For only the second time in his long career, Jon McKennedy in 2022 ran all the races on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule.
The 35-year-old from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, turned his second full season with the Tour into his first series championship.
Driving for team owner Tim Lepine, McKennedy used incredible consistency to secure his championship. In 16 races this season, McKennedy finished outside the top 10 just three times, scoring seven top-five finishes and his second career victory at Claremont Motorsports Park on July 29.
“This is the icing on the cake for Jon McKennedy and all the guys that have been behind me for most of my racing career,” McKennedy said. “I want to say I really wish my dad was here. He passed a few years ago. I know he‘s looking down. My dad was a huge supporter of my racing going back in the late ‘90s when we started off in those little racing karts.
“Never give up. My dad was always a believer that effort equals success.”
McKennedy entered the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour finale at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 27 as the championship leader, six points ahead of Ron Silk, 11 points ahead of Justin Bonsignore and 13 points ahead of Eric Goodale.
“I knew in practice we had a good long run car, and physically I felt awesome,” McKennedy said.
Throughout the finale, McKennedy was the best of the championship contenders. He appeared to be in position late in the race to win, but contact while racing at the front of the pack sent him spinning down the backstretch and into Turn 3.
Luckily the damage to McKennedy’s car was minor enough that he was able to continue. He rebounded to finish 12th, which allowed him to secure the championship by six points ahead of Silk.
“At one point I thought we were sitting in a good spot to win,” McKennedy said. “Obviously that last restart there was some misjudging off of (Turn) 2. I felt a big bump and next thing you know I was crashed. That‘s definitely disappointing, I didn‘t expect that.
“It‘s amazing though we were able to even finish and be champions considering the situation. We were in a really bad spot there, spinning in the middle of the back straightaway.”
In his only other full-time season with the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2020, McKennedy finished second in the series standings.
Prior to becoming a seasoned veteran, McKennedy made his first venture into the series back in 2006 at the age of 19, when he earned two top-10 finishes in eight starts. It took him until 2017 to earn his first top-five finish, a fifth-place run at Stafford Motor Speedway.
One year later, McKennedy scored his maiden NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour victory at Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina driving the famous 7NY for Tommy Baldwin Racing. That stood as his lone Tour victory until his triumph earlier this year at Claremont.
“I look back over the last 10 years, I‘ve probably only had 65 or 70 Whelen Modified Tour starts,” McKennedy said. “There were several years I didn‘t race the Modified Tour, or the few years I did it was only a couple of races. To do it ourselves with my dad and all of our guys going back years ago we didn‘t have the backing or the sponsor to do it. We didn‘t have the manpower.
“I was fortunate enough looking back a few of years ago, Tommy Baldwin Jr. called me out of the clear blue. I was literally sitting in a 10-wheeler hauling gravel. Tommy called me and said, ‘Hey McKennedy, it‘s Baldwin. I want to try you down at New Smyrna this winter. If you do good, the ride is yours.‘”
McKennedy’s partnership with Baldwin ended up lasting four years, which included a full NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour schedule in 2020. Without the opportunity, McKennedy believes he never would have found himself celebrating a series championship at the conclusion of the 2022 season.
“I feel like I owe a big thanks to Tommy,” McKennedy said. “He kind of got me into the Modified Tour the last few years where I made a little more of a name for myself at this level.”
A lot of things could have been different for McKennedy during the 2022 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour season, but when the final race was run and the points were tabulated, it was McKennedy who joined the likes of Richie Evans, Tony Hirschman Jr., Mike Stefanik, Doug Coby and Justin Bonsignore as a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion.
“At the end of the day we are NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champions, and I am extremely satisfied,” McKennedy said.