Justin Bonsignore, driver of the #51 Phoenix Communications Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NAPA Fall Final for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour at Stafford Motor Speedway in Stafford, Connecticut on September 25, 2021. (Ryan McBride/NASCAR)
Justin Bonsignore and his family members celebrate winning the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship at Stafford Motor Speedway. (Ryan McBride/NASCAR)

Justin Bonsignore joins NASCAR Modified greats with three or more titles

Justin Bonsignore sealed his third career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship on Saturday, September 25 at Stafford Motor Speedway. Bonsignore accomplished the goal in fine fashion — taking down his first career win at the Connecticut half-mile after 40 times of coming up short.

Bonsignore led the field for 74 of the 152 laps in the NAPA Fall Final 150, including for the final two, where he pulled away from six-time tour champion Doug Coby to score his elusive first Stafford win. In the process, Bonsignore cemented a growing dynasty with his No. 51 Phoenix Communications, Kenneth Massa Motorsports team.

The championship was Bonsignore’s second consecutive, and third in the last four years. The Holtsville, New York, native became just the fourth driver in the 36-year history of the Whelen Modified Tour to win three or more championships — joining Mike Stefanik (seven), Doug Coby (six) and Tony Hirschman (five) on the list.

“I don’t even belong in that crowd, those guys are unbelievable,” Bonsignore said of the group. “It’s special. To come back after last year, with the shortened season, we had really good cars each and every week this year. We just couldn’t put the whole race together like we have in years past and get to Victory Lane. Tonight, to finally get a win here at Stafford to top off our third championship, it’s special.”

Bonsignore used a strong car during the first 128 laps — all under green — to motor to the front. He started on the outside pole after qualifying second, and dropped to the bottom of the top-five early — but it wasn’t long before he was charging back to the front.

He took the lead from Anthony Nocella on lap 78 and led through the caution that was thrown at lap 129. The only time someone bested Bonsignore was when Doug Coby edged him to the line at the restart for a green-white-checkered finish at lap 150 — but Bonsignore drove to the bottom of turn one and powered back to the lead, never looking back.

Stafford — a place where Bonsignore had run well at before — was the most prestigious track on the list that Bonsignore had not been to Victory Lane. Finally, he can check it off his bucket list.

“One-for-41,” Bonsignore screamed after climbing from the car, jumping on top of the No. 51 in celebration. “I’m so glad we could get the win here. Three-time champion, but I can’t get past winning at Stafford. To beat Doug Coby to do it — it’s special. It’s unbelievable.”

The four-year run for Bonsignore — even though he didn’t win the title in 2019 — is one of the more impressive in series history. Since the start of the 2018 season, Bonsignore has 19 wins, 42 top-fives, 39 top-10s and 14 poles in his last 54 races. In 15 years of Whelen Modified Tour competition — all for Ken Massa Motorsports — Bonsignore now has 31 career wins — tied with Jeff Fuller and Coby for fifth on the all-time wins list.

Crew chief Ryan Stone jumped into the team in 2018, and things have taken off from there.

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“Ryan walked right into the middle of a group of guys that had been together for a while,” Bonsignore said. “He just jumped right in with all of us instantly. His personality fits right in with our guys. We just have a great time as a team, no matter what. Ryan hates losing more than I do. He’s ruthless. We’re really fortunate to have found him.”

The commitment that Massa and Bonsignore have shown to each other, after years of coming close, is finally paying off, in a big way.

“Ken Massa, whenever Ryan calls and says we need something, he just doesn’t flinch,” Bonsignore said. “The combination of leadership on our team from top to bottom is unbelievable. No one pulls in the opposite direction. Everyone has one goal in mind — to come out here and win races and win championships every year. I’m glad we could do it again for number three.”

Bonsignore bested Patrick Emerling by 22 points in the final tally on the heels of two wins, 11 top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes in 14 championship points races this season.