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After a difficult start to the season down south, Justin Bonsignore put himself back on track Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion may not have quite had the fastest car for much of the Icebreaker 150, but he was in the right place, at the right time, once again at the Connecticut oval. And although Bonsignore will tell you the Thompson success comes with a lot of luck, capturing his 10th Thompson victory — the most of among active drivers — shows the consistent speed the Holtsville, New York, driver shows up to Thompson with each of the four times the series visits.
Bonsignore winning, Ron Silk continuing his success with Stuart Motorsports, and Doug Coby‘s near perfect weekend performance are just a few of the storylines leaving the annual Icebreaker, the third race of the season.
Bonsignore Keeps Streak Rolling at Thompson
For most of the Icebreaker 150, it looked like Justin Bonsignore might settle for second. During the first 107 laps, Bonsignore‘s No. 51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Chevrolet chased Doug Coby around the .625-mile oval, but he wasn‘t far back.
When a pit stop penalty sent Coby to the rear in the final 50 laps, it was Bonsignore who took advantage — pulling away over the final green-flag stint and holding off another former series champion on a final restart.
In many ways, the victory allowed Bonsignore to turn around what was a little bit of a dismal start down south, where he finished 12th in the opener at Myrtle Beach Speedway, but finished 25th after an early wreck sidelined him from the finish with a power steering issue.
But Bonsignore knew returning to New England would help steer things back in the right direction.
“We‘ve had speed at every race so far, Myrtle Beach we didn‘t pit, and at South Boston I got us wrecked,” Bonsignore said. “I was like 40 laps down last week, and I said it on the radio, I said ‘don‘t worry guys, I‘ll make up for this next week‘. I just knew right away that we were going to our best track, or at least one of our best tracks. You couldn‘t have asked for a better place to come when you get off to a rough start.”
Perhaps even more important to him down the line will be the feat he accomplished by winning Sunday. Although multiple drivers had won four straight at the historic oval, Bonsignore became the first driver in the history of the modern era to win five Whelen Modified Tour races in a row at Thompson, adding his name to the record books of one of the longest standing NASCAR tracks.
“Stuff like that, you will think about it when you‘re done racing, hopefully have kids, and you can say you won five in a row and no one else did that at Thompson,” he said. “I‘m still living in the moment, but already thinking about what we need to do when we come back in the summer to be a little bit better.”
Bonsignore‘s path to repeating as champion sees him up to seventh in the standings after three races, 25 from the lead.
“It would have sucked if he (Coby) beat us, but I think it‘s going to be us two this year. They have definitely picked their game up. It‘s going to be a dogfight,” Bonsignore said. “Doug and I were pretty even. I think we would have been closer on the second tire than we were on the first one. We were within a half of a tenth of each other almost every lap all weekend. I‘ve won a bunch here, and some of them are just on luck. I think I could have beat him, but I can‘t say that as a guarantee. It would have been a hell of a race.”
And, living on the high of his Thompson win, Bonsignore and his Kenneth Massa Motorsports team now must turn their attention across the state to Stafford Motor Speedway, where the series competes in the NAPA Spring Sizzler on April 28 — a track Bonsignore has yet to master.
“You have to be good in Connecticut to win this championship,” Bonsignore said. “We know that. We definitely went with three different packages to Stafford last year and the Fall Final we were at our best, but the tire strategy there is hard to play out. We have to play smart and try to get top-fives and the wins will come. I‘m confident going to Stafford. I‘m getting better and better there. If I can win the Sizzler first, it would make up for 10 years of not winning there.”
Former Champion Silk Back in Form
It was nearly back-to-back wins for Ron Silk on Sunday.
Once Coby was out of the picture at the front, it was Silk who took control of second for the final stint of the race. For the 2011 Whelen Modified Tour champion, the second-place effort was just what the Stuart Motorsports team needed to keep their roll going fresh off a win at South Boston Speedway on March 30.
“Things are going pretty good, at the end of the year last year, we ran good for the last few races, we had a good car at Myrtle Beach and got a terrible finish out of it. Hopefully we can just keep some momentum,” Silk said. “The plan is to do well and run full-time, but if we run into a point where we are struggling and need to regroup we might do that, but, I don‘t see any reason why we can‘t keep this going.”
At the end, did Silk feel like he had something for Bonsignore? Not quite.
“Justin and the No. 2 were the best cars all weekend. I think he just would get out a few car lengths mind the gap and not use too much of what we had left,” Silk said. “We weren‘t as good as those two, but otherwise, I thought we were just as good as anyone else. The guys did a great job on pit road. I owe a lot of it to those guys.”
Silk sits just in front of Bonsignore in the points standings, in sixth, after three races.
“Running good is always a confidence booster, everyone stays motivated. The Stuarts are a great group of guys,” Silk said. “I really enjoy racing for them. Kevin has given us everything we needed to improve, and I‘m glad it‘s paying off for us.”
Coby‘s Near Perfect Weekend Comes Up Short
Practice and qualifying both saw the No. 2 Mayhew Tools Chevrolet at the top of the leaderboard. And for the first 107 laps, the race did as well.
But when Doug Coby led the field down pit road for fresh rubber, the race took a turn for him. He did exit at the top of the field, but a penalty for running over an air hose while leaving the pit stall ended the chances for the five-time champion to get back to Thompson victory lane for the first time since 2015.
“We had a really good car,” Coby told Short Track Scene. “Came back to fifth and showed everyone we had a really good car and that it could run through traffic, too. It was important to win, but it was important to have the race like we had … to kind of feel like we‘re back a little bit.”
Last year, Coby watched Bonsignore win half of the races and roll to title, ending Coby‘s streak of four consecutive in NASCAR‘s Whelen Modified Tour. And although he had the speed he needed to get the job done at Thompson, ultimately, he didn‘t seal it.
“You gotta win the race,” he told Short Track Scene. “Justin [Bonsignore] won eight races last year and we handed him one this year. The bottom line is, if we want to win at Thompson, everybody‘s gotta step up and do their part. It was a mistake. I‘ve made plenty of mistakes.”
Although Coby‘s victory didn‘t occur, he does lead the standings heading back to Stafford Motor Speedway, a place where he has won 11 times.
After three races in four weeks, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour returns to the track on Sunday, April 28, as part of the annual NAPA Spring Sizzler at Stafford Motor Speedway.