With eight races down, and eight races to go, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is headed for the second of three stops at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway Friday night.
The 28th annual Starrett Tools 150 will provide the chance for Justin Bonsignore to continue his dominant start to the season, while others will look to finally knock him off the top.
The veteran has four wins in eight races, an average finish of 2.9, and holds a 32-point advantage over Chase Dowling in the championship chase. Oddly enough, Bonsignore doesn’t have any wins at Stafford in his career, but has come close of late. The Holtsville, New York, native has eight consecutive finishes inside the top-10 and will look to break into Victory Lane for the first time and pad his points lead even more.
But, there is a hungry pack of drivers trying to chase him down, led by two of the most consistent competitors so far this season.
Dowling Is Inching Closer (Literally)
Ask Chase Dowling about the recent Eastern Propane & Oil 100 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and he would tell you he is proud of his team for the car they brought to the track and the execution it took to be in position to win.
But he came so close to that first Whelen Modified Tour win. Dowling crossed the line a mere 0.014 seconds behind Bobby Santos III in a photo finish that had fans up on the edge of their seats.
RELATED: Timmy Solomito Looking For Starrett 150 Checkered Flag
“You can’t ask for much better than that, clean racing, four tires on the car, great day of racing for the team overall,” Dowling said after the checkered flag.
But you could hear the sense of frustration in his voice after coming oh-so-close once again.
His average finish of 5.0 this season, including a second-place effort in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200 at Stafford back in April, should show you that he is ready to capture that trophy. As the saying goes in racing, sometimes you have to lose a few before you can win one.
Friday’s Starrett Tools 150 could certainly be the time for Dowling to finally breakthrough. As a Stafford regular in the SK Modified division who grew up racing modifieds on the half-mile, Dowling is poised and ready to add his name to the list of Whelen Modified Tour winners at the half-mile.
Pennink Fighting For His Title Chances
Rowan Pennink found himself on the sidelines when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season took the green flag in March. After undergoing successful back surgery just weeks before the opener, the veteran of modified racing was forced to miss the first race of the season in the midst of his recovery process.
At the time, Pennink knew it was going to be tough to work his way back into the championship points chase, but he watched Ryan Preece miss two races last season and still enter the finale in mathematical contention to win it, so he knew it was definitely possible.
“It definitely makes it a lot tougher, but we just have to focus really hard on making every race count and staying out of trouble,” Pennink said just before his return in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson. “If we finish all of the races and make all of the finishes at least top-10, I think there is a chance we could still be there in the points towards the end of the year.”
RACING-REFERENCE: Rowan Pennink’s Career
After seven races since his return behind the wheel, Pennink is definitely on the right track.
The Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, driver is already up to fifth in the championship standings, just 87 points from the lead. He put his charge to the front together on the heels of four top-five finishes in seven starts, including a second-place finish during the Thompson 125 in June.
“We have put together a ton of strong runs, and we have been really close. If I guessed, I would have thought we would have won a race by now, but sometimes it just doesn’t go that way for you,” Pennink said “Those guys (on the team) are going to just keep plugging away and hopefully we will get one, or more than one, before the end of the year.”
LEARN MORE: Go Back in Time With Boehler Racing
The only falter for the Boehler Racing team came at Long Island’s Riverhead Raceway, where Pennink started 12th, but struggled and finished 20th. Other than that, he’s been consistent and put himself in the position to finish races at the front of the field.
In 164 career starts, Pennink has three career wins, with the most recent coming in the 2017 Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Since beginning his efforts with Boehler Racing in 2016, Pennink has 26 top-10 finishes in 40 races, including the one victory. The transfer from his family operation to racing for the BRE team was one that took him just a bit to figure out.
“The first year I ran for them, I think it was more of me getting used to their home-built car and them just getting used to how I liked the car to drive,” Pennink said. “In the second year, we made some changes and we came back a lot stronger. Even though we haven’t quite won a race this year, we’ve had a lot of strong runs and it seems like we are clicking pretty well between myself and their whole team. They really do a ton of work in the shop with the cars and they bring me some great race cars to the track right off the trailer.”
RACING-REFERENCE: Previous Whelen Modified Tour races at Stafford | Whelen Modified Tour drivers’ career stats at Stafford
Unlike most other teams, the Boehler Racing group builds their own equipment and figures out the setup in their own shop. Right now, LFR Chassis is on a dominant roll, winning five of the first eight races this season, while Troyer Chassis has been in Victory Lane for the other three. Pennink is hoping to break that streak and add BRE Racing to the list.
“I love driving something different, not having the same thing as everyone else out there,” Pennink said. “The guys on the No. 3 team really put their heads together and make it all work. It’s awesome for me to be able to go out there and drive it for them.”
STARRETT TOOLS 150: Entry List | Raceday Schedule | Tickets | Race Center
Whelen Modified Tour News & Notes:
Santos Back For More: Bobby Santos III has shown he can win in just about any type of race car all across the United States. Last time out in Whelen Modified Tour action, Santos used a last-lap pass to score his third straight New Hampshire Motor Speedway victory and now, he is heading to Stafford with some momentum on his side. He’s also coming off a Sprint Car win last weekend. The Franklin, Massachusetts, driver does have six wins at the half-mile, but the last of them came in 2014 in the NAPA Spring Sizzler 200. He’s never won the August race and has finished outside the top-10 in four of his last five starts at the Connecticut oval. But, a little bit of momentum could propel him to win two straight races for the first time since 2012.
It’s Wide-Open: In three of the last four NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races at Stafford, Ryan Preece went to Victory Lane in dominating fashion. Luckily for some of his closest competitors, Preece won’t be in attendance on Friday, as he is set to compete at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. That means the field of modifieds will all have the chance to add their name to the winner’s list in 2018. Names like Rowan Pennink, Timmy Solomito, Eric Goodale and Ron Silk are all former Whelen Modified Tour winners that have yet to hold the checkered flag this season. Goodale recently scored the checkered flag in the second of two 80-lap open modified races at Stafford, and won the 2017 NAPA Fall Final, passing Preece in the final laps to win.
New Beginning: Defending Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park Late Model champion Ray Parent made his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour debut as part of the Thompson 125 back in June. And after some consideration, and time to purchase a ride, it looks like he is ready to come back for more. Parent will made his second career start and will make his first ever laps at the half-mile on Friday driving for Don Parsons Racing. As of now, the plan is for the team to run full-time next season, meaning any seat-time will be crucial to prepare for his Sunoco Rookie of the Year chase in 2019.
First Time Again For Myers: At the beginning of July, Burt Myers found himself racing the tight confines of Riverhead for the first time. Now, after more than two decades driving modifieds, Myers is set for another first. He will enter the Starrett 150 at Stafford and take his first laps at the half-mile, and he will have setup help from LFR Chassis to make sure he unloads close to the front of the field. “I’m really excited about the race, Stafford is one of the main tracks on my list that I’ve always wanted to race at,” Myers said in a Stafford release.
Whelen All-American Series: A full slate of local racing action with join the Starrett 150 on Friday night. The Division I SK Modifieds, Late Models, Limited Late Models, SK Light Modifieds and Street Stocks will all compete in feature racing as the championship chases in each class start to wind down.
Up Next: NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams are going to be busy at the track over the next two weeks. Following the Starrett 150, teams are back in action on Wednesday, August 8 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the Bud 150. Just a week later, the Bush’s Beans 150 will take place on Thursday, August 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.