It is often said that good things come to those who wait; much was the case for the race fans of Riverhead Raceway (NY) this past weekend. The diehard Long Island race fans braved venturing out to the track on Saturday evening despite a heavily unfavorable weather forecast to see practice and qualifying for NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Hoosier Tire East 200. But by night’s end, those fans would have to wait 18 more hours for the sixth race of the 2015 season as rain began to fall just before the cars were scheduled to take pace laps. But after waiting until Sunday afternoon, which featured two more short rain delays, the fans witnessed a dominating performance from one of Long Island’s own, as Justin Bonsignore scored his first victory of the 2015 campaign.
Bonsignore, who previously competed weekly in Riverhead’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Modified division, knows that you can’t wait too long when you’re trying to move forward on the tight quarter-mile oval. After starting fourth, he attempted to make quick work of the cars in front of him, jumping from fourth to second on the first lap. There he settled in behind fellow hometrack driver and early leader Timmy Solomito.
After waiting for his car to come up to grips, Bonsignore immediately went on the attack powering to the inside of Solomito in turn three on lap 9. From there, not even a short rain delay could halt his journey to victory lane.
“It kind of worked out the way the 0 (Tom Rogers Jr.) got penalized for post-qualifying infraction and we got a good start,” Bonsignore told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Timmy (Solomito) kind of got away real quick and it took my car four or five laps every restart to get the nose good and turning in the center. It settled out real quick and I saw how tight he was so I was like, ‘I’m gonna jump on this as quick as I possibly can try and take that lead’ and it was good from there.”
It wouldn’t be all too easy for Bonsignore, as multiple cautions and slower traffic would keep the field close together for much of the race, forcing Bonsignore to fend off aggressive challenges from Timmy Solomito, Ryan Preece, and Doug Coby. Coby was the only driver to edge by Bonsignore briefly when he lead lap 124. In the end, Todd Szegedy in the Mystic Missile would be the final challenger when he caught up to Bonsignore’s No. 51 as they navigated lapped traffic with 10 laps to go.
“I knew not to overdrive the car in case somebody did get to my bumper that could challenge us and it got a little hairy at the end with lap traffic. I’ve known Todd a long time and I know he doesn’t drive like that. If he got to my bumper I think I could’ve held him off, but I worked a little harder those last five laps then I would’ve liked to, but it was something else,” said Bonsignore of the closing laps.
For Szegedy, he knew lapped traffic was the only hope he had of mounting a challenge for the lead.
“If he made a mistake in lap traffic I could get him, but on a clear track he was better than I was,” Sezegedy said after the race.
The source of most of Bonsignore’s difficulties throughout the day was the weather, as moisture in the air lingered for the majority of the race, keeping things slick during the afternoon.
“A lot of the restart troubles for us was that little bit of precipitation each yellow that got the track and the tires a little bit damp and like I said it would take five laps to get them dried up then I could drive away from the field a bit,” commented Bonsignore on the track conditions.
Things would get even slicker during a caution flag after Shawn Solomito spun on Lap 131, as a heavy mist descended on the Riverhead-oval bringing out the red flag on Lap 141. After the already long weekend and being well past halfway, it seemed as though the race would end right then and there. But NASCAR and Riverhead officials would hear none of it, waiting and then drying the track one last time in 45 minutes to give the drivers and fans the full 200-lap distance. Despite victory being assured for Bonsignore in a premature ending, he didn’t mind going back out at the end of the day.
“We were doing the rain dance, we thought it was raining pretty hard, but NASCAR disagreed but we went out and sealed the deal, so that makes it even better. You never want to win one rain-shortened. I mean you take them anyway you can, but you’d always rather run the full distance and show everybody you got the car to beat and you didn’t luck into it.”
The win marks the end of a tough couple races for Bonsignore at his home track. After winning both his first career Whelen Modified Tour race and the Modified division championship at Riverhead in 2011, the track’s confines haven’t been too kind to him.
“It’s huge. I haven’t won here in three or four years, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, it gets frustrating when I’ve had a lot of success here for a while, and to finally come home and do it again is pretty good.”
The beginning of 2015 has also proved a struggle for Bonsignore on the Tour with mechanical failures and accidents plaguing he and the Ken Massa owned team. The M3 Racing Team recorded finishes of 20th or worse in the first four races, but a second-place effort at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on June 10 gave the team just the momentum they need for the rest of the season.
“We turned it around at Thompson and we just needed one good run and it was just silly issues. We had mechanical issues at the first few you would never in a million years have happen again and the next two you just get caught up in racing accidents. It’s frustrating, but we got a really good team and we’re just out to win races.
“We can be a really dangerous team moving forward and I’m excited to get to Loudon.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Hoosier Tire East 200 Unofficial Results
|7||0||Tom Rogers Jr.||200|
|26||5||Frank Vigiliarolo Jr||124|