The 2021 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season opened with a spectacular race, Thursday, at Martinsville Speedway.
Eric Goodale stunned everyone with a dazzling final 40 laps to claim the fourth victory of his 14-year career. He held off 2020 Whelen Modified Tour Champion Justin Bonsignore and 2020 Rookie of the Year Tyler Rypkema in the last 30 laps. Goodale drove with finesse at the end, but he was aggressive when the situation called for it.
The winner and the finish was only part of the story of the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200. The Whelen Modified Tour drivers put on a good show full of memorable battles and moments. Here are some of the highlights from Thursday’s season opener:
Modified Tour’s return to Martinsville
The first highlight was the venue. The Whelen Modified Tour should have never left Martinsville Speedway in 2010. The paperclip is incapable of producing bad racing, which rings especially true for the speedy tour modified stock cars.
Everywhere you looked, there was a great battle for a position. Leaders were incapable of running away from the pack. Every driver who led during the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 had a competitor beating on their rear bumper. No trailing driver was shy about using their front bumpers.
There’s no reason for the Whelen Modified Tour to ever leave Martinsville again.
Preece and Ebersole’s duel
Ryan Preece and Kyle Ebersole were untouchable for the first 90 laps of the race. Preece started on the pole and held the position after the green flag dropped. Ebersole had a great start from sixth to jump to second in a handful of laps. Ebersole attached the nose of his car to Preece’s bumper and drove a patient race behind him.
For the first half of the race, it seemed like Preece and Ebersole would battle until the checkered flag waved. However, both driver’s fortunes changed around Lap 100 when Bonsignore passed them both.
Preece lost multiple positions after losing the lead and he ultimately finished 12th. Ebersole fared much worse. He dropped outside the top-10 after pitting for tires during a caution on Lap 86. He needed less than 20 laps to rally back into the top-10, but he returned to pit road on Lap 65 to address rear-end damage. The team couldn’t repair the car and Ebersole wheeled it to the garage on Lap 50.
Bonsignore’s rally from last place
Bonsignore had to start the race in last place because of an unapproved repair his team made before the race. Boy, did he put on a show? Bonsignore showed why he’s the defending champ and the winner of 17 races over the last three seasons. He overwhelmed his competition. No one was capable of holding him off, Bonsignore made the most of every gap on his way to the front.
By Lap 50, Bonsignore cracked the top-10, and on Lap 76 he made an aggressive move to overtake Max McLaughlin for fifth. He pitted during a caution on Lap 86 and dropped back to eighth, but before long he was back to conquering the competition. Bonsignore cruised past Ebersole for second on lap 98 and appeared to have taken the lead from Preece on Lap 101, but a caution negated his pass.
The yellow flag only delayed the inevitable. Bonsignore stole the preferred line from Preece on Lap 110 to finally take the lead.
Lap traffic becoming a factor on lap 145
Despite dominating the field as the chaser, Bonsignore was unable to run away from the competition as the leader. Jon McKennedy clung to Bonsignore’s rear bumper and put a ton of pressure on the defending champion.
That pressure nearly forced a mistake on Lap 145 when McKennedy boxed Bonsignore between multiple lap-down cars. However, McKennedy couldn’t capitalize and Bonsignore held on to first before putting the lap-down cars behind him.
Goodale closes race in style
Goodale’s name wasn’t mentioned much throughout the first 75% of the race, but he was the story of the last quarter. He restarted fourth on Lap 41 and had a great jump to quickly take third. Goodale made a risky move on Lap 37 to take second from McLaughlin, and he set his sights on Bonsignore.
Goodale promptly got to Bonsignore’s bumper then nearly dumped him on Lap 33. He remained aggressive which ultimately paid off. Goodale bumped Bonsignore on the entrance to Turn 3 on Lap 31 and he finally completed pass in Turn 2 on Lap 30. Goodale seemingly had the race won as he was the first leader to put distance between himself and second.
However, a caution set up a 10-lap sprint to the finish. Rypkema challenged Goodale on the restart and briefly took the lead on the backstretch, but Goodale was able to regain the lead in Turn 3. Rypkema raced back to Goodale’s bumper to set up a thrilling six-lap battle for the win.
Goodale drove flawlessly with Rypkema filling his rearview mirror. With two laps left, Rypkema attempted a bump and run, but he wasn’t able to make contact and he had to lift. That loss in momentum is what Goodale needed to cruise to victory.
TOP IMAGE: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR