Hickory Motor Speedway has a long history of producing amazing racing manufactured by the best stock car drivers in the world. And on March 26, when the CARS Tour returned to the track for round two on their 2022 season, the track proved once again that when it comes to short track racing in North Carolina, Hickory, after all of these years, is still as relevant as it’s ever been. The tour comes into the speedway after a Kvapil family sweep in the season opener, but the season starts to set in earnest in round 2, and the rest of the teams will be ready to try to make some ground in the points department to set themselves up for later in the season when they’ll need them most. And this year they may need them more than any other time in the tour’s history as the competition this year is as good as we’ve ever seen all the way through this extremely talented list of Late Model drivers.
The CARS Tour looks to continue the track’s tradition of history making moments as the CARS Tour Pro Late Models make their first appearance at the famed speedway, and history could also be made by one of the young Touring 12 rookies in the Late Model Stock division, but what ever happens here today we already know before the green even goes into the air that we have the ingredients for some memorable racing. The prayer has been given, and the national anthem sung. The crowd is ready for some racing to help distract them from the unwelcome nip in the air, and the Pro Late Models are all fired up and ready to go, so, Let’s Go Racin’!
CARS TOUR PRO LATE MODEL TUFF SHED 250 FEATURE
The # 6 of William Sawalich starts on pole with a blistering time of 14.501 seconds. # 96 Luke Fenhaus will start second, the # 24 of iRacing star Vicente Salas making his full bodied stock car debut will start third, # 13 Austin MacDonald fourth, and # 74 Ryan Moore will round out the top 5. CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard looks over the field, likes what he sees, and we’re green for the Pro Late Model portion of the Tuff Shed 250!
Sawalich gets a monster jump to start as Fenhaus is able to clear Salas to keep second. Behind them, MacDonald and Moore slam for fourth with Moore ultimately clearing for the spot. The field files in one by one as they start to conserve tires. But the # 35 of Caden Kvapil has other plans as he powers past MacDonald to take over the fifth position. # 12 Annabeth Crum dives down to pit road early with a problem, but ultimately is able to get back out on the track, albeit multiple laps down. Up in turn 2, the # 1 of Kody King goes for a spin and will bring out the first caution of the day. Sawalich will line up first, Fenhaus second, Salas third, Moore fourth, and Kvapil fifth for the restart. Willard looks over the field, likes the formation, and we’re back green.
Sawalich again gets a massive jump on the field as Fenhaus again clears Salas for second. It’s a hornets nest behind him though as Salas, Moore, and Kvapil are all on top of each other for third. Salas barely hangs on as Kvapil is able to rack up another position, clearing Moore. But the # 64 of Joe Mancuso has spun in turn 3 which puts us under caution yet again. Sawalich will again start first, Fenhaus second, Salas third, Kvapil fourth, and Moore fifth. Willard likes what he sees and we’re back green in no time. It’s the same song and dance for Sawalich as he gets another great jump on the field. Kvapil shows his muscle and now clears Salas for third. But it’s madness behind as MacDonald tries to insert himself in the top 5 but makes contact with Salas, which sends MacDonald into the wall. Kody King spins in the stack up and we’re immediately under caution. We’ll resort to the previous lap’s scoring, which will keep the top 5 the same as the last restart. Willard looks over the field, likes the lineup, and we’re green yet again.
Sawalich takes off as Salas and Kvapil make contact for third. Kvapil won’t be denied though as he clears Salas. Charlie Keeven in the # 55 takes advantage of the chaos and is able to get by both Moore and Salas as he slips into fourth. # 49 Jeff Batten follows in Keeven’s footsteps and enters the top 5 as well. But we have another caution as Crum and # 76 Tyler Johnson make contact in turn 1 and Johnson spins. Under the caution, Moore has entered the pits with serious smoke and is unfortunately done for the day. For the restart, Sawalich will line up first, Fenhaus second, Kvapil third, Keeven fourth, and Batten fifth. Kvapil immediately attacks and powers by Fenhaus for second. Fenhaus then falls into the clutches of Keeven, who makes contact with Fenhaus as the field goes absolutely wild behind. We surprisingly don’t have a caution as the whole field beats and bangs with each other. Fenhaus is able to keep third as this talented field of drivers amazingly keeps it together.
Kvapil has caught up to Sawalich and is looking to visit victory lane for the second race in a row. As Caden inches closer and closer, Batten goes up in smoke and the caution is out on the track. The red flag has been displayed as fluid is all over the race track. Under the open red, which means teams can still work on cars without penalty, King comes down pit road to make some adjustments and gets out just in time for the restart. It’ll be Sawalich, Kvapil, Fenhaus, Keeven, and Salas your top 5. Willard anxiously looks over the field, likes what he sees and we’re green. But Kvapil gets a little too pedal happy and the start is called off. On the second time around, the start is good as Kvapil hangs on the outside of Sawalich for the top spot. Sawalich clears but Kvapil crosses over and the two make contact! Kvapil rides over Sawalich’s left rear tire as smoke flies in the air. They both hang on as Sawalich finally rids of Kvapil. Kvapil has noticeable damage on his car as Fenhaus is able to pass him for second. Sawalich looks to gap the field but the caution flies as Tyler Johnson has again spun in turns 1 and 2. Sawalich will line up first, a hungry Fenhaus in second, a resilient Kvapil in third, Keeven fourth, and Salas in fifth. Willard eyes the field, is happy with the lineup, and we’re back green.
