After eight months, and racing across seven different states, the 35th season of NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competition is in the record books.
Doug Coby returned to his prime form, capturing four victories and his sixth Whelen Modified Tour championship, while Justin Bonsignore came up just short of a second straight title. They weren’t the only two drivers to visit Victory Lane — as Ron Silk, Craig Lutz, Bobby Santos III and Patrick Emerling were also able to hoist a trophy, or two, or three, along the way.
Outside of race winners, competition was on the rise throughout the field, including an increase in car counts and Rookie of the Year contenders. The second annual Musket 250 took drivers back to the big stage, while staple events at some of Connecticut’s historic tracks continued to showcase the series in front of grassroots fanbase.
All of this, and more, in the Racing Rewind from the 2019 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season.
Coby, Bonsignore & Silk Show The Way
Three former tour champions were dominant all year.
Doug Coby, Justin Bonsignore and Ron Silk combined to win 13 of 16 championship points events, including all but two of the final 11. All three of them had distinct, but different, stories throughout the year. Coby started with a victory, and went on a stretch of consistency throughout the summer, grabbing three more wins en route to his sixth series championship. His sixth title adds him to a historic NASCAR list, as one of 13 drivers to win more than six championships in a NASCAR division. That list includes names like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson.
Let that sink in.
Bonsignore, who captured eight wins and his first championship in 2018, didn’t jump out of the gate strong, finishing outside the top 10 in the first two races. But, as part of a summer rebound, Bonsignore closed back in on Coby in the championship standings, and entered the finale with a chance. He may have ended eight points back, but he capped the season with his sixth victory. In the last two years, Bonsignore has won 14 of 32 races with Ryan Stone, a former employee at JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, calling the shots.
Silk, who returned to full-time competition for the first time since 2016, was a threat at all 16 races. Silk earned his first win with Kevin Stuart Motorsports in March at South Boston Speedway, and followed it up in July at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, taking the local race team to glory at one of the biggest events of the year. After that, Silk captured a second-straight win at Stafford Motor Speedway, escaping chaos on a final restart to earn a third checkered flag.
All three former champions were certainly among the top five unloading off the trailer at each track.
Drivers Showing Up In A Big Way
With nearly 32 cars average per race (31.6), car counts are on the rise on the Whelen Modified Tour.
The average count is up two cars per race from last year, and is the highest car count number since 2010. In the Sunoco World Series season-finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, 40 drivers took the green flag — the largest count at one event since 2009 at Bristol Motor Speedway. In seven of 16 championship points events, 32 or more cars showed up at the track. In the end, 78 different drivers took the green flag.
On the Sunoco Rookie of the Year front, 19 different drivers chased the award this year, with Sam Rameau besting J.B. Fortin and Timmy Catalano in the final tally. Many of the drivers that chased the Rookie award have background in competition either at Stafford Motor Speedway or Riverhead Raceway, while Rameau had background at tracks in New Hampshire.
Outside of drivers, fan support and partnerships are also important. Without the support of Whelen Engineering, NASCAR’s Modified Tour would not be on the pedestal that it is today. The company’s partnership with NASCAR extends through 2024. Rick Alexander, and Peter Tiezzi, of Whelen, attended countless events this season, including the season-finale, where he presented Coby with the title.
Lutz Shows Plenty of Strength
Craig Lutz was no slouch all year.
A fourth-place finish in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship standings, his best of his career, was everything the Miller Place, New York, driver could have asked for. In the end, his first checkered flag didn’t hurt.
Lutz scored in the NAPA Fall Final at Stafford in late September, putting a bow on a consistent season with his first tour win. In 16 races, he would finish inside the top five a total of nine times, including a stretch of four straight races late in the summer. Lutz’s two finishes outside the top 15, in the season-opener, and at Wall Stadium, didn’t help his standing in the points.
But for a 25-year-old in his fourth full-time season on the Whelen Modified Tour, Lutz showed he’s going to be a championship contender going forward. The consistency and speed are both there for the Goodie Motorsports team.
Strong Foundation To Move Forward
Things are only going to get better from here.
Next year, three new tracks are added to the Whelen Modified Tour schedule, including the anticipated return to Martinsville Speedway on the same weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series in May. The under-the-lights event on May 8 will put drivers back at one of NASCAR’s most historic tracks on the big stage.
Last week, Jennerstown Speedway was added to the 2020 schedule, with a return to the .522-mile track scheduled on Saturday, May 23. The addition of Jennerstown adds another track in the Western New York and Pennsylvania area — which opens the door for outside competitors to invade the tour and contending for wins.
As part of a major announcement at the end of July, Iowa Speedway will host their first Whelen Modified Tour race on July 31, 2020, as part of a weekend with the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The remainder of the Whelen Modified Tour schedule should be out in the near future.
For now, the offseason, and anticipation for 2020, begins.