HUDSON, N.C.- The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour traveled to Tri-County Speedway Saturday (Oct. 21) night for the penultimate event of the 2023 season and once again, Tri-County did not disappoint. Following an unforgettable Old North State Nationals at the track back in August, the series had big shoes to fill with the running of the Blue Ridge 250, and ultimately it was Brenden “Butterbean” Queen picking up the win in dominant fashion.
Once again it was both the Late Model Stock Cars and the Pro Late Models in action Saturday Night at Tri-County, with the Pros running a 75-lap feature and the Late Model Stocks running a 125-lapper to close out the night. While Queen ran away with the Late Model Stock race in dominant fashion, it was the Pros who stole the spotlight.
Between a dominant case of redemption, a championship battle getting physical and a dramatic ending to the Pro race, there was no shortage of drama as we head to the final race of the season at Caraway in two weeks time. So with that, here’s three takeaways from a chaotic night at Tri-County.
Butterbean gets Tri-County Redemption
When the CARS Tour made their first stop at Tri-County back in August, it was for the biggest race of the year, the $30,000-to-win Old North State Nationals. On that night, Queen felt like one got away from him, as he had the dominant car all night long but would have to settle for 16th after running out of gas with 22 laps to go. This time, he finished the deal.
Queen had an absolutely perfect afternoon, picking up his fifth pole of the season during the late-afternoon qualifying session and earning the season sweep of pole awards at Tri-County. When the green flag flew on the 125-lap feature event, Queen took off and never looked back.
During the first stint of the race, Queen looked dominant, pulling away from second-place starter William Sawalich by over two seconds before the first competition caution flew on lap 45.
This caution took away the lead that Queen had built up, but it didn’t seem to matter. Butterbean once again drove away on the restart, building another massive lead before another competition caution on lap 85, this time over NASCAR Weekly Late Model National Champion Connor Hall.
A quick caution on the lap 85 restart for a front-straightaway pileup lined the field back up for a second restart and Queen skated away from the field without contest as the other frontrunners behind the No. 03 got all tangled up in turn 1.
It was then that Queen was slightly challenged for the first time all night, as Mason Diaz made his way up to second and kept pace with Queen for a large portion of the final 40-lap run before fading in the final 10 laps.
Ultimately, Queen took the checkered flag by 2.4 seconds over Diaz, leading all 125 laps in a dominant performance. For the second race in a row, the winner of the Late Model Stock event led every single lap, but unlike Deac McCaskill’s win at South Boston, where he was challenged multiple times, this one was a no doubter for Queen.
“Redemption is so sweet,” Queen said post-race. “This whole group right here deserved it and that’s what it means to me, more than me winning is for them, they’re the ones that had to go through that loss and people saying why didn’t yall put gas in the car that don’t understand the situation … these guys never gave up, and here we are.”
Butterbean entered Tri-County 33 points behind Carson Kvapil for the series championship and made inroads Saturday night. With Queen winning the pole award and the race, and Kvapil having an off night down in 10th, the championship is still not out of the question for the No. 03 team.
However, one thing is for certain and that’s that a chocolate milk and an all-star special was had at a Waffle House Saturday night. Butterbean is red hot heading to the finale at Caraway in two weeks’ time.
The Pro Late Model Title Fight Comes to Blows
The Pro Late Model championship battle has been close all season, as Katie Hettinger and Caden Kvapil have swapped the top spot all season long, with Kvapil leading the series with two wins while Hettinger holds the best average finish among the full-time drivers in the series. The two have battled hard all season long, but Saturday night, the title fight came to blows and was turned upside down.
With two races to go in the season heading into Tri-County, Kvapil held a slim four-point lead over Hettinger for the top spot. From the start, Kvapil was at a massive disadvantage, as Hettinger rolled off from the third starting spot while Kvapil started from the tail of the field due to unapproved adjustments.
Hettinger was able to grab the lead from polesitter Nick Loden on a lap 8 restart and it seemed like it would be smooth sailing from there as she began to drive away from the field. Meanwhile, Kvapil had made it up to seventh by lap 15.
When the yellow flew on lap 43, Kvapil had made his way up to third, while Hettinger had checked out to a massive lead over the field. Two restarts later, the two championship competitors found themselves on the front row for a lap 55 restart with just 20 laps to go. It was then that chaos ensued.
With Kvapil on the inside and Hettinger on the outside, the two battled side by side for the first two laps, with Kvapil nearly clearing Hettinger at one point before the two ended up door to door again, exiting turn 2 on the third lap after the restart. It was then that Kvapil slid up the racetrack as his car got tight and appeared to bounce the front end up into Hettinger.
The contact was slight, but the two hit tire to tire and sent both cars sliding sideways towards the inside wall. Kvapil was able to save his car, but Hettinger overcorrected and collected third- and fourth-place runners Brent Crews and Loden as she slammed the outside wall. With the incident blame being placed on Kvapil, he was sent to the tail of the field, joined by the damaged Hettinger at the back for the restart.
As the field took the green flag, Hettinger hooked a left on the front straightaway and hooked Kvapil in the right rear towards the outside wall. Hettinger’s No. 81 nosed into the inside wall ending her night, while Kvapil’s No. 96 backed into the outside wall and continued on.
With this, a fight broke out on pit road between the two teams before track security eventually separated the two groups. What this means for the title fight, is not yet entirely clear, but it’s highly likely that Hettinger will be parked for Caraway by the series based on the blatant retaliation on the front straightway.
Fans will wait for the announcement by the series, but one can assume the championship now all but belongs to Kvapil heading to Caraway.
Dramatic Pro Finish Leads to Unbelievable Pit Road Scene
Speaking of Caden Kvapil, he actually went on to win the race, but in the most unorthodox way possible. As the retaliation from Hettinger with under 20 laps to go left Kvapil at the tail of the field once again, the front row of Ashton Higgins and Gavan Boschele took the green, both looking for their first career win.
After multiple restarts, Higgins jumped out front with the lead, but Boschele began to run the No. 9 down and was within a car length with five laps to go. It only got closer from there, as Boschele took a peek to the inside with just two laps to go. The two made contact off turn 2 on the white-flag lap, but Higgins held the lead heading to turn 3.
As the two entered turn 3, Higgins ran the high side and Boschele drove to the bottom of the track, drifted up and spun the No. 9 of Higgins into the outside wall. Boschele crossed the finish line first, but was immediately disqualified by the series officials. That left Caden Kvapil, who made the pass for what looked to be third on the final lap, the second to cross the line after Higgins’ crash, to be awarded the win.
As Boschele pulled the No. 25 down pit road, Higgins jumped from his car, ran across the track to meet Boschele and began beating on the windshield of the No. 25 before security pulled him away. As the No. 25 rolled further down pit road and came to a stop at the hauler, a brawl broke out between the two crews that involved 20-plus people before security finally broke up the fight.
While the brawl was happening on pit road, Kvapil had made his way to victory lane and as he climbed from his car was met with a shower of boos from the Tri-County fans upset about the incident with Hettinger. With chaos all around, the finish certainly marked one of the most memorable moments in CARS Tour history, one that won’t soon be forgotten.
The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour heads to Caraway Speedway in two weeks time, on Saturday, Nov. 4. Both the Late Model Stock Cars and Pro Late Models will be in action, as a champion will be crowned in both divisions. Watch all the action live on FloRacing.
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