Race Weekend Central

Short Track Weekly: NASCAR’s Version of a Late Model Stock Race

Did anyone else see that 500-lap Late Model Stock Car race at Florence Motor Speedway last Sunday?

Wait, correction. I was just told that it was actually the NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway. But you could have fooled me. 

The Cup Series put on an unexpected short track classic this past Sunday at Bristol. With tire wear as extreme as we’ve seen with the Next Gen car, managing equipment was the name of the game – a refreshing nod to the sport’s roots.

Those roots of stock car racing include the Late Model Stock world. And boy did the two look similar this past weekend – maybe more than they ever have in the past two decades.

But the race still received a decent amount of hate for a similar product to the one we praise its grassroots counterpart for. Why is that?

A lot of this narrative comes from the different audiences these two forms of racing have generated. Grassroots racing like the CARS Tour and Late Model Stock Racing in general have a hardcore, niche audience that chooses to tune in, while the Cup Series is catering to a wider audience that may not necessarily like or be accostomed to that form of racing. 

However, that doesn’t mean what we saw at Bristol shouldn’t be appreciated. When is the last time you heard Late Model Stock Cars and the zMAX CARS Tour get mentioned multiple times during a Cup Series broadcast? Because that’s exactly what happened this past Sunday. 

Bristol had Josh Berry and Rodney Childers comparing the race to a CARS race at Florence mid-race. It’s always a good thing when the highest level of the sport can circle back around and resemble the stomping grounds where careers begin. 

During stage two, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson, and Denny Hamlin were trading the lead back and forth, backing up the field together to slow down the pace and conserve tires for the rest of the run. In the end, it was the short track veteran Hamlin who saved enough rubber to survive to the end out front.

That should sound familiar to the Late Model Stock crowd. This method is textbook for what we see in events like the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park, and is especially apparent in Florence’s South Carolina 400.

Just last year, Kade Brown drove to the front of the 400 at Florence, and proceeded to back the field up and ride out front for over 100 laps en route to the win.

Tire management is the key to what would have been the next race on the zMAX CARS Tour schedule. The series was set to return to New River All American Speedway this Saturday, March 23.

Unfortunately, what would have been a perfect grassroots follow-up to the Cup Series race at Bristol will have to wait. Forecasted inclement weather has pushed the race at New River to April 13, following the April 6 CARS Tour race at Hickory Motor Speedway

Unlike the concrete that acted like a cheese grater at Bristol, New River chews tires simply because of how old the asphalt is – 25 years old to be exact. Add in the fact that the track sits right by the coast in Jacksonville, NC, where sand naturally blasts the racing surface year-round, and you’re left with a tire conservationist’s dream.

Brenden Queen won last year’s race at the track after dropping all the way back to the last car on the lead lap to save his equipment, which goes to show just how important taking care of your equipment can be in the long run.

While the 2024 CARS Tour installment at New River will have to wait just a few more weeks, we can continue to relish in the NASCAR Cup Series putting on a race at Bristol that mirrored a Saturday night Late Model Stock Car show.

It was a positive sign after all the trouble NASCAR has had with short tracks in the Next Gen era. The closer they can get to grassroots racing going forward, the better. 

About the author

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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