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Whelen Modified Tour Fall Final Notebook: Bonsignore Champ And Race-Winner

Tom Morris/MyRaceNews

Championship-Clinching Victory Emblematic of Title Season for Bonsignore

Winless at Stafford no more: Justin Bonsignore is now one for 41 at the Connecticut half-mile oval after his championship clinching win in the Fall Final 150 Saturday evening.

Needing to finish 11th or better to lock up the title, Bonsignore held off Doug Coby and championship rival Patrick Emerling to win his second straight crown and third in four years.

Admittedly, Bonsignore might have been as excited about winning the title as he was breaking the 0 for 40 streak at Stafford.

“I can’t get past winning at Stafford,” Bonsignore said in victory lane.

Bonsignore joined Coby, Mike Stefanik and Tony Hirschman as the only Tour drivers to win three championships. Bonsignore also became one of only five drivers to ever win back-to-back titles.

The win was a microcosm of what helped turn the team into a juggernaut.

There was speed in the car–Bonsignore sat on the outside pole. It took a clean stop on pit road in the final laps of the race from a pit crew that’s one of the best in the garage. It also took discipline from Bonsignore, who was asked by crew chief Ryan Stone to save fuel during the 130-lap green flag run that opened the race.

“We were doing everything we could to slow our pace on that long run because you just don’t know,” Bonsignore said. “We’ve never had it go full-150 green… I had a big enough lead where I was trying to manage the gap and manage my fuel at the same time.”

Since Stone jumped aboard the No. 51 team before the 2018 season, Bonsignore has won 19 times in just 55 starts while scoring 41 top-fives and 49 top-10 finishes. Put another way: Bonsignore has been more likely to win a race than to finish outside the top-five since the start of the 2018 season.

“We bust chops all weekend long… and Ryan’s usually the ringleader of it,” Bonsignore said. “But when it’s race time, he is the most serious guy there could be. He hates losing more than I do. He’s ruthless.”

Just this week, Bonsignore found Stone working in the race shop at midnight on Thursday installing a brand-new trackbar.

“He’s just so dedicated to his craft,” Bonsignore said. “Really fortunate to have found him. He’s a diamond in the rough. I don’t think anybody knew. We didn’t know what we were getting at the time. He’s definitely elevated the team to the next level.”

And only about an hour after winning his third title in four years, next year was already on Bonsignore’s mind.

“As much as we want to enjoy this, it’s already on to the next couple races,” Bonsignore said. “Right after that, New Smyrna [World Series Week] is going to be here before you know it, so we’ve got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time, and our guys are up for the challenge. I’m already excited for ’22 to come out and try to do this again.”

Career year for Patrick Emerling and Jan Leaty

It wasn’t the championship the No. 07 team was hoping for, but Patrick Emerling’s third-place finish capped off a career year for the 29-year-old Orchard Park, New York native.

In 2021, the Emerling-Jan Leaty partnership paid its biggest dividends yet. Emerling won three times, including the Spring Sizzler, finished in the top five nine times, more than in the last four years combined, and led more laps in any season since 2017.

“Lucky that caution came out,” Emerling said. “My guys did an awesome job getting a ton of spots in the pits there, really getting me out there and giving me the opportunity to be in contention there.”

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The turnaround in the Fall Final for Emerling was similar to the one that won him the Sizzler. After a slow start that saw Emerling fall to the tail end of the lead lap, a late caution allowed the No. 07 to gain positions on pit road and be in a position to win on a late restart.

“Congrats to Justin,” Emerling said. “They’ve been the fastest car all season. Awesome work to them guys. We were chasing them… We had a tight points battle there for a while and had a lot of fun all season long. We were in contention until the last race. We finished the season and hang our heads high. Proud of what we did.”

Despite unknowns, Coby having fun in ’21

Doug Coby didn’t win his seventh Tour title in 2021. Nor did he start all the races on the Tour schedule.

Nothing was wrong. He was just frying other big fish.

Coby won the inaugural Superstar Racing Experience event at Stafford back in June. Then, just a couple of weeks ago, Coby made his debut in the Camping World Truck Series for GMS Racing, finishing a very respectable 15th.

“I never would’ve thought this year that I would’ve been racing in the Truck Series at all, or having SRX come along,” Coby said. “It just kind of goes to show that if you just keep plugging away, maybe good things can happen.”

Despite missing a Tour race to compete in SRX, Coby still picked up two wins and scored nine top-fives in 13 races. Both wins came at Riverhead Raceway, a track that had long befuddled Coby.

“We didn’t chase a championship this year, for the first time in a decade basically,” he said. “The two wins were really special. Winning at Riverhead has been my longtime nemesis of a racetrack, so to get those was pretty neat.”

While Coby has continued to win races as an owner-driver over the last two years, the challenges that go with that have proven difficult.

“It’s not necessarily a role I ever saw myself being in, and I don’t know how long I’ll be in it because I didn’t really start this team to do it for decades on end,” he said. “I don’t know what the plan is for us… It’s been a lot of fun and we’ll see what 2022 brings for us.”

RacedayCT reported Saturday morning that “Multiple sources have indicated that six-time Whelen Modified Tour champion Doug Coby could be shutting down his No. 10 Doug Coby Racing team and driving for another organization in 2022.”

Even if it’s not yet known what Coby is doing in 2022, this much is clear: he has proven himself as a talented racer beyond the confines of the ground-pounder.

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Paul Lambert is an aspiring collegiate journalist. A writer and broadcaster, Paul's excited to cover New England short track racing in 2022. Paul has also been published in the Boston Herald, Speedway Illustrated and on Autoweek.com.

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