BATON, N.C. – The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour made a somewhat scheduled stop at Tri-County Speedway on Saturday night (Aug. 20), as the fifth annual Old North State Nationals, originally scheduled for Memorial Day weekend back in May, had been delayed by Mother Nature up to this point.
Aside from the schedule hiccup, the event itself is a big deal, maybe the biggest for the CARS Tour, as it pays $30,000 to the winner, the highest payday on the series schedule by far.
With big money on the line, the race did not disappoint. The Late Model Stock Car portion of the event, which started with a field 32 cars strong, provided action from the start, with side-by-side racing all across the 0.4-mile racetrack.
With a mix of some tempers, fuel strategy blunders and a feel-good first-time winner, this Saturday’s race at Tri-County is one that fans won’t soon forget. Here are three of the biggest takeaways from the night as the series shifts gears toward Wake County Speedway next Saturday (Aug. 26).
Landon Huffman Finally Had His Breakthrough Moment
Finally, after all the ups and downs, Landon Huffman got his time in the spotlight. The second-generation driver out of Claremont, N.C., has dealt with his fair share of bad luck across the past couple of seasons, and more specifically this one. However, through all the ups and down, Huffman never lost faith in his abilities and he showed up in a big way at Tri-County.
After a solid qualifying effort had Huffman and the Nelson Motorsports No. 22 rolling off fifth in the 200-lap feature, Huffman quickly made his way up to second on the first run of the race.
From there, differing pit strategies shuffled the field throughout the night, with Huffman finding himself down in the teens at times, before finding his way back towards the front in the final 50 laps. It was then that Huffman flexed his muscle, as it seemed he could run the bottom of the racetrack better than anyone else, making his way up to second with under 30 to go.
Huffman and Kaden Honeycutt had multiple back-and-forth battles on multiple restarts as the laps wound down, but Huffman ultimately grabbed the lead on the last one before Honeycutt eventually ran out of fuel, allowing the local hero to drive away to the $30,000 payday and the biggest win of his career.
“I’ve raced my whole life for a moment like this,” said Huffman. The road wasn’t easy, but Huffman and the Nelson team found the top of the mountain on the big stage in the CARS Tour’s biggest race and that won’t soon be forgotten.
Butterbean Queen Missed His Big Opportunity in the Championship
In the shadows of the joy of victory lies the agony of defeat and nobody felt that more Saturday night than Brenden “Butterbean” Queen. Queen entered Saturday’s Old North State Nationals just 24 points behind championship leader Carson Kvapil and looked poised to close that gap some more early on in the night.
The polesitter picked up right where he left off in qualifying as the green flag flew on the 200-lap event, jumping out to the early lead for the entire first run before pit strategy came into play.
Under a yellow flag period at lap 63 however, Queen was penalized as it was deemed that the team went over the allotted time limit to work on the racecar.
That seemed to not be an issue, as Queen quickly drove through the field and made it back to sixth just past the lap 100 mark, after restarting at the tail end of the field. The final controlled caution flew on lap 113 and his Lee Pulliam team elected to keep the No. 03 on the racetrack instead of pitting for fuel or two right-side tires.
After restarting second, Queen quickly jumped to the lead and controlled the race, holding off all challengers, restart after restart, with what was set to be another big points night with Kvapil hovering around fifth at that point. It appeared that nobody had anything for the No. 03, and Queen was set to drive away to the biggest win of his season.
With 22 laps to go, it all went south. Heading down the back straightaway, the car began to sputter and we soon learned that Queen had run out of fuel. He finished the night 16th after having the dominant car of the night.
The big question is, how does a team in the middle of a championship battle miscalculate fuel by 22 laps?
This was caused mostly by the number of cautions toward the end of the race adding to the total amount of laps run, as caution laps do not count, but not factoring that as a possibility with a championship on the line is careless, and it could ultimately be the deciding factor as the season winds down. Butterbean had a huge opportunity in the palm of his hand and his team blew it.
The Pro Late Model Championship Will Go Down to the Wire
On the Pro Late Model side of things, its 75-lap main event was dominated flag to flag by Caden Kvapil, as he once again closed in on Katie Hettinger for the series championship with just three races remaining now. Hettinger came away with a sixth-place finish, but the gap has continued to close over the past few races.
Coming into Saturday night’s race at Tri-County, the gap was just nine points, and that will likely be all but gone when the Pro Late Models arrive at South Boston Speedway on Oct. 7 for its next event. Both drivers have endured roller-coaster seasons and it’s going to be down to the wire to see who comes out on top.
The CARS Tour is back in action with the LMSC at Wake County next Saturday night, (Aug. 26) live on FloRacing. The Pro Late Model division is back in action at South Boston on Oct. 7 live on FloRacing.
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