“The greatest battles of life are fought out daily in the silent chambers of the soul.”

David O. McKay

The sport of auto racing goes well beyond any single event that’s run. At it’s heart, it all comes down to the people that compete, and the stories that they entail. Those stories define not only what brings them to the sport, but how they compete in it. Those stories define their very soul. Those stories are their life. They are what make them who they are, and in many ways, it all plays out on the track. And those facts were absolutely self evident at the 2024 Rogers Heating And Cooling Orange Krush 200 at Orange County Speedway presented by The Ward Burton Wildlife Foundation. An inaugural event that had a very diverse starting lineup that featured the youth of the sport versus a group of seasoned veterans. That said, it was also a lineup that featured winners and champions. All of them bringing their own personal stories into the event. Ward Burton would see his first start in a race car in over ten years, and his very first competing against his son Jeb. Three time zMAX CARS Tour Late Model Stock Champion Bobby McCarty came into the race with his still relatively new team at R&S Race Cars as they are still feeling each other out and finding speed, along with teammate Deac McCaskill who has a similar story, also joining the team for 2024. Multi-track champion Kade Brown brought his youthful experience to the fray as he climbs the Late Model Stock ranks, and Barry Beggarly added another big event to his already storied career. But these were just a few of the stories that helped write the opening chapters of this exceptional short track stock car racing event. How would the drama ultimately unfold and what could be written for it’s final pages? Let’s first take a closer look at all the on track action throughout the race.

ROGERS HEATING AND COOLING ORANGE KRUSH 200

Bobby McCarty in the R&S Race Cars # 6 machine lays down the fastest lap in qualifying with a time of 14.245 seconds. Starting second will be the # 17 of Kaden Honeycutt followed by the # 04 of Ronnie Bassett Jr, the # 29 of Brent Crews, and Buddy Isles Jr in the # 11 will round out the top five. Veteran flagman Brandon Willard looks over the star-studded field, approves what he sees, and honorary starter Jeff Burton waves the flag and we’re green at “The House Of Speed”! McCarty sails out to the front as Crews is able to muscle around Bassett Jr for third. Kade Brown in the # 23 is able to follow through as is the # 51 of former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner Timothy Peters. Brown dives underneath Crews but just can’t get the run as Peters tries to pounce on the outside. Racing like this is why fans love Orange County, as Brown and Peters stay side by side for around five laps with Peters finally clearing. Brown peeks his nose on Peters, but thinks better of it right now as McCarty is out to a great lead. Brown tries it once more and the two have another incredible battle with Brown finally prevailing. Now Peters finds himself under fire from Bassett Jr who slides past, leaving Peters to deal with a fast # 77W of Trevor Ward. Peters will find a reprieve though as the caution flies for debris. Isles Jr comes down pit road with a major problem as a piece of asphalt has pierced through his grill, ending his night prematurely. After the choose is completed, McCarty remains the leader followed by Honeycutt, Crews, Brown, and Bassett Jr in the # 04. McCarty makes it look easy on the restart, firing off like a rocket and clearing off of turn two. Behind, Ward’s car continues to get better as he takes away fifth from Bassett Jr, setting his sights on Brown. Brown is able to clench the fourth spot as the halfway caution is thrown, giving teams a chance to fuel their machines and make adjustments. Also happening during the break is a top eight redraw, and much to McCarty’s dislike, the # 6 draws the dreaded # 8, pushing the dominant car all the way back to the second half of the top ten. Honeycutt is the luckiest driver in the field, drawing the first position followed by Crews, Brown, Ward, and Bassett Jr who rounds out the top five. The field addresses themselves to Willard’s green flag and we’ve got 100 more circuits to settle it!

The outside is amazing on restarts, now helping Honeycutt to clear the field as it’s a hornet’s nest behind! The # 08 of Deac McCaskill has entered himself into the frame and makes it three wide to secure fourth ahead of Ward! We’ve got another stoppage though as even more debris has made it’s home on Orange County’s pavement. It’s thankfully a quickie yellow as after the choose, it’s Honeycutt, an emerging McCaskill, Crews, Brown, and Ward. Despite McCaskill’s best efforts, Honeycutt gets the nod as the leader with McCarty now making some aggressive moves to climb through the pack. Crews begins to lose a spot to Brown but we’ve got a crash in turn four as Late Model Stock legend Barry Beggarly in the # 82 blows a tire and slams the wall. He’s thankfully okay as they tow the car away, an unfortunate break for one of Orange County’s finest. Honeycutt lines up on the outside up front followed by McCaskill, Crews, Brown, and Ward. McCaskill gives Honeycutt a handful this time but Honeycutt still prevails up top. But McCaskill is a nuisance and dives low, looking to spoil Honeycutt’s race. McCarty has somehow made his way up to fourth as he gets by both Ward and Brown with little issue as Bassett Jr slams the turn two wall with a blown tire as well, necessitating another stoppage. There’s no SAFER barrier here at Orange County, so it’s great to see Bassett Jr out of his car as Honeycutt leads, a hungry McCaskill lines up second, a hard charging McCarty is third, a quiet but fast Crews is fourth, and perennial contender Ward is fifth.

