Column By: MARTY CZEKALA / RPW – LANCASTER, NY – Fans went home Saturday night from Lancaster Speedway’s first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race that they’ll never forget.
Orchard Park’s Patrick Emerling faced a considerable challenge from Justin Bonsignore in the waning laps of the Nu-Way Auto Parts 150 to score his second victory of the 2021 season in a photo finish.
The hometown crowd went nuts when he climbed out of the car.
“It’s probably the most meaningful,” Emerling said when asked if this was the biggest win of his career. “We’ve been running this series for a long time. I was so excited to race this race. Probably the most nervous I was in a racecar.”
Jon McKennedy and Max McLaughlin brought the 23 car field to green for 150 circuits. The drama would go down early before the start as Doug Coby came down pit road to repair a shifter issue. McKennedy would start with the lead early. It looked like he would have a chance to lead wire-to-wire, putting up a significant lead over McLaughlin, Justin Bonsignore, and Timmy Solomito. Lap 27 would feature the first yellow as Woody Pitkat made it snow during summertime. He suffered a right front suspension failure plowing into the Styrofoam barrier.
A long green-flag run would take place following a restart. Justin Bonsignore would show promise on lap 55 as Bonsignore was given the inside by “Mad Max” to take runner-up. Then on lap 91, Bonsignore would get a run inside on the exit of two from McKennedy to go to the point. After Bonsignore found speed, fellow championship foe Emerling decided it was time to party. With 42 to go, Emerling would pass McKennedy for second at the line. The gap was 1.1 seconds between the top two until they caught heavy-lapped traffic when Emerling cut the hole to under a second in two laps.
With 31 to go, Bonsignore would get into the marbles in two, allowing Emerling to capitalize and take the lead. The battle still heated up as both held their groove on the low line, but the yellow would fly with 26 to go in turn two as Scott Wiley and Walter Sutcliffe Jr. got into it.
Everyone would come into pit road as Emerling took three tires and got out as the leader. A slow stop for Justin Bonsignore, though on four tires falling back to fifth. According to Bonsignore post-race, it was a left rear issue.
The 18 to go restart saw Emerling and Ron Silk on the front row, and Emerling would get the edge. The previous yellow would breed a yellow as McKennedy would spin from a bump by Justin Bonsignore in turn two, also involving Anthony Nocella and JB Fortin.
Converting into a nine-lap shootout, more chaos ensued as Chuck Hossfeld, running fourth, would break in turn one. Then, Ronnie Silk on the outside front row would overdrive turn 1, forcing a three-wide situation and cutting down on Anthony Nocella. Short-track racing’s version of “The Big One” ensued in turn two’s calamity corner. Mike Leaty, Tommy Catalano, Eric Goodale, Andy Jankowiak were torn up and led to a red flag.
On the four-lap dash, Emerling, Bonsignore, and McLaughlin would ride single file. Sparks flew with three to go into turn one as McLaughlin’s right front wheel rear-ended the rear bumper of Bonsignore. This sent the latter loosey-goosey but saving it and keep his spot. Max would check the field up but would remain in position three. Two to go, it was a war between Emerling and Bonsignore for the win. Into turn one, Emerling slammed the door on Bonsignore, but not without contact. Emerling got squirrely but saved it. Bonsignore would set his move up in the first set of corners on the final lap, riding a higher line then exiting low. The points leader would pull to the outside and work the more challenging way around three and four. They touched off of four, but Emerling would hold Bonsignore off by a nerf bar.
“I was just protecting the bottom,” Emerling said. “I knew I was gonna hold Justin to the outside line. Lancaster, it’s really tough when they get underneath you. He got a run up top, but when you’re on the bottom, you’re in control.”
“I just needed more laps,” Bonsignore told RPW. “Had to fight from 5th to get to the front row. A lot of laps got clicked off under yellow. I was probably better than Pat, but it’s a tough place to pass on stickers, and he knows this place well. I knew it was going to be hard to make that move.”
Bonsignore could’ve used the chrome horn and move him out of the way or spin him out in the final turn to try and extend the championship lead. Instead, he wanted to work for it and showed a lot of respect to Emerling.
“I hope it sets the tone for how we race each other the rest of the year,” Bonsignore explained. “I could’ve done that, but I don’t want to race that way. I knew they were going to be tough. We’ve been really good these past couple of weeks,”
“He’s an incredible driver,” Emerling responded. “I’ve been chasing him for years. Honor to be here,”
Bonsignore’s lead in the championship is cut down to six markers over Emerling.
Next week, the Whelen Modified Tour heads to Stafford Motor Speedway in Connecticut for the GAF Roofing 150. A late-night as the green flag flies at 9:15pm ET.
For post-race interviews with your top three and pre-race interviews with Jon McKennedy and Doug Coby, head to the RSN Trackside Facebook page.
Nu-Way Auto Parts 150 (150 Laps)
07 Patrick Emerling, 2. 51 Justin Bonsignore (0.045s), 3. 77 Max McLaughlin, 4. 7 Jon McKennedy, 5. 58 Eric Goodale, 6. 32 Tyler Rypkema, 7. 2 Chuck Hossfeld, 8. 34 JB Fortin, 9. 10 Doug Coby (-1L), 10. 22 Kyle Bonsignore (-2L), 11. 64 Timmy Solomito (-2L), 12. 85 Ron Silk (-2L), 13. 18 Ken Heagy (-2L), 14. 59 Andy Jankowiak (-2L), 15. 78 Walter Sutcliffe Jr. (-2L), 16. 14 Scott Wylie (-3L), 17. 54 Tommy Catalano (-6L), 18. 82 Anthony Nocella (-9L), 19. 25 Mike Leaty (-10L), 20. 01 Melissa Fifeld (-57L), 21. 21 Jim Gavek Jr. (-77L), 22. 46 Craig Lutz (-92L), 23. 1 Woody Pitkat (-123L)