NASCAR Xfinity Series
Derek Griffith Out to Make a Statement in Xfinity Series
Mar 31, 2022
When subject to a figurative game of Russian Roulette, it’s best to stack the deck, and that’s what Justin Bonsignore, crew chief Ryan Stone and the Kenneth Massa Motorsports No. 51 accomplished on Friday night at Richmond Raceway.
In a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race that featured numerous strategy options, Bonsignore largely wasn’t beholden to the constant shuffling of position because he was able to keep driving back to the front.
Bonsignore started from pole and immediately allowed others to set a quicker pace, but never allowed the various leaders out of sight. On the final restart with 46 laps to go, Bonsignore lined up fifth and methodically marched through the field, catching and passing Tommy Catalano with 10 to go.
The victory was the 32nd of his career and followed a 31st place finish in the opener during Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway. It’s kind of like the three time and reigning champions spotted the field a mulligan after one race.
"Definitely," Bonsignore told Racing America after the race. "We view ourselves as a championship contending team, and that's the mindset you have to have to be once you get to this level, and if you think any other way, you're beating yourself before you get to track."
Bonsignore said he told Stone and their crew not to sweat the mechanical issue that sidelined them prematurely at New Smyrna and that they would rebound at Richmond and into the New England portion of the summer schedule.
"I told them we’re going to go out and win races, and claw back into the championship through bonus points," Bonsignore said. "We didn’t lead the most laps tonight, but the three extra points for the win is huge.
"We have to be perfect the rest of the year now, because we don’t have another mulligan, and that’s frustrating to think about but we’re going to go into Riverhead, our home track, to win and start another streak."
In part due to a strategy play but also a very competitive car, Catalano found himself in the lead for much of the middle stages but needing to hold off the fresher tires under Bonsignore and Tyler Rykema -- who seemingly had the fastest cars of the day.
Catalano led the most laps and was seeking his first career win in the Modified Tour in his 51st start but just couldn’t hold off the three-time champion. Still, a career-best second-place finish was a major milestone for the 24-year-old out of Ontario, New York.
"It’s one of those things where I’m so excited, but I’m also disappointed," Catalano said. "These guys did a hell of a job all day. I thought we had it, but just got caught up in lapped traffic and some guys racing side-by-side.
"That let Justin get to us, and we split some lap cars, and that let Justin get to the lead and I tried everything I could to get by, but it wasn’t enough."
Bonsignore says the lap and a half they spent side-by-side 'felt like an
eternity,' with Catalano taking several looks under the No. 51 even after the winning pass.
Catalano however, leaves New Smyrna tied with Eric Goodale for the championship lead -- a statement for where his family program is now that David, Amy, Tyler and Timmy Catalano are focusing their efforts on Tommy in the NASCAR championship this summer.
"So much has gone into this over the winter, countless hours after our 9-5 jobs," Catalano said. "At the start of the year, we said our goal was top-10s, every race, and what we need to be careful is keeping that the goal, not getting greedy. The more we can finish in the top-10, the more we can finish in the top-5."
Bonsignore is taking notice of their newest championship threat too.
"They are generational racers and a great family of racers," Bonsignore said. "I think they're going to take a huge step forward this year. I think they would probably admit they were spreading themselves too thin with all their racing but they're going to be strong.
"I go back with Tommy racing in New York, a lot of good battles, and I feel like we're going to be doing it here in the Tour too."
Meanwhile, Rykema was on the same strategy as Bonsignore at the end, but just struggled to get through lap traffic with the same confidence and potency.
"Yeah, lapped traffic," Rykema said. "It was just really hard to save tires. The track is really abrasive, and I just leaned too hard on them in traffic. But it’s a good problem to have to be disappointed with a top-five and with a clean car at the end because we were fastest in practice and second fastest in qualifying. It was a good day."
Chuck Hossfeld rallied late to finish third, with Kyle Ebersole overcoming a spin during qualifying to finish fourth ahead of Rypkema in fifth. Eric Goodale, Jimmy Blewett, Jon McKennedy, returning NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Donny Lia and Ron Silk completed the top-10.
Max McLaughlin was amongst the leaders all race. He stayed out on old tires before the final restart, anticipating a caution that didn't come and fell to 12th. Ryan Newman, making his first Tour start of the season for the debuting SS Racing team, led a few laps early in the race before fading to a 13th-place finish.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season resumes May 14 at New York’s Riverhead Raceway.
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