By: Kyle Souza / Photo: TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold
What better way to celebrate Independence Day? The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour made their debut at White Mountain Motorsports Park on Saturday night, and the finish didn’t come without a bit of controversy. It was no surprise that a tight, small, banked track in the mountains of New Hampshire produced such a wild finish during a wild, COVID-delayed season.
Matt Hirschman started from the Mayhew Tools pole position and led the first 193 laps of the race. Justin Bonsignore started third, and rode there early — sliding by Doug Coby after a restart, and chasing Hirschman around the track for the better part of the final 40 laps.
Bonsignore would close to the bumper, lose a few car lengths, then close to the bumper again. All of this while Hirschman and Bonsignore diced through lapped traffic on a track that many drivers thought during practice would be one groove by the time the race started.
It was only one groove. But it also wasn’t. Some drivers used the top to lap others, while some used the bottom to make passes. You could run in both lanes, but the line seemed to change multiple times during the race. Early it was all about the bottom. Later in the race it was all about the middle and the top when it came to the grip.
And that’s what ultimately created such a wild finish.
Bonsignore closed to the bumper of Hirschman when they crossed the line with seven laps to go and some contact was made on the entry to turn one, sending Hirschman up the track and out of the groove. Bonsignore would go on to win the race after a green-white-checkered restart, but it wasn’t the story. The story was the bump.
Let’s go behind the bump. My Race News spoke with both drivers right after the checkered flag.
“We saved enough tire at the end, we just watched the replay, I definitely got into him but he was crossed up and there was a gap between us before I got into him the first time. That’s racing,” Bonsignore told My Race News of the incident. “It’s just hard racing. I don’t think I did anything wrong, I would admit it if I did. Watching the replay, that’s it for me. I know what I did.”
Hirschman had a bit different opinion of the situation.
But first, a little bit more background: Hirschman had been chased by Coby for the first 100 laps, and the two had gapped the field by more than one straightaway. Bonsignore, who was third for the first half, was riding saving a bit of tire, but also admitted the car wasn’t exactly right at the beginning of the race.
“Earlier in the race, the No. 10 (Coby) ran me pretty hard, and he probably saved a little bit so he might have had a little bit more tire left at the end because he got to save some early,” Hirschman said. “During the race, the track changed and I changed my line and the line I was running, I was giving another groove there… I know he was looking around and searching but he wasn’t able to make an attempt to pass other than moving me. He gave me a good shot and sent me up the track and out of the groove and into the marbles. I’m not going to be happy about it because I came out on the short end after such a great race.”
After the checkered, My Race News shared the below replay with both Bonsignore and Hirschman via NASCAR’s twitter channel (below). Both felt the same they did about it when it happened after they watched it back.
“It wasn’t a malicious move,” Bonsignore said.
When asked how he felt about Hirschman being to the outside of him with a green-white-checkered restart, and if he thought a return bump was coming, Bonsignore said: “He doesn’t race that way, Doug doesn’t race that way… we were all leaning on each other on the green-white-checkered. I don’t have any worries when you race with Matt. He’s a professional.”
Hirschman also acknowledged that he definitely had lost a bit of forward drive at the end, and the car was sliding. But so was Bonsignore. So was Coby. It’s the product of racing on a short-track in the heat of the summer, on one set of tires, for 200 laps.
“At that point we had run hard the whole race and used up tire, there wasn’t a lot left there, you’re working the wheel pretty good,” Hirschman said. “I was able to kind of run the line and stay ahead of him. He definitely got into me pretty good. That’s obvious.”
On the last restart, Hirschman: “Coby filled the bottom and it didn’t allow me to get in behind him, Coby got him a little bit loose once… there was only two laps to go. With Coby and I side-by-side, I would have stayed out in that lane… but it just didn’t work out,” Hirschman said.
Said Hirschman: “He drove into me and punted me up the track. We’ll just move onto the next race.”
Earlier in the race, Bonsignore and Coby got together racing for second following a restart, but Bonsignore was able to make a save.
The fun and games weren’t done when the checkered flag went in the air. On the track, post-race, a group of fans were screaming to Bonsignore, who climbed from the car in Victory Lane and chatted with them, jokingly. No crew was allowed on the track due to restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coby, who finished third, joined in on the fun on the track.
Hirschman and Bonsignore did talk after the race. But the record book will show that Bonsignore earned his 28th career Whelen Modified Tour win and 16th in his last 34 career starts.
The win tied Bonsignore with Coby and Mike Ewanitsko for sixth on the all-time wins list.