Race Weekend Central

Counting CARS: 3 Takeaways from Brent Crews’ Orange County Breakthrough

ROUGEMONT, N.C- The zMAX CARS Tour made its much-anticipated return to Orange County Speedway this past Saturday (April 20) night – and “America’s Fastest 3/8 Mile Oval” lived up to the occasion. Both the Late Model Stock Cars and Pro Late Models were in action on the night, with plenty of excitement to go around. 

The CARS Tour hadn’t been to the Orange County high banks since April 2021, making this an exciting revisit for the field, with a strong lineup of 31 Late Model Stock cars on the entry list.

From an aging track surface coming up to physical racing throughout the night, there was certainly no shortage of talking points from the series’ return to Rougemont. 

Kaden Honeycutt outlasted the Pro Late Model field for his first triumph of the season. Later in the night, it was 16-year old rookie sensation Brent Crews picking up his first CARS Tour win with Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI).

Here are three takeaways from the Orange Blossom 250. 

Orange County on Crews Control

Just two weeks after 17-year old Connor Zilisch picked up his first CARS Late Model Stock win at Hickory Motor Speedway, the 16-year old Crews joined him as a CARS Tour winner. 

Crews and the KHI team had a rough start to the weekend, with an engine failure on Friday afternoon putting them behind the 8-ball before the main event on Saturday. The team continued to struggle early Saturday afternoon, clocking in 20th and 27th during the day’s practice sessions. 

But the tide began to turn for the No. 29 team during qualifying. Crews laid down a blistering lap to score the outside pole for the night’s 125-lap feature. He clocked in just 0.025 seconds behind polesitter Bobby McCarty

McCarty held the lead from the drop of the green, retaining it through a few early cautions. Crews held onto second from lap one until lap 74, giving up the runner-up position to Mini Tyrrell after taking the bottom on a restart. Following another yellow for Isabella Robusto, Crews was able to wrestle the second position back from Tyrrell. 

The caution flag flew once again with 39 laps to go, giving Crews a key opportunity. He elected to take the bottom like he had all night long on the ensuing restart, but this time it paid off. Crews got a great jump, drawing even with McCarty down the back straightaway. 

Crews gave McCarty a shoulder as the two battled into turn one on the next lap, pushing the No. 6 slightly up the track and clearing McCarty off of turn two for the lead with 38 to go.

After leading the entirety of the race to that point, McCarty’s night quickly went south. Contact between the second-place McCarty and Zilisch in third sent both cars spinning. They collected Tyrrell, Kade Brown and Treyten Lapcevich in the accident. 

The incident set up another restart, with Crews once again taking the inside putting Honeycutt to his outside. Honeycutt got a solid jump from the outside lane, but Crews once again took the room that he needed to clear the No. 17 the second time through turns one and two. 

The final 36 laps went green to the end, allowing Crews to cruise to his first career CARS Tour win, just over a second ahead of Honeycutt. It not only marks Crews’ first victory at just 16, but is also the first official win for KHI in the team’s to the Late Model Stock scene. Layne Riggs crossed the line first at Caraway Speedway last July driving for KHI, but was later disqualified.

For Crews, this further solidifies his status among a class of other young phenom. He’s establishing himself with talents like Zilisch Jesse Love as future superstars of the sport. Crews has now qualified second, led laps and earned top-10s in three out of four races so far in 2024. 

The win at Orange County also shows a sign of growth for the young KHI driver, following another opportunity that got away earlier in the season at Southern National Motorsports Park. Crews led the most laps in the season opener at Southern National, but gave the race away on a late restart after a dominant performance, settling for sixth. 

This time, Crews found himself on the other side of the story. When the dominant car in McCarty stumbled, Crews was there to pounce.

He can now call himself a CARS Tour winner and is solidly in the championship battle with the likes of McCarty, Carson Kvapil, Connor Hall and others.

