MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ron Silk‘s championship campaign in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour nearly ended several times during Thursday‘s Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
From narrowly avoiding several multi-car accidents to being shuffled through the field due to diverging pit strategies, Silk kept his No. 16 Blue Mountain Machine and Future Homes Modified clean through every obstacle to bring home a sixth-place finish.
Even though the final showing was far from his most impressive in 2023, it was enough for Silk to secure the 2023 title, his first in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour since the 2011 season.
“It‘s awesome,” Silk said. “A lot of effort goes into [the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour] and it‘s been a long season. It feels really rewarding to finally win another one.”
The year Silk put together on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour was more than worthy of a second championship.
For the first time since 2011, Ron Silk is a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion.
Hear from the champ himself as he breaks down his incredible year. pic.twitter.com/GLXm517mtu
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) October 27, 2023
After going the entire 2022 season without obtaining a victory, Silk kicked 2023 off in thrilling fashion by holding off a stalwart charge from Justin Bonsignore to take home a checkered flag at New Smyrna Speedway.
No one knew it at the time, but the battle between Silk and Bonsignore would set the tone for the rest of 2023.
The two NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heavyweights exchanged literal and metaphorical blows during the remaining 17 races on the schedule. A solid outing from Silk one race would be followed up by a stellar performance from Bonsignore the next, with neither side giving the other any room to work with.
By the time the two championship contenders arrived at Martinsville for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200, they each had five victories on the year with almost an identical number of Top 5s and more than 625 laps led apiece to complement their stellar title bids.
A bad restart for Bonsignore late in the previous race at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park gave Silk a 13-point cushion ahead of the season finale. All Silk needed to do was finish eighth or better on Thursday regardless of how Bonsignore performed.
Bonsignore did win one last battle over Silk with a second place run. Despite this, luck ended up favoring Silk when the checkered flag waved, who did everything possible to salvage the finish he needed after several close calls.
“It was kind of weird racing tonight,” Silk said. “Knowing what the scenario was, I tried to keep myself in a decent position most of the night. We got turned around once on the backstretch, but luckily we didn‘t hit anything.”
Any hopes of Silk and Bonsignore obtaining one last victory to close out 2023 were thwarted by 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Ryan Preece, who dominated in his season debut while driving his own No. 40.
Welcome back to the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour @RyanPreece_!
— NASCAR Roots (@NASCARRoots) October 27, 2023
Thursday‘s triumph proved to be emotional for Preece. He dedicated the victory to his late car owner Eddie Partridge, who guided Preece to 14 victories in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour before his sudden passing just more than two years ago.
“The last time I won on [the NASCAR Whelen Modified] Tour was at Richmond [in 2021] and that was the day I lost one of my best friends [in Eddie Partridge] Preece said. “This is the same car that we bought from [Partridge‘s] wife, so [tonight] really hit me.”
Preece was also relieved to finally celebrate a traditional victory at Martinsville. Although he earned his first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour win at the facility in 2008, Preece obtained that milestone after Burt Myers was disqualified, which he admitted left him feeling hollow afterwards.
Being able to visit Victory Lane at Martinsville on Thursday was something Preece knew would not come easy. Having raced against drivers like Silk and Bonsignore regularly before progressing into the NASCAR Cup Series, Preece expected them to provide a tough challenge throughout the 200-lap event.
While Preece enjoyed his 26th career NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory, Silk found himself relieved and elated after assembling the best statistical season of his career, which also yielded Haydt Yannone Racing the owner‘s title in just their second year as a team.
Silk said his inability to win a second championship until now is a testament to how tough the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is every season. Every mistake big or small kept Bonsignore within striking distance all year, but Silk credited everyone at Haydt Yannone Racing for persevering to ensure they would be the ones celebrating a title at Martinsville.
“The first thing you need [to win a title] is to have fast cars and a good team behind you,” Silk said. “I had that all year but need to have quite a bit of luck go your way. It doesn‘t take too many missteps to find yourself too far behind.”
Following Preece and Bonsignore in the running order was Patrick Emerling in third, with Matt Hirschman and Tyler Rypkema completing the top-five.
Seventh place belonged to J.B. Fortin, with the rest of the top-10 finishers consisting of Max McLaughlin, Andrew Krause and Bobby Labonte.
A brief winter awaits Silk and the rest of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour competitors before they regroup for the 2024 season, which formally begins at New Smyrna Speedway on Feb. 10.
A rebroadcast of the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 200 will take place on Sunday, Nov. 5 at 11 a.m. ET on CNBC.