The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour made a stop at New River All-American Speedway Saturday night (Sept. 9) for just the second time in series history. The 24-year-old asphalt of the Jacksonville, N.C., track led to a battle of attrition as the tires fell off throughout the night, but ultimately it was Brenden “Butterbean” Queen picking up his second win of the season, fending off a last-lap challenge from Ronnie Bassett Jr.
The Late Model Stocks were once again on the road by themselves as the Pro Late Models are off until South Boston on Oct. 7, so all eyes were on the 125-lap late model stock feature.
The surface of New River All-American Speedway is the original asphalt from when the track opened back in 1999 and the salty, sandy climate of the North Carolina coast has worn the asphalt of the track tremendously as years have gone by. The worn-out surface provided nothing but action throughout the field, as drivers worked to balance tire wear and track position as the night went on.
In the end, the tire-wear chess match led to an epic late-race battle and sent others home disappointed. Ultimately, there was once again plenty to talk about as the series takes an entire month off now before heading to South Boston Speedway. Here’s three big takeaways from the CARS Tour battle at “Jacksonville’s Action Attraction.”
Butterbean Wins the Tire Wear Chess Match
Queen once again proved why he is one of the most talented drivers in the series Saturday night. Queen laid down a blistering lap in qualifying to once again put the No. 03 on pole for the fourth time this season, besting championship rival Carson Kvapil for the spot. However, at the drop of the green flag, Queen quickly started dropping back.
While it may have looked as though the No. 03 had some sort of problem, this was actually by design. By lap 25, Queen had dropped from his pole position all the way down to ninth, multiple seconds off the lead, even running laps nearly two seconds off his pole lap earlier in the day.
Queen was scored 10th when the first caution flew on lap 40 and following the restart, we saw more of the same. It appeared as though Queen just refused to put up a fight as other cars bypassed the No, 03 to the outside. When the final competition caution flew with 45 laps to go, Queen was down in the 11th position. From there it was go time for Queen.
In just 23 laps, Queen found himself in second with 22 laps to go, 2.6 seconds behind race leader Conner Jones. Queen continued to eat into the lead that Jones had built as the laps wound down, but a caution with seven laps to go erased what was left of Queen’s deficit to the race leader.
Queen grabbed the lead from the outside front row on the restart, but the battle wasn’t over there. Bassett got to the inside of Queen with four laps to go and again on the white-flag lap, as the two made contact in the final corners. Ultimately, Queen held on with a power slide off turn 4 and grabbed his second win of the season.
Butterbean understands how to save tires and the importance of having fresh rubber at the end, rather than maintaining track position throughout the race. Queen has time and time again dropped to the back to save tires at abrasive racetracks like New River and in the end, he usually finds his way back to the front. Saving tires is a chess match and Butterbean seems to have mastered it.
Conner Jones Misses Out On What Could Have Been
Lost in the performance by Queen and Bassett at the end of Saturday night’s race might be Jones’ best drive of the season. Jones is a driver many know has talent, as he has made multiple starts in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season with ThorSport Racing as well as starts in the ARCA Menards Series and one career win with the CARS Tour coming last season at Tri-County Speedway.
However, the driver of the No. 44 has yet to find victory lane this season and was possibly seven laps away from doing so before a late-race caution prevented that from happening for Jones.
Jones started back in the 13th position but quickly moved to the front from there. In 20 laps, Jones managed to drive all the way up to fourth and hung around the top five for the rest of the night. When the competition caution flew with 45 laps to go, Jones found himself third and would ultimately line up second after the chose cone for the restart. Jones made quick work to get to the lead with 38 to go and from there, he began to drive away.
Jones built a lead of over two seconds knowing drivers like Queen and Bassett would be making their way to the front with tires that most likely had more life in them, and he knew his best chance was to have a big enough lead to where those cars couldn’t catch him.
Once Queen got to second, he began to eat away at Jones’ lead, but as the laps wound down it looked as though there wouldn’t be enough time for the No. 03 to catch the No. 44, that Jones was on his way to potentially his second CARS Tour win.
That lead would disappear into thin air when the caution came out with seven laps to go after Ryan Millington went for a spin in turn 3. The cars behind the No. 44 had better tires than Jones and therefore he wasn’t able to put up much of a fight on the restart.
Jones hung on for what looked to be a third-place finish, until contact between Queen and Bassett allowed Jones to grab second at the line. Second is still something to hang your hat on if you’re Jones, but you can’t help but think of what could’ve been.
An Abrasive Racetrack Provided Comers and Goers
Abrasive racetracks always have, and always will produce good racing. It may not be the most side-by-side, door-to-door, nail-biting action, but it’s without a doubt fun to watch. As previously mentioned, the track surface of the Jacksonville racetrack is old – 24 years old, to be exact. With the track being so close to the Atlantic Ocean, the track has become worn by the coastal climate and now it simply chews up tires.
As many passes as there were inside the top 10 as well as throughout the entire field, it often looked as though the car being passed was standing still. Many drivers drove up to the front and stayed there for the first two thirds of the race and then in the final run, they had burned up their tires and had nothing left.
Logan Clark led a good chunk of the race after driving up to the front early on, battling with Chad McCumbee throughout the first 80 laps. However, in the final stretch of the race, Clark faded drastically, falling a lap down and coming home 18th out of 20 cars. Others like Landon Huffman and Mini Tyrell also ran up front for portions of the race before coming home in 16th and 13th, respectively.
In contrast, many drivers elected to sit back and save tires for much of the race before charging through the field at the end. The performances of Queen and Bassett have already been highlighted but another impressive drive at the end came from Mason Diaz.
Diaz spent much of the race outside the top 15 and even found himself in danger of going a lap down while running in 18th before the caution flew with 45 to go. On the following restart, Diaz went on a tear, charging through the field all the way to the fourth position when the checkered flag flew.
Abrasive racetracks allow drivers to show not just their raw speed, but their ability to preserve their equipment and balance tire wear, and be up front when it matters most. It’s without a doubt a different style of racing from the newly-paved racetracks that the series visits, but it’s a style of racing that has an old-school feel to it and rewards patience.
The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour will take an entire month off before both the Late Model Stock and Pro Late Model divisions will be back in action at South Boston Speedway on Saturday, Oct. 7, live on FloRacing.
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