Honeycutt gets an amazing jump as Crews slots into third ahead of McCarty. But he has the same problem as Isles Jr, with asphalt coming through his grill! He brings his car to pit road without a caution, giving McCarty third, Brown fourth, and the # 95 of Sam Yarbrough fifth. Back up front, McCaskill is all over Honeycutt, making occasional contact in the process. McCaskill dives low, but the outside is so good for Honeycutt and it helps him outrun McCaskill each and every time. The battle for fifth is excellent with Yarbrough, Ward, and the # 01 of Camden Gullie all wanting a spot in the top five. Yarbrough’s car begins to slow and he’ll take his vehicle to the pits as well, giving fifth to track regular Gullie. None of that matters to Kaden Honeycutt though as he’ll hold off one of the best to do it to score an emotional victory at Orange County! McCaskill comes home second followed by McCarty, Brown, and Gullie.

MY TAKE

First of all, our hats are off to the event staff. To say this was a well run event would be putting it mildly. The crowd came out in force and they got their money’s worth. And for the short track fans in attendance, an autograph session was set up outside the front grandstands, and while that’s no huge surprise for an event of this caliber, what’s to be noted here is that it didn’t end until the line had all but dissipated, giving everyone a chance to meet their favorite contenders. That’s saying something here as that line was as long as you can imagine. But more importantly, the entire event, from the time the haulers arrived and until they rolled away, was put together as professional as we’ve seen. And we’ve been from the smallest attended short track show to the bright lights of Cup, and this truly was to say it mildly, exceptionally ran with everyone’s expectations taken into consideration.

All of that said, the story of the day was Kaden Honeycutt. In recent weeks and coming into this event, Kaden has been hinting at emotional exhaustion. Understandable if you know about his drive to move up through the NASCAR ranks in his ambition to reach the highest levels. It’s been a daunting task to say the least. And especially if you know the talent this twenty year old driver possesses. But in a world where big name sponsorship can mean more in some cases than talent, it’s a hard road for an independent trying to find his way. But Kaden has made good progress in his quest, albeit under great pressure to perform. That’s the story that’s obvious to the astute short track racing fan. In the middle of giving all he has emotionally and physically to secure a future in stock car racing’s highest divisions, an even fiercer battle has emerged.

In the middle of Kaden Honeycutt’s strive to compete at NASCAR’s highest levels, his family has been the rock he’s leaned on. Often overlooked and consistently underrated at times, it’s his family that he’s looked to for not only support, but the confidence he needs to keep his head up when things don’t go as planned. But the family has been rocked to it’s core recently with tragedy. Losing family members can be the hardest thing any individual to get through, but to lose more than one in quick succession can be devastating as Kaden Honeycutt alluded to in our interview with him in victory lane. “…also want to thank my mom and dad for all the support they’ve given me, yeah, it’s just awesome…I haven’t won a Late Model Stock race since 2022…it just feels so good with the…whew, the personal stuff between me and my mom and dad with losing my grandparents and my uncle in one year, it’s just…oh it’s so tough… I wish they were here…” Clearly this was an emotional win for the young driver. The race was competitive with Honeycutt holding off one of the best to ever do it in a Late Model Stock at Orange County. With polesitter Bobby McCarty falling to the luck of the draw, it left Honeycutt and McCaskill to battle it out for the win. But before the race even began, Kaden Honeycutt had already started his battle, and so he was going to be hard to beat regardless. For a driver with a winning mindset, an emotionally driven performance can be a game changer. For Kaden Honeycutt, it was just what the doctor ordered, for him and his family. Until next time, See You At The Track!

(Race write up by Joshua Weatherman. Intro and My Take written by Billy Weatherman. Copyright 2024 SHORT TRACK REPORT)

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