By: Ashley McCubbin
With Mike Stefanik being named as part of the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, there’s been a lot of talk about NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers that have had stellar careers. Certain names coming to mind immediately include the likes of Richie Evans and Ted Christopher.
Ladies and gentleman, right now could easily be building into being Justin Bonsignore’s era
He put on a clinic on Sunday at Jennerstown Speedway, leading flag-to-flag en route to scoring the Wade Cole 133 victory. There were several challengers with Doug Coby getting to his bumper for a bit before the halfway break, but the No. 51 seemed to be on rails.
The success is no surprise, with Bonsignore scoring the championship in 2018 and a runner-up last season. There’s also 15 victories in his last 33 races over the past two years. It’s pretty incredible to see the talent beginning to shine and everything coming together, after only piecing together 12 wins from 2011 to 2016 with just one top-five points finish.
For the season opener, everything went smoother than expected with no deliberate contact, other than a couple incidents as a result of flat tires from drivers touching wheels with each other. Jennerstown also showcased why it should host racing after a hiatus, with battles around the track for position throughout the day and a wide track allowing to be done so without crowding each other. Certainly watching the battle for fourth on back with everybody right on top of each other, able to get runs off the corner in the late stages was the icing on the cake.
It appeared as though the event would go green to checkered from the halfway break, but as soon as the broadcast mentioned the thought, a tire issue and contact brought forth the late race caution. Jon McKennedy certainly made the most of that opportunity, making a series of passes after the restart to score a third-place finish, despite being one of those to have tire issues just before the break.
Craig Lutz was hoping he could have challenged Bonsignore on the same restart, but that wasn’t the case as the No. 51 drove away. Still, a runner-up finish is nothing to complain about following a career-best 2019 season with a win and 12 top-10’s en route to placing fourth in points. It seems with more seat time, the stronger he gets behind the wheel – and easily could make him a title threat this season.
Matt Hirschman was someone that you’d think be right in the mix with the long event, and did so with a fourth. However, considering he has showcased being a master at saving his equipment and knowing when to turn up the wick – as many believed when he just rode around the fifth position before the halfway break. It was odd to not see him make a ton of progress in the late stages of the event – but rather work at surviving for that finish.
Doug Coby was the only driver who seemed to have anything for Bonsignore, and that was showcased by the pair running closely together through lap traffic before the break caution. Though it seemed the No. 10 team made the wrong adjustments as the defending champion fell from second to seventh quickly over the run.
Patrick Emerling qualified third behind the pair, though was put in a hole early with a flat tire on the opening lap of the event. He drove his way back to up to the top-10, before having to pit in the final 20 laps due to the window net coming down. it would’ve been interesting to see what the No. 07 would have done up front without the issues, given his success at other big wide tracks, like New Hampshire Motor Speedway.