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NASCAR short track ace Justin Bonsignore gets his Xfinity Series shot

The 36-year-old is a three-time Whelen Modified Tour champion

One of the most decorated modern short track racers in New England will get a legitimate shot to win at the highest levels of NASCAR next month.

Justin Bonsignore, a three-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion, will make his Xfinity Series debut on June 21-22 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 during a tripleheader weekend with the Cup Series and Modified Tour.

Bonsignore, 36, has been one of the top contenders in Tour Type Modified competition over the past 15 years and says he never truly pursued a national touring career due to the logistics and funding required to make it happen.

But a one-off start in the ARCA Racing Series at Daytona in February really nudged Bonsignore towards wanting at least one chance to say he did it.

NASCAR: ARCA Menards Series
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Once he put the funding together, Bonsignore reached out to Joe Gibbs Racing because they had the race at New Hampshire open, and Steve Desouza loved both the experience level and storyline potential of racing together.

Ironically, this process was parallel to Bubba Pollard and JR Motorsports similarly putting together a deal to run a short track ace in his mid-30s in the second highest level of the discipline.

“It reassured me that other guys wanted to do this or felt like it made sense to try,” Bonsignore told Sportsnaut on Thursday afternoon. “I’m just really appreciative of the opportunity because I always deep down wanted to pursue it.

“The only way it was going to happen was to try.”

That Pollard went fastest in practice at Richmond in his first time driving the car, ultimately finishing sixth after having to start from the rear of the field due to a mishap in qualifying also gives Bonsignore optimism that it could be a competitive day.

 “Like, I’m not saying I’m Bubba Pollard because he is one of the greatest short track drivers of my lifetime but it’s a similar opportunity and I feel like I have a similar background,” Bonsignore said.  “I was driving back home from our race at Richmond the night before when I heard he went to the top of the charts and I couldn’t help but think, we could do that too.

“I’m going to have great people around me and it’s just going to be up to me to execute.”

Similar to Pollard, Bonsignore will be challenged on live pit stops at New Hampshire, an early qualifying slot and the queasiness that comes with simulator days at the Toyota Racing Development facility in Huntersville, North Carolina.

Every race car driver says their first simulator day is a sickening experience because it’s just a radically different sensory experience from anything in racing. The machine mimics the movement of a race car but it takes some getting used to.

“Oh, I’m not good with motion,” Bonsignore said. “I’m not good on boats.”

He says he has just one sim day scheduled, the week of the race, but that crew chief Seth Chavka told him not to worry about the results — that it’s just a data point.

“It’s just about getting acclimated, comfortable,” he said. “I’m not good with iRacing either. I don’t do well with iRacing either. I drive off my ass and I need that feel too but those guys are going to get me comfortable.

“They have a lot of great racers to lean on. I’ve already sat on a (competition) meetings and they all want me to be in a position to succeed.”  

Tour Type Modified racing is already represented at the highest level by Ryan Preece at Stewart Haas Racing but Bonsignore just wants to give national touring fans a reminder of how great the racers and racing is at the Tour Type Modified racers.

“Even though I feel like I have 10-15 years left of this, I am on the back half of my career,” Bonsignore said. “But we also have some great young racers coming up behind me. Austin Beers. Jake Johnson. Luke Baldwin. I just want to bring attention to them and our brand of racing.

“I feel like, being up in the Northeast, we don’t get enough attention or recognition for how good our racing is and how good our racers are. If I can help all of us up here get noticed, get the spotlight, that’s a win for that weekend.”

But what if he wins? Would Bonsignore, at this stage of his life, with a newborn and a three-year old fiber optics telecommunications contracting business entertain racing full-time at a national touring level?

“I would never say no, right,” Bonsignore said. “But I would have to sit down and think about it. If Joe Gibbs Racing said they had the funding and the team, that’s something you would figure it out for.

“I’m a Modified Tour lifer. I want to win more races and championships and there is still so much more that I want to build and win with up her. But for the right opportunity, it’s a conversation I would be open to.”

But first, his debut, and making it happen.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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