After mechanical issues in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season-opener at New Smyrna Speedway, Justin Bonsignore, who has won the last two Series championships, got his quest for a third-straight title righted with his first win of the year, Friday at Richmond Raceway.
“I’ve been wondering for seven long weeks what was going to happen when we got down here,” Bonsignore explained in victory lane.
Bonsignore started from the pole for the 20th time in his NWMT career and he led the opening 11 laps of the event.
On lap 12, Bonsignore’s cousin Kyle Bonsignore took the race lead on the high side in turn 1.
Bryan Dauzat would have a flat right rear tire to bring the first caution of the race out.
On the restart, the Bonsignores battled for the lead, while longtime NASCAR Cup Series competitor Ryan Newman worked his way to third. A lap later, Newman would follow Justin Bonsignore, who moved to the lead, into second around Kyle Bonsignore.
While Newman and then Tommy Catalano would apply pressure to Bonsignore under this green flag run, the three-time series champion would keep his composure and held the point until the caution flag flew again on lap 51 for a spin from Jeremy Gerstner in turn four.
Under this caution, Justin Bonsignore would have issues on pit road, which would drop him to ninth in the running order.
Newman would work his way to the lead with a rear-tire only call on pit road, but it was short lived as Catalano swooped by two laps later. From here on, Catalano would assert himself as the guy to beat, while Bonsignore was mired in the field.
Catalano would lead 69 of the next 79 laps of this race, only interrupted for 10 laps by Max McLaughlin, who snagged the lead on a lap 97 restart.
Catalano would retake the lead from McLaughlin on lap 107, but Bonsignore came to life and was reeling Catalano in as the race drew to a close. In turn 4 with 11 laps to go, Catalano got loose and Bonsignore tossed his No. 51 machine to the inside lane to take the lead.
Catalano would keep Bonsignore honest, but Catalano had nothing for the Holtsville, New York-native down the stretch.
For Bonsignore, it all came down to having a car set up for the long run and being able to navigate lapped traffic better than Catalano.
“Lapped traffic was definitely not too favorable to Tommy,” Bonsignore stated. “Once I was able to get to him, I made quick work with the lapped traffic I got with. His car was just fading quicker than ours were. It’s so hard here on tires to go 50 or 60 laps. Just had that long run balance.”
Chuck Hossfield would follow Bonsignore and Catalano to the finish line in third, while Kyle Ebersole and Tyler Rypkema rounded out the top-five finishers in the race.
Friday night’s win marked the 32nd of Bonsignore’s NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career and now he vaults to ninth, from 31st, in the championship battle, after two races.
Bonsignore led 58 laps on the night, second only to Catalano’s 69 laps led.
While Catalano is winless through his first 51-career Whelen Modified Tour Starts, he made a case for himself on Friday night, going toe to toe with one of the best in recent memory of the series in Bonsignore.
The feeling is that the first win will come for Catalano, but as it stands, he’s second in the championship standings after the season’s first two events.
Despite strong runs, Max McLaughlin and Ryan Newman each faded in the closing laps of the race and finished 12th and 13th respectively.
McLaughlin tweeted about the pit road call at the end of the event that ended his chances at a good run:
Man that one hurts. pic.twitter.com/rs85AECAU3
— Max McLaughlin (@MaxMcLaughlin_) April 2, 2022