The longest race in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour history came down to a dramatic final lap Saturday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Chase Dowling avoided a collision between leaders Justin Bonsignore and Ryan Preece on Lap 250 of the inaugural Musket 250 to score his elusive first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory.
Bonsignore, a seven-time winner already this season, stuck to his plan by taking the lead from Preece in turn three with two laps to go. On the final lap, Preece had a strong run down the backstretch and closed in on Bonsignore. As the leaders entered turn three, Bonsignore put a block on Preece and the two cars eventually locked wheels, sending both cars up the track and into the outside wall. Dowling took advantage by keeping his No. 15 glued to the bottom and proceeded to nip Patrick Emerling in a drag race to the "Granite Stripe."
"I wanted to be leading at the end but it's really hard when the first two cars are battling like that," Dowling said after the race. "You can't really pull out of line and pass both of them. It's not really where I wanted to be on the backstretch there. I saw Ryan go all the way to the bottom and I said, 'That's not going to work down there.' I saw Patrick go up top so I said I'll just stick to the bottom."
Preece and Bonsignore were both left with heavily damaged race cars following the last-lap accident. Despite their frustration with the result, both drivers chalked the incident up to the type of racing you get during the final lap at New Hampshire.
"It's the last lap at New Hampshire. He had a run and we had to block the bottom," Bonsignore began. "You want to be in the lead the last few years up here. I went to the bottom, blocked the bottom and didn't give him the option. He drove through me and was doing what he had to do to win the race. It didn't work out for either of us, unfortunately."
"Just typical Loudon trying to get the run and when you get the run, by the time I got under him I saw grass coming," Preece told Speed51.com. "I backed back in and my right front climbed his left rear nerf bar. It's not exactly the way I wanted to bring the car home today finishing fifth but it's just frustrating. I think I had the car to win the last five laps. The way we were able to get back up there and get to where we needed to be, but it just wasn't meant to be."
Looking back on recent finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Bonsignore had the mindset that he was in the ideal position entering the final turn of Saturday's race.
"I didn't want to be second," he stated. "It's been the last three or four years here where the leader just blocks and it works out for them. Unfortunately today I guess the second-place guy is learning that you just drive though them until they're completely gone. It's just a product of New Hampshire. I don't blame Ryan. I would have done the same thing."
Patrick Emerling, who will leave Loudon and make the long haul to Lancaster National Speedway (NY) for Sunday's US Open, finished second ahead of southern invader Burt Myers in third. New Hampshire native Andy Suess finished fourth, while Preece unofficially limped across the finish line in fifth.
Dowling's victory in the inaugural Musket 250 came in his 54th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour start.
After the race, Dowling's adrenaline from winning had him ready for another 250 laps around The Magic Mile.
"Luckily it was cool out today. I had a Gatorade bottle in there but it was good. I could go another 250 laps at this moment right now."
Race fans can find on-demand updates, photos and more from Saturday's inaugural Full Throttle Fall Weekend by visiting Speed51.com's Race Day Now coverage.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com