The dream season continues for Justin Bonsignore. On Thursday night, the Holtsville, New York native scored the sixth win of his incredible 2018 season, and the first of his career at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN), holding off young gun Chase Dowling in lapped traffic to take the victory.
Bonsignore and Dowling battled high and low around the high banks of “The Last Great Colosseum,” and we mean it when we say high and low. Bonsignore to the high side, Dowling to the bottom; options that nobody expected to see on Thursday night with the PJ1 traction compound on the race track.
“This is huge for myself in general,” said Bonsignore. “I’ve been coming down here since 2010. The last couple of years it’s been feast or famine. We’d either leave here with a good finish or a destroyed race car. We were really adamant that we didn’t want to come down here and points race. We really wanted to win Bristol. It’s a huge thing to check off the list as a Modified guy. I’m really glad we were able to drive up the ramp. That’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
On Wednesday morning, Bristol Motor Speedway sprayed the PJ1 traction compound down on the bottom of the corners, something the track has been doing the last few years to help improve the racing in the national series. The traction compound has not been well received by the Modified drivers as it typically creates single-lane racing, especially at Bristol.
Surprisingly, the PJ1 strip in the corners started to fade throughout the day and even more during the race. The outside lane became an option early in the race as Timmy Solomito rocketed from sixth to second in one corner, and eventually the lead, before Bonsignore followed him to the outside.
“I’m shocked the outside came in,” Bonsignore said in the media center after his win. “It was a great race. It was like a few years ago here for the Modifieds at Bristol. After about 23 laps the outside came in. I was kind of content to run second behind Patrick (Emerling), but then we got behind lapped cars that didn’t want to move. I got to the top and I was able to race my way back to the lead pretty quickly.”
One of the few drivers that couldn’t seem to run the outside was Chase Dowling. Dowling kept his No. 15 LFR Chassis race car on the bottom for all 150 laps unless he was passing a lapped car. Even though many others moved to the top, Dowling actually seemed as fast, if not faster, than Bonsignore in the late stages while running the bottom. Unfortunately for Dowling, lapped cars were also running the bottom and he would lose ground on Bonsignore when lapping a car.
“Track position was crucial in the end there,” explained Dowling. “It seemed like me and Justin had similar cars speed wise. He definitely had the momentum car up top. If I went up there I’d lose a couple of spots. On the bottom I was pretty good. It was just close racing. It was cool that Bristol put on a show like this. We had two grooves of racing instead of last year where it was just one groove of racing around the track.
Bonsignore and the rest of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will now turn their attention to New York’s Oswego Speedway on September 1stwith just four races remaining in the season.
After Thursday’s race, Bonsignore unofficially has a 64-point lead over Dowling. However, Bonsignore said he still doesn’t want to look too far ahead, especially after the year he had last year.
“Last year really humbled me. I’ve said it a lot this year,” said Bonsignore. “We went from almost winning the title in 2016 and winning four of the last six or seven races and went into 2017 with high hopes and just fell on our faces and barely led laps and struggled to run in the top 10. That’ll humble you quick. We’re not taking anything for granted right now. We’re living in the moment. We’re not points racing. We just want to win races and everything else will take care of itself as the rest of this season plays out.”
A win at Bristol is something Bonsignore has wanted for a long time. The 30-year-old driver won the pole in his first start at Bristol back in 2010. He’s won the pole at Bristol a total of three times now including Thursday, and has a second and third-place run at Bristol in the past. But never a win until Thursday night.
Even though he finally accomplished something he’s wanted for so long, Bonsignore was a bit reserved in his celebration, offering a calm “Polish Victory Lap” around the high banks before making the climb up the ramp into victory lane.
“I was told this morning to not do any kind of burnouts. We need this motor for Oswego. I’m not going to do anything stupid to put us in jeopardy. If we get this championship at Thompson then maybe I’ll do a burnout then.”
Speed51.com will have more from Bristol Motor Speedway, including a video recap, still to come.
For an on-demand replay of Thursday’s Trackside Now coverage presented by Riverhead Building Supply and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, click here.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Associate Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Bush’s Beans 150
Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee