Story By: SCOTT RUNNING / STAFFORD MOTOR SPEEDWAY – STAFFORD SPRINGS, CT – The Whelen Modified Tour returns to Stafford Speedway this Saturday, September 25, for the NAPA Fall Final 150, the final race of the 2021 season.
The race for the championship has come down to defending and 2-time WMT champion Justin Bonsignore and Patrick Emerling. Emerling and the #07 Captain Pip’s Hideaway and Marina team jumped out to the early season point lead thanks to their victory in the NAPA Spring Sizzler back in April and they held the lead through July and the Tour’s annual stop to Loudon, NH.
Bonsignore and the #51 Phoenix Communications, Inc. team took over the point lead following that race and have held the lead for the remainder of the season heading into the NAPA Fall Final 150.
“It’s been a really great season overall,” said Bonsignore. “We’ve unfortunately only won once so far but we’ve been really fast every week and the car has a lot of speed and the team has been jelling really well together on pit road. It’s just a matter of putting a whole race together with cautions falling at the wrong time or the luck part of the race hasn’t gone our way like it has in years past. We’ve been fast every week and that’s all you can ask for. When you put yourself in position to be in the top-3 every week the wins will come or you’ll finish second or third, and those are good days as well to put points together.”
“The season has gone kind of how we expected it to,” said Emerling. “We’ve been in contention in a lot of races and running up front but we’ve also had some struggles with inconsistency that we have to get corrected for the future. We’re always trying to get better and we can call this a successful season even if we end up not winning the championship.”
Both Bonsignore and Emerling head into the NAPA Fall Final 150 with similar results over their past few races. Both drivers encountered mechanical issues in the Richmond race and then Emerling beat Bonsignore to the checkered flag this past weekend at Riverhead in a 1-2 finish. While Emerling has little option other than to go all out for victory, Bonsignore can afford to be aggressive in seeking his first win at Stafford while also keeping the points race in the back of his mind.
“We feel good but we know anything can happen,” said Bonsignore. “We’re going to race hard and try to maximize our day and first and foremost try to get our first Stafford win. We’re feeling confident even though Patrick outran us the last race but we always feel confident coming to the track and we’ll take what the day gives us. It’s definitely better to be leading rather than chasing. The points will be in the back of our minds to not put ourselves in a bad position or do anything stupid but we are still chasing our first Stafford win so we’re going to try to get that if we can. If you can be up front, lead laps, and lead the most laps, that helps with the points situation and then when it gets late in the race you can take what you need in order to clinch the championship. We’re hoping the race will play out where we have an opportunity to win the race.”
“We pretty much have to go for it,” said Emerling. “We’ve been trying to go for it every race this season and this race will be no different, it’s definitely go time. The 51 team has been on point all season long and they did exactly what they needed to do last weekend. Those guys are hard to beat but anything can happen. We need to have a phenomenal day and we need to be on our A-game so we can have another strong run and give ourselves a chance at winning the championship. We had a good run last time out at Stafford even though we had some issues with the car in practice, but we have the win from the Sizzler earlier in the year. We’re going to be looking to continue our momentum from Riverhead over to Stafford this weekend and we’re really looking forward to the race.”
Before Bonsignore or Emerling can challenge for the checkered flag, they first must qualify to see where they will be starting the 150 lap race. While a good qualifying run and starting position is usually a key factor in determining how good of a race a driver will have, Emerling showed back in April that a driver can win at Stafford after starting in the back. Emerling qualified 23rd for the NAPA Spring Sizzler.
“We started scratch when we won the Sizzler because we had a motor issue from time trials that we had to fix but we don’t want to have any issues so we can have a clean race day,” said Emerling. “I think we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go with the car for this weekend. We’ve had a good car the last 2 races at Stafford and if we can have a day where we can unload the car without any issues, I think we’re going to have a pretty good race.”
“Without a doubt qualifying is important at every track we go to, but at Stafford in general track position is huge,” said Bonsignore. “In a perfect world, you’d start up front, lead some laps early or lead the most laps and be able to control the race from the front. We qualified up front in the last Stafford race in August and it always helps make your day a little easier starting up front. Pit strategy makes it tough to come to Stafford and have a smooth day. We won’t know until around halfway how the race is unfolding and what our strategy is going to be.”
NAPA Fall Final tickets are available now online and are priced at $40.00 for adults, $10.00 for kids 6-14, and free for kids 5 & under. Reserved seating is priced at $45.00 for all ages and pit passes are $50.00 with a valid 2021 Stafford Competition License and $55.00 without a Stafford license.
Stafford Speedway will also be in action this Friday, September 24 with a Weekly Racing Series program. Tickets for the Sept. 24 Stafford Weekly Racing event are $20.00 for adults, $5.00 for kids 6-14, and free for kids 5 & under. Reserved seating is priced at $25.00 for all ages and pit passes are $35.00 with a valid 2021 Stafford Competition License and $40.00 without a Stafford license.