Race Weekend Central

Cole Butcher Steals ASA STARS National Win at Hickory

HICKORY, N.C. – The ASA STARS National Tour made its lone stop in the Carolinas this past Thursday night (May 23) at Hickory Motor Speedway for the annual Tar Heel 250. The race doubled as a points-paying event for both the Stars National Tour as well as the ASA Southern Super Series.

Heavy rain wound up delaying the event several hours. But in the early morning, the field was able to run to the finish, with points leader Cole Butcher capturing the checkered flag.

Drivers took to the track for single car qualifying around .365-mile Hickory Motor Speedway early in the afternoon, the sun shining bright on the old, worn-out surface. Of the 25 cars that took time, it was 16-year old Brent Crews that topped the charts, just edging out Dawson Sutton and Josh Berry.

But soon after the night’s Legend Car feature that saw Keelan Harvick take the win, the downpours came. Heavy rain fell for two hours, leading to an extensive hour-and-a-half drying period as ASA drivers waited for the chance to race.

Just before 10:30 p.m. ET, the 250-lap feature for the Super Late Models finally went green. Crews got the jump on the field from pole and looked to be the dominant car in the race’s early stages.

Just before lap 30, a battle for a spot inside the top three went sideways – literally – for Berry and Gio Ruggiero. Berry drove to the inside of Ruggiero’s No. 22 into turn 3, looking to complete the pass entering turn 1 on the following lap.

As Berry completed the pass, Ruggiero attempted to cross back underneath his No. 4. But he misjudged the gap, clipping the right rear of Berry’s car and knocking in the right rear fender.

The two got stuck together and did a power slide off turn 2, with both drivers eventually saving their cars after taking a trip through the grass.

From that point on, stage one went mostly drama free until the scheduled caution flew at lap 100, with Crews out front the entire way. In the meantime, Chase Elliott worked his way up to second after starting the night in eighth.

Crews continued to lead early in stage two, while Elliott began to flex his muscle and inch closer to his rear bumper.

At lap 128, Elliott made his move for the lead. The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion poked to the inside of Crews exiting turn 4, nearly drawing even into turn 1.

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The attempt was short lived, however, as steam began to pour out the hood of his No. 9. Seconds later, Elliott slowed on the backstretch, ending his night. Elliott wound up 21st in the rundown at night’s end as a mechanical failure ended what looked to be a very strong performance.

Back on track, the race went back green and Crews was met with a new challenger up front – Matt Craig. Craig cleared Crews for the lead just before lap 150. But Crews was unhappy with Craig, feeling as though the No. 54 cut him off when he cleared for the lead.

Crews returned the favor by sending Craig deep into turn 3, the nudge big enough to retake the top spot on the exit of turn 4. Craig didn’t take kindly to the payback, and promptly punted Crews into turn 3 on the following lap, allowing Craig to take the lead back.

The two had another heated battle out front after a lap 163 caution that saw more physical racing, with Craig ultimately taking the top spot once again.

Just before the lap 200 stage break, with Craig well out in front leading the race, Crews and Casey Roderick became locked in a battle for the second spot. Crews ultimately pushed too hard off turn 2 and spun his No. 24 around, backing the car into the wall and ending his night.

After a quick yellow to start the final 50-lap stint, Craig jumped out to the lead with Roderick, Sutton, Butcher and Berry in tow. At this point, teams knew more rain was on the way, meaning racing to lap 250 was not a guarantee.

Craig held the lead until lap 219, when Roderick made the pass for the lead. Butcher followed through for second and eventually got out front on a lap 232 restart.

He never looked back from there, leading the final 18 laps and taking the checkered flag.

The win marked Butcher’s second in three STARS Tour races so far in 2024, helping him extend his points lead over second-place Roderick.

The success isn’t exactly good news for the rest of the ASA field, as the No. 28 Wilson Motorsports team looked rather pedestrian for much of the night compared to their typical standards.

To wind up in victory lane on what looked to be a potential top-five night is a message sent to the rest of the field.

“We just worked really hard to get the car freed up in the last little bit,” Butcher said of his night. “Hats off to them (the crew), they’re the reason why we won this. I mean I love this racetrack and this racetrack fits my driving style. It’s hard when the car’s not 100%, but the last two laps, it was just good.”

Berry capped off his late night with a solid top five in fifth position. That was as high as Berry and the No. 4 team could climb following the early contact with Ruggiero.

“It was pretty significant,” Berry said in regards to the changes he felt in the car following the contact. “I haven’t talked to him yet but my spotter said that he was kind of trying to tuck in and just kind of mistimed it and we kind of got hung up together.

“When he knocked the corner panel in, it surprised me how free it got really. I was kind of just hanging on at one point, and that was kind of the point where we gave up some track position, too. I felt like we were starting to move forward when that happened.”

Tar Heel 250 Results

  1. Cole Butcher
  2. Casey Roderick
  3. Dawson Sutton
  4. Matt Craig
  5. Josh Berry
  6. Bubba Pollard
  7. Stephen Nasse
  8. Derek Kraus
  9. Connor Okrzesik
  10. William Sawalich
  11. Connor Jones
  12. Austin Nason
  13. Dustin Smith
  14. Michael Hinde
  15. Billy VanMeter
  16. Jett Noland
  17. Gio Ruggiero
  18. Brent Crews
  19. Jackson Boone
  20. Kyle Steckley
  21. Chase Elliott
  22. Caden Kvapil
  23. Gavan Boschele
  24. Justin Crider
  25. Kodie Conner

The next time Berry or Elliott will be behind the wheel of a Super Late Model is unclear, at least to the public eye. But the ASA STARS will march on with their summer schedule, with or without Cup drivers in the field.

The series gets back in action Friday, June 14 at Madison International Speedway, followed by a Sunday (June 16) stop at the Milwaukee Mile.

About the author

Chase_folsom_ROVAL_2022

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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