NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR Meets with Cup Drivers over Safety Before Roval Weekend
Oct 8, 2022
As the expression goes, the other championship contenders in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour screwed around and found out what happens when you let Justin Bonsignore, Ryan Stone and the Kenneth Massa Motorsports No. 51 back in the mix.
Following bottom of the barrel finishes at New Smyrna (31st) and Riverhead (25th), albeit wedged between a victory at Richmond, Bonsignore was buried in the standings to the tune of 10th and 36 points out of first place.
Three races into the season and the familiar black, white and green No. 51 was almost a full race out of the lead, but none of the other contenders from that point on could pull away from the rest of the pack.
Ron Silk led the standings for a majority of the season, at one point even taking a 26-point advantage over Jon McKennedy, but a crash early in the July race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway placed the division on a crash course for a championship shootout.
There are just two races remaining -- this Saturday in the World Series at Thompson Speedway and at Martinsville Speedway on October 27. Meanwhile, the championship standings are as close as you could realistically expect through 14 races:
Ron Silk -3
Justin Bonsignore -3
While the crash at New Hampshire -- or landing on the wrong side of a strategy play at Oswego -- could lead to a tremendous number of what ifs for Silk, the 2011 champion actually hasn’t won on the Whelen Modified Tour yet with Haydt Yannone Racing and crew chief Phil Moran.
"We've defined the law of averages," Silk said in reference to six podiums and a 6.9 average finish without a win.
They won during the World Series of Asphalt at New Smyrna and the Fall Final at Stafford but winning on the Tour remains the top priority. He also thinks winning will ultimately decide the championship.
"I don’t want to discount what we’ve done because it has been a successful season, especially winning the Fall Final with that level of competition," Silk said. "But I do think we need to win a race, a Tour race, to really make this a really successful season.
"And I also think the championship, because we’re all so close together, will be decided by whoever can win one of these next two races. It might take winning both of them."
That is exactly what Bonsignore has done the last two races, reaching Victory Lane at Oswego and Riverhead, giving the three-time champions four wins and an 8.1 average finish. Not too bad given how things started.
And honestly, Bonsignore is surprised to have a shot at winning a third consecutive championship and fourth in five years over the final two races.
"A little surprised for sure," Bonsignore said. "We knew we could win races and draw them back in a little, but it was going to take some bad luck on both of their parts, and we got that -- but backed it up with wins too.
"I didn't think we were going to get back in the championship hunt but never thought we couldn't if that makes any sense."
His point, of course, is that the 51 team was capable of going on a heater but both McKennedy and Silk were equally capable of it too. But Bonsignore, since gaining Ryan Stone as crew chief in 2018, have won 22 of 60 races.
Bonsignore is quick to point out that a season like 2022 is more normal than what they have subjected to Tour enthusiasts to over the past five years.
"We did struggle with the tires this year late spring, early summer," Bonsignore said. "They were a little bit different and I just couldn't get the feel I wanted. It wasn't a speed thing. I was just used to something else and we found some things that gave me back that feel and maintained our speed.
"But people sometimes asked, 'hey, what's wrong this year,' and I have to tell them nothing is wrong. This is normal. It's what we've done the last couple of years that's not normal."
And then there’s Jon McKennedy, who left Tommy Baldwin Racing last year to spearhead this new program with team owners Tim and Cheryl Lepine. McKennedy has been in the mix all season, with only two finished outside of the top-10 all season.
At the same time, McKennedy has only two podiums, one of them coming in victory at Claremont.
"Yeah, the points are in my mind, but I’m just going to kind of let it all shake out like it’s going to shake out, " McKennedy told RacedayCT earlier this season. "All you can do is try to do the best you can and keep yourself out of trouble and wherever the points fall they fall."
First up: Sunday’s World Series and the march to the Whelen Modified Tour championship.