MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Eric Goodale cashed in on one of the biggest wins in his NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career Thursday night on the biggest stage of all for the ground-pounding machines.
Goodale charged past defending series champion Justin Bonsignore with 30 to go in the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 and held off a hard-charging Tyler Rypkema in a 10-lap sprint to the finish at historic Martinsville Speedway to collect his fourth career Tour win and first victory since Oct. 1, 2017.
Though Rypkema got to Goodale’s rear bumper coming to the white flag, the 24-year-old native of Owego, N.Y., lost grip exiting turn four and couldn’t close back in enough to challenge on the final lap.
That left Goodale able to sneak home to the checkered flag by .254 seconds, notching one of the most emotional triumphs of his 14-year NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour career.
“Any race you win is big, but there was a lot of media around this race. A lot of people were anticipating it. We came back to a track that all the drivers love to come to, and anytime you’re on the national series stage, obviously, it puts a little bit more pressure on you on to perform well,” Goodale said.
“It’s the first race of the year, man, and everybody comes out swinging. I’m just glad we could come out on top.”
The driver to beat through the first half of the race appeared to be NASCAR Cup Series regular Ryan Preece, who started from the pole after setting a track record in qualifying and led the first 110 laps despite five cautions and two red flags – including a one-hour, 13-minute, 42-second rain delay.
Weather halted the proceedings just eight laps into the race, but until a lap-79 yellow for a spinning Bryan Dauzat, no one could halt Preece’s roll at the front of the field.
That caution period, however, completely altered the course of Preece’s race. He took fuel only on pit road, expecting chaos in the second half of the race so that he could come back down for fresh tires.
Mayhem didn’t come soon enough, though, and Preece quickly found himself fading past halfway.
Bonsignore took control of the race on lap 111 and led until the sixth caution of the night with 52 to go, when he pitted for tires and Max McLaughlin stayed out to gain track position late in the going.
During that same pit sequence with 48 laps left, a miscommunication between Preece and his crew on how many tires they were changing forced Preece to make a second stop and trapped him a lap down.
From there, Preece never recovered and ultimately finished 12th after leading more than half the race.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin led the field back to green with 41 to go and briefly held serve, but Bonsignore resumed control on lap 161 and appeared to be on his way to victory – until Goodale got to second.
Once he could see Bonsignore’s bumper, Goodale quickly chased down the Coastal Fiber LLC No. 51 with his own GAF Roofing No. 58 and ultimately made the race-winning pass in turn one with 30 laps left.
“I wanted to get out front and just control [the pace],” said Goodale of making the move as soon as he did. “I felt like he [Bonsignore] was better than me earlier in the race, but after the pit stop we made, the car was spot on. We didn’t make any adjustments, but we didn’t screw it up. I think we were just better at the end of it.
“I knew the longer I waited, the tougher it was going to be,” Goodale added. “I don’t know if he got in [the corner] hot or if I just hit it right, but getting in there, I knew that was my opportunity. I closed right up to him and I knew that I had to take it while I was there, because it may not have opened up again.”
Rypkema followed Goodale through the bottom lane to second, and from there the New York young gun dogged the race leader until the seventh and final caution waved with 20 to go for a crash exiting turn four that eliminated Gary McDonald from the race.
That set up a final restart with 10 to go, and though Rypkema tried everything he could to find a way past Goodale, his efforts ended up short and he was forced to settle for a career-best runner-up finish.
“It’s tough to pass here. You have to get a really good run off the corner, and because I was a little snug in the middle, it just was really hard to get those critical runs off,” tipped Rypkema. “It’s a Catch-22. If I could have gotten him, I think I could have pulled away a little bit, but we were so close that it would have been really tough to get by him.”
“Tyler and I are friends,” said Goodale of Rypkema after the race. “We had a little scuffle down in New Smyrna back in February, but put that behind us and we raced clean tonight. He raced hard. We both had really fast cars. I think I was a little bit better than him, but I made a mistake there with four or five to go and let him get back to my bumper. It was good, hard racing though and a fun battle for the win.”
Bonsignore finished third, after starting at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments following qualifying, to extend his streak of top-five finishes with the series to 16 straight.
McLaughlin faded to fourth and Kyle Bonsignore, Justin’s cousin, filled out the top five ahead of Doug Coby, Tommy Catalano, Patrick Emerling, Woody Pitkat and ageless veteran Jamie Tomaino.
1. 58-Eric Goodale, 2. 32-Tyler Rypkema, 3. 51-Justin Bonsignore, 4. 77-Max McLaughlin, 5. 22-Kyle Bonsignore, 6. 10-Doug Coby, 7. 54-Tommy Catalano, 8. 07-Patrick Emerling, 9. 1-Woody Pitkat, 10. 99-Jamie Tomaino, 11. 7ny-Jon McKennedy, 12. 6-Ryan Preece, 13. 50-Ronnie Williams, 14. 14-Bobby Measmer Jr., 15. 4-Jeff Gallup, 16. 57-Jared Fryar, 17. 70-Andy Seuss, 18. 97-Bryan Dauzat, 19. 64-Rob Summers, 20. 26-Gary McDonald, 21. 85-Ron Silk, 22. 30-Gary Byington, 23. 82-Anthony Nocella, 24. 5-Kyle Ebersole, 25. 15-Kyle Soper, 26. 78-Walter Sutcliffe Jr., 27. 01-Melissa Fifield, 28. 55-Jeremy Gerstner, 29. 53-Ryan Newman, 30. 36-Dave Sapienza, 31. 06-Sam Rameau, 32. 24-Andrew Krause, 33. 46-Craig Lutz, 34. 34-J.B. Fortin, 35. 00-Jeff Fultz.