JENNERSTOWN, Pa. — Justin Bonsignore started 2020 like there was no layoff.
The version of the Holtsville, New York, driver that finished the 2019 season was on full display Saturday, while the defending tour champion "struggled" in his first race as car owner, and the late-race caution that several challengers needed never materialized.
Here is what we learned from the Morocco Welding/Wade Cole Memorial 133 presented by Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair at Jennerstown Speedway.
Starting out front
No driver finished 2019 stronger than Bonsignore, who drove the No. 51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Chevrolet three wins, two seconds and six top fives in the final six races.
In fact, he had five wins and didn’t finish worse than seventh in the final 11 races.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome a slow start to the season that featured three finishes outside of the top 12 and left him 37 points behind Coby after five races. He wound up just eight points shy of overtaking the six-time champion.
– NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) June 21, 2020
Bonsignore won the season opener in 2014 when it was held at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut. He lost the championship lead for good after the fifth race of the season — a 16th at his home track of Riverhead Raceway on Long Island — and two late season stumbles left him third in the final standings.
He won the Icebreaker at Thompson again in 2018, when it was the second race of the season, and took over a championship lead he would never relinquish en route to his first tour title.
"It was an unbelievable day today," said Bonsignore. "It’s a nice way to come out and start the season; we haven’t lost anything in the last two years. Ryan Stone did an amazing job preparing the car."
Bonsignore was virtually unchallenged at Jennerstown.
"The first run we started off really loose," said Bonsignore. "They were saying over the radio, ‘try to get to the intermission, we’ll fix you up.’ Everyone else was struggling worse than we were. We made a little adjustment during the pit stip, and it was really perfect for the second run."
With the win, Bonsignore now has a victory in nine of the last 10 seasons. He has 15 wins in 33 starts after going winless in 2017, and his 27 career wins puts him one behind Coby and Mike Ewanitsko. While Mike Stefanik’s record 74 is out of reach, the top five of Reggie Ruggiero (44 wins), Ted Christopher (42) and Tony Hirschman Jr. (35) are well within Bonsignore’s sites.
RELATED: Justin Bonsignore Career Statistics
Jennerstown is the eighth different track Bonsignore has won at, and the .566-mile oval hosts the tour again on Aug. 22.
Jon McKennedy caught one break, but couldn’t get another.
The 33-year-old from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, started fifth but had a left rear tire issue midway through the race. Fortunately for him, the caution came out on Lap 71 for the halfway break and kept him from going laps down.
"Just a silly mistake there early on in the race and we were falling back — the left rear tire ws falling off," said McKennedy. "Luckily we had the halfway break and were able to tighten the tire back up and off we went. Just lost a ton of track position.
"We had a really good car on the long run, just a silly mistake in the beginning."
McKennedy was able to rally, and moved to third with 14 laps remaining. But he was still three seconds back of Bonsignore and never got another shot as the race stayed green to the end.
Similarly, Matt Hirschman made a pass to get to fourth with five laps left but ran out of time.
Slow (?) Start To Title Defense
It’s a sign of Coby’s domination over the past decade when a seventh-place finish could be viewed as an off-day.
But after qualifying second, the six-time champion never seriously challenged for the win Saturday in his first race as driver and owner. The No. 10 Mayhew Tools Chevrolet ran second for most of the first half of the event, fending off challenges from Matt Swanson.
After the break, though, Coby lost that spot to Swanson and had faded to seventh by Lap 90.
Coby won last year’s opener at South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Speedway. In 2017, he overcame finishes outside the top 13 in three of the first four races to win the championship.
Moral of the story: He’ll be just fine.
- Craig Lutz also finished 2019 strong with a run of five top fives in the final seven races, including his first career win Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in the penultimate race of the season. The 25-year-old from Miller Place, New York, qualified seventh Saturday and finished second to start his third full-time season in the No. 46 Riverhead Building Supply Chevrolet.
- Bonsignore’s wire-to-wire win was the first since Timmy Solomito led all 200 laps on July 24 to win the Dunleavy’s Truck & Trailer Repair 200 at New Hampshire’s Monadnock Speedway.
- Calvin Carrol posted a career-best fifth-place run in his 51st career tour start. His previous best was eighth in the 2018 opener at Myrtle Beach.
- Dave Sapienza qualified fourth and finished 13th in his second race back after a back injury suffered at New Jersey’s Wall Stadium derailed his season last year. Sapienza was involved in a last-lap wreck at Wall, and was forced to sit out all but one race while he recuperated. Bobby Santos III drove Sapienza’s cNo. 36 to the win in the Musket 250 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last fall.