The Pros Put On A Show

While the Late Model Stock cars hadn’t visited Orange County since 2021, the Pro Late Models hadn’t visited the track once series history. That changed Saturday night, and the series delivered a barnburner in its first ever Orange County trip.  

Conner Jones started on pole for the 100-lap Pro feature, leading the first two laps before Honeycutt grabbed the lead on the outside following a lap three restart. Jimmy Renfrew Jr. and Nick Loden quickly followed suit, shuffling the polesitter back to fourth early on. 

Renfrew Jr. mounted a charge for the lead on a lap-17 restart, dooring the left side of Honeycutt’s No. 51 in the middle of turn three and four. Another caution bunched the field back up again shortly after and Honeycutt got away on the restart. 

As Honeycutt and Loden drove away from the field, the battle for third between Renfrew and Jones began to heat up. Jones got to the rear bumper of Renfrew in two consecutive corners, getting underneath the No. 00 on lap 53. 

Jones gave a fender to Renfrew in the center of turns three and four. The two touched again on the ensuing entrance to turn one before Jones eventually cleared for the spot. 

Another caution on lap 60 brought the field back together. Loden chose the outside lane behind Honeycutt for the following restart, allowing Jones to restart inside the front row with a shot at the lead. Jones leaned on the No. 51 of Honeycutt entering turn three, nearly clearing him off of turn four.

Honeycutt battled back on the top side, but Jones cleared him off of turn four on following lap. Not willing to give up that easily, Honeycutt crossed over and dove to the bottom into turn one, knocking Jones’ No. 44 up the track in the process. Honeycutt then threw a slider into turn one, clearing the No. 44 and allowing Jones to once again cross under Honeycutt on the exit of two. 

The two kept battling with contact for another couple laps. Jones leaned on Honeycutt, but before Honeycutt finally cleared Jones for the lead on the exit of turn four on Lap 64. 

Meanwhile the battle for third raged on. Loden tried to charge back to the front while Renfrew worked to hold onto the podium spot. Renfrew continuously pinched down on Loden’s No. 43 on the exit of both turn two and four, leading the two to make contact multiple times on corner exit. 

Loden gave Renfrew a shot on the entrance of turn three, allowing him to pull even with the No. 00 on corner exit and clear Renfrew into turn one. Renfrew tried to drive back to the outside of Loden, making contact with Loden’s right rear and knocking in the left front of his No. 00. 

In the end, it was Honeycutt that drove away to victory after a spirited battle for second and third between Loden, Jones, and Spencer Davis allowed the No. 51 to drive away. Honeycutt picked up his second-career Pro Late Model triumph after winning the season finale at Caraway last fall, cementing himself as a title favorite when the series turns to Ace Speedway in two weeks time. 

A race like this for the Pro’s is exactly what you want to see from the series, and is a huge improvement from some of the races we saw in 2023, similar to the improvements we saw at Southern National. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

Re-Patch, Don’t Re-Pave

There was plenty of talk this weekend about the aging track surface at Orange County – namely what should become of it. Multiple times throughout the weekend, the track began to come up, including early in the Pro Late Model feature event. 

Ideas have been tossed around about leaving the track the way it is, patching the track’s surface, or repaving the facility entirely. For those that have never been to Orange County, the track surface has an extreme amount of character, with multiple holes and several cracks that stretch the width of the race track, all multiple inches wide and nearly six inches in depth at times. 

With that being said, the track coming up creates a safety hazard. We can’t have chunks of asphalt flying through the air as race cars fly by.

That said, if it was up to this humble write, we absolutely wouldn’t repave Orange County. 

The track is deceivingly high-banked, especially from the entrance of turn one to the exit of turn four, reaching 19-degrees of banking at its steepest point. The high banks around the 0.375 mile oval allow for high speeds despite the aging track surface, giving it the nickname “America’s Fastest 3/8 Mile Oval.”

