Nothing would have made Justin Bonsignore happier than to open one of the busiest weeks of his racing career with a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at New Smyrna Speedway.
With his ARCA Menards Series debut set for next Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, Bonsignore felt extra motivation as he climbed aboard his freshly-wrapped white No. 51 Phoenix Communications Inc. Modified Saturday evening to begin his bid for a fourth NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title.
Bonsignore ultimately ran out of laps to challenge defending NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ron Silk for the victory in the New Smyrna Beach Area Visitors Bureau 200, yet he could not help but feel a sense of euphoria knowing just how fast his car was.
“This was a good start to the year,” Bonsignore said. “With the final run being 10 laps, it was tough getting back to the lead from fifth. Ron got through traffic pretty quick and was able to build a gap on us. This was a brand new car, so thankfully we’ll get to tinker with it a little more and see what we can do better.”
The defeat carried a sense of déjà vu for Bonsignore, who also opened the previous NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour campaign with a runner-up finish to Silk at New Smyrna.
Any attempt at usurping Silk this time around required tremendous patience on Bonisngore’s behalf. A prolonged green flag run during the middle portion of the event resulted in several cars going a lap down, but Bonsignore kept himself in contention by managing his equipment while waiting for the right opportunity to pounce.
Bonsignore anticipated there would be several short runs to end the night with drivers electing to put on new tires for the final stretch. His suspicion materialized into one caution after another, but fresh tires gave Bonsignore the opening he needed to chase down Silk.
The one factor Bonsignore said could have been crucial to changing the outcome was more green flag laps during the last run. He expressed some frustration about the lengthy cleanup during the final caution flag, but Bonsignore knew Silk was going to be defensive no matter how much time was at their disposal.
“Unfortunately, a lot of caution laps were used up,” Bonsignore said. “Looking back, it would have been nice to have a few of them back because we were slowly starting to catch Ron at the end. It would have been a tough pass for sure, but this was still a good start to the year and we’re happy with it.”
Ironically, Silk is one of the main reasons why Bonsignore is competing in the Daytona ARCA 200 next Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
Originally set to take part in ARCA’s Road to Daytona program for capturing the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2023, Silk was unable to make the trip down to Florida in January for the annual pre-race practice, which opened the door for Bonsignore to take part and turn his first laps at Daytona.
A successful two days in Daytona helped Bonsignore build connections with other team owners in the ARCA garage area. Within a few weeks, Bonsignore had put together a deal with Rette Jones Racing to pilot the No. 30 Nationalpolice.org/C&S Construction Services, Inc. Ford at the 2.5-mile speedway on Feb. 17.
ARCA was far from Bonsignore’s mind when he debriefed with his team following 200 grueling laps around New Smyrna Speedway. Once he unwinds by enjoying the Florida weather with his family, Bonsignore’s attention will turn to 200 intense miles around Daytona surrounded by 39 other cars.
The only aspect Daytona shares with any track Bonsignore has competed at during his career is the draft that is prevalent in NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour events at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Despite this, Bonsignore intends to lean heavily on the team around him to learn as much as possible before the green flag.
“The draft at [New Hampshire] with our cars is so extreme,” Bosnignore said. “From the little bit I got at the Daytona test, [the draft] is a slow process. We’ve got an hour of practice and a really great spotter in Freddie Kraft. Hopefully the learning experience gets expedited through Freddie and Mark, but I’ll try to study as much as I can to make sure I’m up to speed.”
Once he does find a comfort zone within the draft at Daytona, Bonsignore believes he can continue a streak of success that has followed Rette Jones Racing at Daytona in the last decade.
Co-owner Terry Jones led a race-high 25 laps at Daytona in 2017 before settling for second behind eventual ARCA Menards Series champion Austin Theriault. The 2019 edition of the event saw Grant Quinlan avoid trouble all afternoon to claim a third-place finish for Rette Jones Racing.
Even if he were to best previous performances from past Rette Jones Racing competitors, Bonsignore currently does not envision running anymore ARCA events. His commitment is to continuing his legacy in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, where he is fourth on the series’ all-time win list.
For now, Bonsignore plans to cherish this sidestep in his career while also displaying the same grit and determination at Daytona that has yielded so much success in a Modified.
“[The Modifieds] are my home and where my heart is,” Bonsignore said. “You want to win every Modified Tour race, especially when a guy like Ron Silk beats you. [Winning] Daytona would be a dream come true and it’s something people would talk about for a while.
“I’m looking forward to enjoying the experience and taking it all in.”