After eight months of traveling up and down the East Coast, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season took the final checkered flag on Sunday at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut.
In what has become a staple on the schedule, drivers competed in the 57th annual Sunoco World Series 150, one of the biggest weekends in all of short-track racing.
Doug Coby marched to his sixth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title, while Justin Bonsignore did everything he could to seal the deal on his second straight championship crown, but came up just short.
All of that and more in the Rapid Rewind from the final event of the Whelen Modified Tour season.
On lap 13, when multiple cars collected at the top of turn three, Doug Coby came to a halt on the backstretch of Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, shut the car off, and started thinking during a red flag.
It was a short red flag, but during that time, Coby received some crucial information from another competitor. Without that information, he might have been forced down pit road during the next green flag stint of the race, which would have likely cost him his sixth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship.
“Tire goes flat and I didn’t really know, but I was loose before that and I thought we were just loose,” Coby said. “Woody Pitkat came on the radio and said that the tire looked really low on air, and it was.”
From there, the battle was on for the 40-year-old, from the back of the largest car count of the season, where 40 cars took the green in the season-finale. He had to work carefully coming back through the field, knowing one mistake could cost him everything.
“I had some great runs on the bottom off Turn 4 all day and honestly, that’s the safest spot to be on the track. When I got up to 13th or 14th, I thought I would drive to the front on the bottom. I was waiting for the caution, and we made a good adjustments with the three tires,” Coby said. “It gave me a good enough car to be racy and not get pushed around. I probably could have drove around the No. 58 and the No. 1 if I had to at the end — I really wanted a top five, and you think I’m out there thinking about the big picture — but I’m also a racer that sees what in my opinion are two cars slower than me. But I realized it wasn’t going to happen, and I had to be smart at the end.”
For Coby, this season was everything he could have hoped it would be after watching Justin Bonsignore dominate last year, and finishing third in the championship standings. This year, Coby proved he wasn’t going to go down quietly — grabbing an average finish of 4.6 over 16 championship points events, and having an average starting spot of just about third.
He knew he had to improve, and that meant taking the car to the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna Speedway in February, to test some different setups and get a jump on some fellow competitors.
“They (Bonsignore’s team) had a phenomenal season and they basically locked it up halfway through last season. The feeling in our team was that we had to get to the point where we were making him work for his wins and his second championship,” Coby said. “That’s why we went to Florida, made a shock change to Earnest Performance. Those were difficult decisions to make, because we didn’t know what was going to work.
“I was proud of Justin and happy for his team for winning — people think there is a big rivalry and there is — I know Justin and I are very friendly, but we can also get very bitter with each other because we just compete so hard. I’m good friends with some of his team — they are my competitors, but they are my friends. I was proud of them, and I felt like they kicked us. I just wanted us to be better, and our team figured out how to be better. It started in Florida, and ended here.”
Bonsignore Does Everything He Can
Justin Bonsignore knew he needed to win the Sunoco World Series 150, and hope Coby stumbled. Early, it looked like he was going to get his wish. But in the final laps, he came up just short of the title by nine points.
But he earned his sixth win of the season, 12th overall at Thompson, and sealed another victory at what has become one of his favorite tracks.
“It’s just good cars, I’ve always had a lot of success here, but with Ryan, the cars are just unbeatable as soon as we get off the truck,” Bonsignore said. “We just fine-tune them, and we really work hard on the soft tire for the pit stop, and the pit crew is unbelievable on pit road. I’m just comfortable and confident, and that will always propel you further in this sport.”
Bonsignore says the point that hurt him the most in the championship battle was right at the start of the season — when he opened by finishing 12th and 25th.
“Don’t start the season 20 something in points, you can’t do that,” Bonsignore said of what could be done differently. “Last year we were perfect, all but one top 10. We have to be right out of the gate with top fives — and win when you can and have good top fives when you can’t win. The one place we’ve struggled before is Stafford, and we could have won there all three times we were there.”
After two years with his crew chief Ryan Stone, and 14 wins across 32 races, Bonsignore feels ready to go for 2020.
“I think we are just getting started. This is still only the second year with Ryan, and we learn a lot each week about the things we need to do the next time we come to the race track.”