As the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour reaches the second week of their month-long hiatus before returning to action at South Boston, the late model stock community turns their attention to Martinsville Speedway for the 38th running of the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 Saturday (Sept. 23), the biggest late model stock race in the country.
Martinsville has long been considered the Daytona or Indianapolis of the late model stock world, so with a lot of money, bragging rights and a grandfather clock on the line, everyone brings out their best equipment for this race.
Another interesting aspect to the race is its inclusion in the Virginia Triple Crown, a three race championship series of crown jewel late model stock races across the state. The three-race series is made up of the Harley Davidson 200 at South Boston, Hampton Heat at Langley and the previously mentioned ValleyStar 300 at Martinsville.
The Triple Crown champion is decided by which driver has the best average finish across the three races, rather than points, and a driver must compete in all three events to be eligible.
With the Triple Crown taking place close to home for many CARS Tour competitors and two of the three tracks involved also being on the CARS Tour schedule, many of the CARS Tour regulars are usually found right at the top of the Triple Crown standings. This season’s 10th edition of the series is no different.
Heading into Martinsville, CARS Tour regulars Brenden Queen and Bobby McCarty lead the Virginia Triple Crown standings. The two split the first two races of the series, so which CARS Tour regular has a better chance of coming out on top this weekend at Martinsville?
To get a better breakdown of the numbers, Queen currently holds the top spot after a second-place result at South Boston and a win at Langley, giving him an average finish of 1.5. As for McCarty, he’s not far behind after Carson Kvapil’s disqualification at South Boston gave McCarty the win in race one, which he followed up with a third-place result in race two, giving McCarty an average finish of 2.0.
McCarty and Queen aren’t the only two drivers with a shot at the crown, as third-place Trevor Ward currently has an average finish of 5.0 and CARS Tour regular Brandon Pierce has an average finish of 6.5.
Logan Clark holds down the fifth spot at the moment with an 8.5. None of these three drivers are out of the equation by any means, as 2022 champion Peyton Sellers won with an average finish of 6.0 after a 14th-place result at Langley. Anyone outside of these five drivers would be a longshot.
However, while Ward, Pierce and Clark all have fighting chances, McCarty and Queen are the only two who control their own destiny in Saturday night’s 200 lapper. A win would guarantee the crown for either driver and both drivers would have to finish outside the top six for anyone else to have a shot at the crown, so for argument’s sake, I’m going to keep it between Queen and McCarty.
Starting with Queen, he has been absolutely lights out in the big-time races this season. Even going back to last season, Queen capped off his 2022 season with a big win in the South Carolina 400 at Florence, another crown-jewel event in the Southeast. Since then, 2023 has been a breakout year for the Virginia native, as he currently sits second in the CARS Tour standings and has two wins with the series.
Queen picked up a big win against a packed CARS Tour field at the famed North Wilkesboro Speedway back in May, before bringing home a second at South Boston and a win at Hampton Heat back in July. Queen was also well on his way to a win in the Old North State Nationals in August before he ran out of gas with 22 laps to go.
Another key factor on Saturday night is going to be staying out of trouble and the best way to do that is to start up front and stay there. This year, Queen has had no problems with that, with four poles in 13 starts so far with the CARS Tour and an average starting position of 4.77.
Martinsville’s unique format will throw a wrench in that for sure, as time trials only set the lineup for the four 25-lap heat races, not the main event. Either way, starting up front in a heat race will be important as well and the No. 03 team has the one-lap pace to get that done.
As for McCarty, the biggest thing he has over Queen is experience. While Queen is in the middle of a breakout year, his first time competing for a championship with the CARS Tour, McCarty is no stranger to these types of high-pressure situations with a lot on the line.
McCarty is a three-time CARS Tour champion, winning the series title back in 2018, ‘19 and ‘21, making him the only multi-time champion of the series at this time, although Kvapil will most likely change that with three races to go in the series season.
McCarty has also won the Triple Crown before, taking the crown back in 2021, so he knows what it is going to take to win the title having been in the situation before. With all of this, McCarty hasn’t had the strongest of seasons, currently sitting fifth in CARS Tour points with one win on the season coming back at Dominion Raceway in June.
That win at Dominion does hold some weight however, as he beat Queen and Kvapil straight up in the final laps of the race. Although it is not a direct comparison to the long, fast straights of Martinsville, Dominion is one of the fastest tracks on the schedule with loads of grip, much like Martinsville, so that too should give McCarty the confidence to take the fight to Queen.
I fully expect both drivers to be fighting for the win on Saturday, as both have shown the ability to win in big moments, whether it be in the past or just this season. Both drivers will be in the running for their first grandfather clock but ultimately, I give a slight edge to Queen based on the team’s performance over the past calendar year.
Anything can happen at Martinsville. Plenty of key players in Saturday night’s race don’t have a real shot to win the Triple Crown and really won’t care if others do with what’s on the line. This race is the Daytona 500 of late model racing for a reason, so whoever comes away victorious on Saturday night has earned it and accomplished something many drivers only dream of.
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