The combination of banking and worn out surface is what makes Orange County special. There’s no other place like it in the region. Patching the cracks and holes in the track’s surface wouldn’t take away from that, but help fix the safety issues with the surface itself. 

On the other hand, a repave of Orange County would likely lead to an even faster, middle-dominant track – one where it would be nearly impossible to pass. The track could certainly age well over time in that scenario, but simply fixing what needs to be fixed preserves the track’s character without having a years-long layover period waiting on the asphalt to age. 

Saturday’s Late Model Stock car podium all seemed to agree something needs to be done, but the three swayed more to the side of  “fixing the problems” than a total overhaul. 

“I do not think we need to repave,” Crews said. “What will happen if we have a repave is it’s just going to be around the middle and around the bottom, and I don’t think anyone wants that. I think the character around this racetrack is the fact that it’s bumpy. … I think what we do need is we need to fill in the holes. If we fill in the holes, it won’t really change the character much.”

Pro Late Model winner and Late Model Stock Car runner up Honeycutt shared the same sentiment post-race. 

“If you repave this place, this place is ruined for life,” Honeycutt said. “It’s just two fast, we would probably be going 120 to 130 mph around here. It just needs to be patched up, and sat over the course of time and let it seal up. I feel like that would fix our problem…I’ll always love the place whether it gets re-paved or not, I really hope it doesn’t.”

Kvapil, who ended up third on the night, saw his run impacted by the track.

“I don’t want to call anybody out, but my front nose is all caved in from it,” Kvapil said. “I’m sure other people have had issues throughout the night. It’s one of those deals where I feel like they could probably do something about it, it seems like they need to do something about it. It just didn’t seem like they got anything done in time. It’s a really nice track and it’s a good facility, it just needs a little bit of fixing up.”

We’re past the point of Orange County being left as-is. That’s out of the question due to the safety risk of a racetrack falling apart. But the question remains as to how the track’s ownership fixes it.

Orange County is one of the best short tracks in the region, if not the nation, and it would be a shame to see it lose its character. Time will tell what the track decides to do going forward, but let’s hope some patches are on the horizon and the old surface will live to see another day.

Race Results

Late Model Stock:

  1. Brent Crews
  2. Kaden Honeycutt
  3. Carson Kvapil
  4. Connor Hall
  5. Chase Burrow
  6. Katie Hettinger
  7. Ryan Millington
  8. Timothy Peters
  9. Layne Riggs
  10. Treyten Lapcevich
  11. Jacob Heafner
  12. Andrew Grady
  13. Brenden Queen
  14. Camden Gullie
  15. Connor Zilisch
  16. Deac McCaskill
  17. Clay Jones
  18. Mini Tyrrell
  19. Buddy Isles Jr.
  20. Brandon Pierce
  21. Connor Mosack
  22. Chad McCumbee
  23. Bryce Applegate
  24. Bobby McCarty
  25. Kade Brown
  26. Ronnie Bassett Jr.
  27. Isabella Robusto
  28. Mason Bailey
  29. Landon Huffman
  30. Logan Clark
  31. Conner Jones (DNQ)

Pro Late Model:

  1. Kaden Honeycutt
  2. Nick Loden
  3. Spencer Davis
  4. Conner Jones
  5. Luke Baldwin
  6. T.J. DeCaire
  7. Max Reaves
  8. Jake Bollman
  9. Tristan McKee
  10. Caden Kvapil
  11. Katie Hettinger
  12. Ashton Higgins
  13. Brandon Lopez
  14. Justin Crider
  15. Jimmy Renfew Jr.
  16. Kyle Campbell
  17. Tyler Tanner
  18. Dylan Garner
  19. Joshua Horniman
  20. Jessica Cann

What’s Next?

The CARS Tour now takes a week off following three consecutive weekends of action for the Late Model Stock cars. Both series will be back in action at Ace Speedway on Friday, May 3rd. Catch all the action live on FloRacing.

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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