Despite having multiple-win seasons the last two years, this weekend marks the first time that Justin Bonsignore heads into the final race of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with a mathematical shot at the championship. After an up and down first half of the season, Bonsignore got back on the winning track by taking the checkers Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in August and looked to make a run at points leader Doug Coby.
A devastating crash the next race at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) appeared to put an end to the Long Island driver’s late season prospects, but instead he came back and picked up a pair of wins, one at his home track of Riverhead Raceway (NY) and a career topper at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Just this past Sunday night the No. 51 Ken Massa team helped get Bonsignore back on track at Stafford Motor Speedway after an early problem and recovered for a fourth place finish and saving his championship hopes.
“It was huge. It was unfortunate that it happened but nobody panicked, we stayed calm, got it repaired, lost a lap, and got the lucky dog. It was an uphill battle but we were able to recover and salvage a pretty good finish,” Bonsignore told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It was not the finish we wanted, knowing how good a car we had, but at the end of the day it could’ve been a lot worse, we could’ve eliminated ourselves completely from having a chance, but we bounced back.”
It will still be tall odds for Bonsignore as Coby leads by 20 points heading into the Sunoco World Series at Thompson, needing to finish 16th or better on Sunday afternoon to clinch the title. With that in mind, the goal for the No. 51 squad is to focus strictly on getting their fourth win of 2016, but the team is prepared to shift focus, should circumstances regarding Coby’s place on track suddenly change.
“We really can’t worry about the 2,” said Bonsignore. “He has a pretty good buffer of positions to have to finish before we can really worry about what’s going on with him. If something were to happen on the first couple of laps, he falls out of the race, mechanical, or gets caught up in an accident, something like that; all we have to do is finish fifth then we’ll manage our race. Our goal right now is to go out there, try to lead the most laps, and win the World Series. If we can’t win the championship, the World Series is still a prestigious event and we want to check it off the list.”
Bonsignore has no doubt that his Long Island based team is more than capable of putting together a strong run this weekend, especially their stout second half performance in 2016 and a tremendous track record at Thompson.
“We’ve picked our program up the second half of the year starting at the August Stafford race,” said Bonsignore. “We went on a pretty good stretch of some really good finishes. I think Stafford the other night was our worst finish since the Bristol wreck in a couple months and that was still a fourth. Our Thompson program is really good as always. We’re going back with what we know works there and I don’t have any doubt we’ll be real good and be able to contend just like we have the last couple of years at Thompson.”
While Bonsignore is a graduate of quarter-mile racing and one of the best on quarter mile tracks, his reputation at Thompson has been fierce, winning four races since 2012, including the 2014 Icebreaker. He is not exactly sure why he has taken to the “Big T”, but he has found the proper driving style while taking advantage of supreme setups.
“I don’t really know why I like Thompson so much. I’ve had a lot of success there from the start of my career, even when we didn’t have good finishes, we were always fast, and it’s just something I’ve taken a liking to right away,” said Bonsignore. “It’s a track you can be aggressive on, similar to a quarter-mile track. You can attack the racetrack and really drive it into the corners really deep and get right back to the throttle. Biggest thing is I have good cars there, when you have good cars it makes it easier, it’s a package deal, we’ve had the package for a couple years and we hope to continue it.”
While Bonsignore has had great chances for success at the World Series in the past, he has never taken home a championship and is more than happy to just have his name in the mix.
“We contended in 2014, had our issues towards the end, and didn’t even go to the World Series with a chance. Follow that up with last year, which was such a struggle to get off and going, it’s nice to be back in the hunt going into the last race. I feel it’s a realistic chance, it’s a tall order, 20 points is a good amount in this format. But, anything can happen in our sport.”
Keep up with the action at Thompson Speedway this weekend with Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage presented by PFC Brakes on Saturday and NASCAR Home Tracks Race Central Live coverage powered by Speed51.com on Sunday.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com State Editor (CT, MA, Long Island) – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen