After clinching his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship two weeks prior, Justin Bonsignore still had one ambitious goal remaining entering the Sunoco World Series of Speedway Racing: sweep the four-race season at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park (CT). The driver from Holtsville, New York did just that and put a bow on his dream season Sunday afternoon.
Starting third in the 150-lap season ending race, Bonsignore got shuffled back during a few early cautions before the field settled in for a long green flag run. When the caution flew on Lap 81, all the lead lap cars hit pit road for tires with Bonsignore sixth. It was then that the Ken Massa Motorsports crew worked their magic, getting the No. 51 off of pit road with the lead for good.
“You can’t even script this. I owe it to the pit crew again, that’s two out of four this year where they literally won us the race,” Bonsignore said. “We came in sixth. We weren’t very good on the hard 630 (tires) to start the race. I got stuck on the bottom on a lot of early restarts and just bided my time. I knew we’d get to a pit stop and I knew our guys would get us some spots, but I never expected to get the lead.”
“Just having control of the lead on restarts is so important here,” Bonsignore stated. “Every restart I was able to get a good launch, and when you can have Doug and Lutz with the two best cars pinned on the bottom and shuffled back, it helps us to open up a gap. Can’t think of a better way to end the season. We said all week we were going to race hard and be aggressive with our strategy. Everything played out perfectly.”
Sunday’s victory at “The Big T” was Bonsignore’s eighth victory of 2018 and 20th of his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career. He is now the fourth driver of the modern Tour era to sweep all Thompson races in a season, joining the likes of Mike Stefanik, Steve Park, and most recently Doug Coby in 2015.
Coincidentally, Coby passed Bonsignore late in the 2015 World Series to complete the sweep.
“A couple of years ago when Doug did it, his cars were so fast then, and we beat him out of the pits that day. He stalked me for 40 laps and with two to go he was like, ‘Okay I’ll go.’ That kind of stuck with me and I was aggravated by it. After August when we knew we had a shot to win all four, it just kept sticking out to me that I really wanted to beat him. For a while he was running second stalking me, and I was like, ‘I’m not pulling over this time.’”
This time around the biggest threat to Bonsignore was not Coby, but Jon McKennedy who had pitted for additional tires late and charged through the field over the final 20 laps, eventually taking second; only for the lap count to reach 150 before he could mount an assault on the top spot.
“Luckily our car was just really good and maintained throughout that last run. I think McKennedy would have gotten to us, but that’s why they advertise 150 and we ran 150 today,” Bonsignore said. “It’s huge, it’s important; Stefanik, Park, and Coby are the only three that did that, those are two of the biggest names of the past and one is current. It’s elite company and I’m just really proud of it.”
The World Series victory is the whipped cream on top of an oh-so-sweet season for the KMM team after an off-season full of changes, which included a switch to LFR chassis and the acquisition of veteran crew chief Ryan Stone. It is a feat that Bonsignore is not taking for granted.
“You check the points every week and you see the average start, the average finish, and I know what we’ve been accomplishing, but we cannot take it for granted. Look at last year, we struggled. Talk to Timmy Solomito, he struggled this year. Even with everything we’ve gone through this year, I’m not going to take it for granted because you don’t know if you go down to Myrtle Beach next year and struggle out of the gate.”
As the off-season begins, Bonsignore still has some racing left, as soon as this coming Saturday in Richmond, Virginia. The NASCAR Awards Banquet in December in Charlotte is also an anticipated event for the team.
As far as the accomplishments of the season actually sinking in, he’s not too sure when that will happen.
“I can’t even put this into words. I don’t know when I will. Last week after Stafford I was driving to work and it starts to sink in, you think of the people that got you here, the friends that bought you tires. Danny Jones sticks out, he was pretty much funding my whole racing deal before I met Ken; we put together a one-race deal to run Riverhead for the Tour race, finished fourth and that’s how I met Ken. It’ll keep sinking in, it’s surreal.”
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Sunday’s Sunoco World Series by visiting Speed51.com’s Race Day Now.
-Story by: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / John Miller