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Justin Bonsignore has proven — twice — you can win the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship without winning at Stafford Motor Speedway. Include Doug Coby’s title run in 2017, three of the past four champions lifted the trophy at the end of the year without visiting Stafford’s Victory Lane.
But how important is running well, and winning, at the historic half-mile to championship hopes?
Based on past history, very.
Consider, over the past 15 years, the worst finish in the NAPA Auto Parts Spring Sizzler of an eventual champion was eighth, by Bonsignore in 2018.
The average finish of the eventual tour champion in the 54 races at Stafford since 2006? 5.6. Only seven times, in that period, has the season’s champion finished outside the top 10 in a race at Stafford.
History will be put to the test Friday, as the postponed Spring Sizzler moves to a night race.
The 49th running of the event will go green at 8:30 p.m. ET. Fans can watch the race live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold, and a limited number of grandstand tickets are available.
The postponement has added an incentive for fans – and an added obstacle for tour regulars: Former tour champion and current NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Preece has entered the event.
Preece has eight wins and 18 top fives in 39 starts at Stafford, including the 2017 and ’18 Spring Sizzler. He led 110 laps in the season opener at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway on April 8 before finishing 12th.
For Bonsignore, who finished second at Martinsville to kick off his title defense, another strong run at Stafford would go a long way toward setting him up in his chase for championship No. 3. A win would be even better.
“We have been getting closer and closer every time we go there,” Bonsignore said. “I was really happy with the way 2019 went, and optimistic going into 2020, but then COVID hit and by the time we went back there, we were mostly points racing, but were still a top three car.
“If we could pull it off in the Spring Sizzler, it would make all of the pains there go away.”
The Spring Sizzler is one of three events at Stafford this year, with the tour returning Aug. 6 for the GAF Roofing 150 Pres. by Riverhead Building Supply and then finishing the season on Sept. 25 for the NAPA Auto Parts Fall Final.
Ironically, it’s the August race that has been the outlier for the eventual champions in seasons past:
Coby had fuel issues in 2016 and finished 20th; he won the other three Stafford races that year.
Preece had a flat tire and finished 16th in his 2013 championship campaign.
Bobby Santos III had engine issues and finished 23rd in 2010. He had two wins and a second in the other three starts.
Ted Christopher finished 28th after mechanical issues in 2008. He had a win, a third and a sixth in his other Stafford races that season en route to his first title.
The average finish of the eventual tour champion in the Spring Sizzler since 2006? 3
That bodes well for a couple drivers looking to break up Coby and Bonsignore’s reign.
Craig Lutz, who leads all tour regulars with a best average finish of 8.3, including his first career win in 2018, will drive the Russell Goodale-owned No. 46 Riverhead Building Supply Chevrolet.
Eric Goodale, another past Stafford winner, opened the season in Victory Lane at Martinsville. He returns to a track where he’s had an up-and-down history. Since 2016, he has six top fives – including the 2017 win in the Fall Final. But he has six finishes of 19th or worse, including a 22nd last year after winning the Mayhew Tools Dominator Pole Award.
Max McLaughlin was fourth in his tour debut in that race, and he followed up with a fourth at Martinsville.
In his last five Stafford starts, Silk has a pair of wins, a third, a fifth and a sixth. He won the only tour race at Stafford last year.
And then there’s Coby.
The Milford, Connecticut, driver is a 12-time winner at his home track – tied for second all-time.
While he has an average finish of 10.2 for his career, since winning the Spring Sizzler in 2012, Coby has an average finish of 4.4. He added Spring Sizzler wins in 2016 and ’19, and he was runner-up in 2014 and ’17.
“It‘s the Spring Sizzler,” Coby said. “It‘s one of the biggest races that you mark on your calendar to help kick-off the season. With it being our first New England race of the year, the history of the Sizzler, and the list of drivers who have won that race, I‘m excited to go back there.”