sunoco Rookie season, finishing seventh. Previously, Fortin’s best effort was a 12th place finish earlier this season.
  • Kyle Soper, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified points leader at Riverhead, drove his car to a fourth-place effort. Soper has won seven races in the local division, and is well on his way to the track title.
  • Craig Lutz earned his second career Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award, led laps, and finished third. It was the eighth top five of the season for Lutz, who sits fourth in the championship standings.