Bonsignore Ready To Contend For Tour Title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has crowned a first-time champion in four of the previous five years, a trend that favors the challenger more than the incumbent. Justin Bonsignore is one of the aspiring title contenders that hopes to take a strong step toward his first title as the 2012 season opens on Sunday, April 15 in the Icebreaker at Thompson (Conn.) International Speedway.
Ron Silk captured his first Whelen Modified Tour championship last fall with a successful and consistent campaign. With the calendar now turned, he'll have his hands full fending off a field of contenders such as the third-year driver Bonsignore.
Bonsignore, from Holtsville on New York's Long Island, earned Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2010 when he finished 13th in the standings. Last year, while simultaneously putting together a championship season in NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action at Long Island's Riverhead Raceway, he jumped to seventh in the Tour's final points with a furious second half run.
In 2012, he's all-in to add his name to the champions list at Modified racing's highest level. Bonsignore's No. 51 M3 Racing team will concentrate fully on the Whelen Modified Tour this year and only run select shows at Riverhead, where they topped the ultra-competitive Modified division standings last summer.
While he acknowledges that contending for the Whelen Modified Tour will be a significantly more difficult task, competing on a weekly basis against a host of seasoned veterans on Riverhead's tough bullring a year ago prepared Bonsignore for some of the challenges he will face this season.
"I believe I learned a lot contending for the points last year out there [Riverhead]," Bonsignore said. "I was never in a position like that to chase points every week and I definitely learned a lot. Hopefully I can put [that experience] toward this year."
The recent trend of first-time Tour champions has given Bonsignore additional hope that the door is open for a breakthrough season.
"There are a lot of good teams on the Tour and it's hard for guys to repeat year after year with championships," Bonsignore said. "There's a lot of competition, and hopefully we're the next to take that step and win our first championship."
The first step toward a championship will take place this weekend at Thompson, a place where Bonsignore has found mixed results through his first two seasons.
"We've run really strong there, especially last year, we just didn't have the finishes to show for it," Bonsignore said. "You've gotta be there in the end, and if we put ourselves in that position, we should have a chance to win the race."
Bonsignore believes that if you race to win, at Thompson and beyond, then the championship will come into focus.
"We're definitely looking to try and get as many wins as possible this year," Bonsignore said. "There's no better way to points race than to win races."
Silk a marked man: For the first time in his career, Ron Silk begins a season as the driver everyone else is chasing. Silk drove to his first Whelen Modified Tour championship in 2011 with a consistent campaign that saw the No. 6 finish outside the top 10 just four times. Silk's only DNF of the season actually came in the Icebreaker, a race he hopes to win for the first time in his career this year.
Can Christopher be stopped?: The king of Thompson the last half decade, Ted Christopher figures to be the race favorite anytime the Tour visits "Big T." Christopher has won seven of the previous 11 events at the track, including the 2009 and 2011 Icebreakers. Should he reach Victory Lane again this week, Christopher would move into a tie with Mike Stefanik for the Tour wins record at Thompson with 14.
Success at Thompson a key: In eight of the previous 10 years, the driver that captured the Whelen Modified Tour title earned at least one win at Thompson during their championship season. Silk defied those odds a year ago, but before him the last one to hold the Tour trophy without a Thompson checkered flag was Todd Szegedy in 2003.
Rocco gets his shot: The extensive success that Keith Rocco has posted across the short tracks of Connecticut has earned the 2010 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national titlist his first official full-time Whelen Modified Tour ride in the famed "Ole Blue" No. 3. Rocco gets the first of four chances to prove his worth at Thompson this week, where he is a three-time track champion.
Same Face, Different Place
Silly Season was in full effect with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, starting with the 2011 season finale at Thompson International Speedway. Here's a recap of drivers that have changed teams for 2012:
* Seven-time champion Mike Stefanik has moved on from the No. 16 Flamingo Motorsports team to the No. 66, which is new to the Whelen Modified Tour.
* Ryan Preece, who was without a full-time ride for the majority of 2011, will take over in the No. 16 following Stefanik's departure.
* A champion in each of his two previous seasons with the team, Donny Lia is back for a third stint as driver of the Mystic Missile Racing No. 4. He replaces Bobby Santos.
* A NASCAR Whelen All-American Series standout the last handful of years, Keith Rocco will have his first full-time Whelen Modified Tour shot this season in the Boehler Racing Enterprises No. 3. Rocco replaces Matt Hirschman.
* After driving the No. 28 last year, Woody Pitkat will compete full-time in the No. 11, which made five starts in 2011 with Preece and Donny Lia.
* Ed Flemke Jr. will take over the No. 28 seat following Pitkat. Flemke drove the No. 10 in previous seasons.
* Daniel Hemic will assume driving responsibilities full-time for Hillbilly Racing in the No. 79 this season. He replaces James Civali.
Home Tracks: 31st Sanctioned Season At Thompson International Speedway
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour may be the headliner on Icebreaker weekend, but it's also Week 1 of the 2012 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series season at Thompson International Speedway. Thompson has been a member of the Whelen All-American Series in each of its now 31 years of sanctioning weekly completion at the local level. Thompson's "Super 6" divisions will share the race card on Icebreaker weekend. Keith Rocco is the track's defending Division I champion out of the Sunoco Modified division.
Last Time Out: 2011 Driver Highlights
* Ron Silk captured the 2011 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship on the strength of three wins and 12 top 10s in 16 races. The title was also the first for Silk as well as car owner Ed Partridge.
* Todd Szegedy matched Silk's three wins and finished as the championship runner-up.
* Despite missing two races, Ted Christopher led the Tour with four victories and became the first driver to finish in the top 10 in the final standings down two races since 1992.
* Eric Beers, third, and Doug Coby, fifth, recorded the best points finishes of their careers.
Up Next: Stafford
From one traditional season-opening event to another: following Thompson International Speedway's Icebreaker opening weekend, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will participate in the first race card of the season at Stafford Motor Speedway on April 28-29. The CARQUEST Tech-Net Spring Sizzler will be the first of four trips for the Tour to Stafford in 2012, and the longest race in terms of laps on the entire 14-race schedule at 200. Action will begin for the Whelen Modifieds with practice and qualifying on Saturday, April 28 and the race is set to go green on Sunday, April 29 at approximately 3:15 p.m.
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