As the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour concluded their second race in less than a week at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) on Wednesday night, points leader Justin Bonsignore was back on his A-game.
Bonsignore scored his fifth points-counting win of 2018 and remained perfect at “The Big T” with his third straight win at the Thompson, Connecticut oval.
With the threat of rain looming and visible lightning in the distance, the chances of seeing Bonsignore’s No. 51 in victory lane lessened when Chase Dowling drove by him on Lap 16 to take over the lead. But as the threat of weather disappeared and the halfway point approached, Bonsingore went to work.
When Mother Nature was a no-show, the Ken Massa Motorsports crew also went to work, keeping Bonsignore up front and in position to hold off challenges from the likes of Dowling, Bobby Santos, Matt Swanson and Doug Coby.
“We raced hard once we got to Lap 65,” Bonsignore said after the race. “I could see Chase’s car was starting to fade a little bit. I wanted to get back by him, the guy you’re battling for points is leading laps, so we wanted to get back in front of him if it rained and then lead the most laps too. I could tell his car was getting free. I just kept putting pressure on him and finally I was able to get underneath him.
“From there we had a good smooth pit stop when we got to it, three tires and that number one pit box doesn’t hurt for sure. We were more worried about fuel more than anything, it’s a lot of green flag laps tonight. We just had a really great car and we were able to just mind that gap back to second and save fuel at the same time.”
With Bonsignore’s championship aspirations shining brighter than ever, he will return to Thompson in October for the Sunoco World Series with a shot to achieve the four-race season sweep at the 5/8-mile oval. But there’s still a lot to focus on beforehand.
“When we get to that point, we’ll see if that’s something we can go for,” Bonsignore stated. “There’s still a long way to go in the season, you can lose points in a heartbeat in this series. We got a few wildcards coming up with Bristol, you got Riverhead, 250 laps at New Hampshire where anything can happen there. But if we keep doing what we’re doing, those points will take care of themselves. It would be nice to go for the sweep, but if the championship is the big picture that day, we’re going to play it smart.”
Swanson Impressive in Blue
At the beginning of the day Wednesday, the driver with the most attention on him was 2016 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Rookie of the Year Matt Swanson. After receiving a phone call on Tuesday, Swanson went from preparing his family-owned No. 89 to scrambling to get his seat installed into the legendary Boehler Racing Enterprises No. 3.
With Ole Blue’s regular pilot Rowan Pennink welcoming his first child to the world, it was the young Swanson who was offered a tremendous opportunity.
“I was actually at Spafco getting my own family car set up and my father called me just as I was shutting the door on the trailer. He said Rowan’s girlfriend was having the baby and that the 3 car called. ‘Do you want to drive it?’ I said absolutely. That car is always a rocketship here and everywhere they go. I was very humbled to be the one that got the call. There’s a lot of other drivers they could’ve called, but Greg, Scotty, the whole Boehler Racing team, they called me. I couldn’t stop saying how thankful I was.”
Swanson was in the mix all race long after making steady progress in practice and group qualifying, putting him in position to take advantage of some chaotic late-race restarts to take over the second position. The Massachusetts driver finished the evening wowing the full-house crowd, holding off five-time champion Doug Coby, who was charging on 30-lap fresher tires.
It’s a performance that Swanson hopes will bring some attention to himself and his family operation.
“We’re a small family team. We do what we can do with what we have, that’s one of the reasons for the part-time schedule for me this year,” he explained. “My father runs our car dealership full-time and at nights he comes back to the shop with me and helps me out with race car. It’s nice when I get to run a car that’s worked on full-time, five nights a week, and prepared 100-percent correctly, it shows. We unloaded off the truck ninth overall, time trialed seventh and finished second in the race. It was awesome to work with the Boehler guys. I can’t thank them enough for this awesome opportunity.”
Coby Goes Full Circle
Doug Coby and the Mike Smeriglio team used a strategy that no other team used Wednesday night. That strategy ultimately resulted in Coby making a late-race charge with 30-lap fresher tires than the rest of the field.
The unique strategy, which ultimately produced a third-place finish, began during the first caution on Lap 89 when Coby stayed on the race track while the remaining lead lap cars pitted for tires.
This left Coby to race on ever-worsening tires with a caution not in sight, to the point where the tires were so worn out that he became the yellow flag when he slid into the turn two grass on Lap 123.
“I had been hanging on for 20 laps or so, just getting worse and worse. Every car that passed me, just took the one spot away that I needed to be in to have any grip,” Coby explained. “The 24 (Andrew Krause) was dogging me for laps and laps. I’m watching in my mirror and he’s getting in there and getting in there. Right as he went by, he just put me in an awkward spot and the car just slid. I didn’t even spin all the way out, I just slid down into the grass.”
Coby managed to get going and remained on the lead lap before visiting pit road for three sticker tires and restarting 11th with 22 laps to go.
At that time, Coby found himself in a similar situation to one that he was involved in during this same race one year ago. During that race, Ryan Preece stayed out after the majority of lead lap cars pitted. Preece ultimately spun, remained on the lead lap, pitted and then drove by Coby to win the race.
It was a race that Preece drew some ire for from some drivers, including Coby. Now one year later, Coby understands entirely what Preece had likely gone through.
“Our tires only last 60 laps here, then they start to go away and you slide around; we were double that at the time and it got away from me,” Coby said. “It makes sense that the cars that don’t take tires are going to be sliding around, so we’re likely to be the caution. It happened with Ryan last year, you can’t hang on anymore, you get to the point where you’re sliding around doing the best you can, trying to stay out of the way and trying to find grip. I had no grip, just sliding around.”
Coby’s explanation didn’t stop some drivers, including the race winner, from joking about the spin after the race.
“I knew he did the Ryan Preece and got those three fresh tires there, and I don’t know if I should have said that, but whatever. Ah, I said it in front of him, I don’t care. He got those fresh tires, but I knew he was going to be deep. With 10 to go, I knew he was still seventh or eighth and I was able to get out front. Matt did a really good job at holding him off, which was good for us.”
All joking aside, Coby did not believe that he had the time to get Bonsignore, even with an additional yellow late in the race.
“The last couple of laps, I don’t know. I still think Justin might of drove away,” Coby claimed. “I might’ve gotten the 3 or might’ve gotten wrecked up with somebody. I would’ve restarted on the bottom behind the 3, so we wouldn’t have been sitting pretty. I had the tires to do it, but I don’t know if we had the car to do it. Justin was still rotating the middle better, and we have to get better at the tire program and our setup for short runs with tires; we were just way too tight.”
Following Thompson, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will pack its bags and head south to Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) for the Bush’s Beans 150 next Thursday night, August 16.
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Wednesday’s race by visiting Speed51.com’s Trackside Now.
NWMT Bud 150 Unofficial Results
Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT) – August 8, 2018
|5||44||Bobby Santos III|
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Featured photo credit: Speed51.com