Sawalich gets another great jump as Kvapil pressures Fenhaus for second. Fenhaus puts up a great fight but Kvapil’s # 35 is just too strong and clears for the spot. He now sets his sights on Sawalich, but Sawalich has started to turn up the wick and is running away with the lead. Salas is able to get by Keeven for fourth as the iRacing star has certainly turned heads in his stock car debut. But none of this matters to William Sawalich as he takes his # 6 machine to victory lane today in Hickory. A damaged Kvapil is able to finish second, Fenhaus third, Salas fourth, and Keeven fifth.
CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK TUFF SHED 250 FEATURE
Chad McCumbee in the # 16 Elliott Properties machine takes the pole for the race with a lap of 14.795 seconds, just barely edging out # 44 Conner Jones and # 2R Braden Rogers who both ran a lap with the time of 14.798 seconds. That fact in itself tells you how close this field is. But on top of that, the top 20 is only separated by mere milliseconds with 20th place qualifier William Sawalich’s machine chiming in with a lap of 14.975 seconds. The drivers are going to have to be on their game here today, as one mistake in a field of racers that close could be catastrophic. Rounding out the top 5 for the start will be # 32 Zack Miracle fourth, and # 4 Justin Johnson taking the green fifth.
The field is ready to go as the parade laps have been run to warm up these hot rods for the race, but CARS Tour flagman Brandon Willard has given the signal to double up and get ready to go racing. McCumbee brings the field down and Willard looks them over…McCumbee gets a clean start and the green flag waves, and we are underway in the Late Model Stock portion of the Tuff Shed 250 at Hickory Motor Speedway. Conner Jones tucks in second, but Zack Miracle fights for it on the outside and with a strong move now it’s the 32 machine second behind McCumbee as Jones will have to settle for third. Braden Rogers falls in fourth, and Johnson tries to secure fifth as he is being challenged by literally the rest of the field who are two wide and bumper to bumper. Rogers works on Jones until he takes the third spot, as the # 6 of Mike Darne makes his way around Johnson followed by # 95 Jacob Heafner, as Johnson goes into tire conservation mode and starts falling back through the top half of the field. He may be taking the nod from the Nelson Racing entries of defending champion # 22 Bobby McCarty and # 12 Kaden Honeycutt, who although qualifying in the back of the field here today, both have great cars for the race, but for now have opted to ride for awhile and let the leaders burn up their equipment and their tires in the battle to stay up in the front of this amazingly competitive field of racers.
And almost to prove that point, Rogers starts banging on the bumper of Miracle as he wants the second place spot, and the middle of the field has flat out went to war in a battle for track position. Heafner now comes to fifth just as the top five tighten up a bit with the rest of the teams following suit all back through the field with Rogers now securing for second. Heafner’s not content as he looks under Conner Jones, as Justin Johnson tries to make his way back up front as well, following suit. And the race has turned into a chess match, with drivers testing each other, trading spots up front, putting each other in tight positions trying to make each other make mistakes they can profit from, all the while trying to get their competition to use up their stuff early, by hanging them on the outside, or pinning them to the bottom. It’s become a game of supremacy, as these drivers start to feel each other out through the field. # 99 Layne Riggs uses it to his advantage and is moving through the field unnoticed along with # 8 Carson Kvapil, as they both make their way to the front. But as we close in on the 100 laps left mark, the competition caution comes out, and the teams will have a chance to pit and work on their cars with tire pressure and chassis adjustments, as we have a break in the action before the field is refiled for the start.
Leading them back to green is still McCumbee, with Zack Miracle to his outside. Jacob Heafner lines his machine up to the third place in order with Conner Jones following suit to his outside in fourth, with Layne Riggs rounding off the top five for the restart. Brandon Willard has the field doubled up as McCumbee brings the field around and gets another great start as Willard agrees, and we are back to green flag racing here at Hickory Motor Speedway. Zack Miracle challenges hard on the outside of leader McCumbee, as Heafner and Jones run two wide behind with Layne Riggs looking for an opening. And again, through the rest of the field, it’s a war as best as I can describe it, but just as I say it, they settle down a little bit and make the smart decision of saving their cars and their tires, and they settle in to work some laps and really feel out their cars to give a good assessment of what it can truly do. Carson Kvapil and William Sawalich are making some headway through the field however, as they know from where they started the race, they have to make a few good runs to get them to the leaders up front.
Things start to tighten up up front again, as Riggs gets past Jones for fourth, and now Heafner gets up into Miracle’s rear bumper, almost sending him around, but he holds on as Heafner runs up underneath, and now he’s stuck up on the outside with some serious talent lining up inside. Miracle fights back on the outside and runs side by side with Heafner for a moment, but he can’t get the line he needs and slips a bit, Riggs gets by, and now Jones is there as well and he’ll have to settle in behind for fifth. And now it’s Miracle with the task of holding off the field, who also has taken the nod and start to close in on the leaders. And now Heafner has made it to the bumper of leader McCumbee, and starts to give him his first real challenge of the race, and he gives him a tap to let him know he’s there. And just as Riggs moves into the action and gives Heafner a tap of his own, and just as business was picking up at the point, the caution comes out with 70 laps to go, and now you have to wonder if it’s time for most of the teams to come to pit road to make those adjustments they’ll need for the run at the end of the race, or will they gamble for a later caution, hoping to have a fresh car for the finish. Looks like everybody decides to wait except for the Nelson Racing cars of Bobby McCarty and Kaden Honeycutt, who’ve been taking it easy the whole race, leading the rear pack, taking it easy on their equipment, but this stop may be an indicator that business is about to pick up for the defending champion and the rookie runner up turned teammates, who’ll definitely now be looking to take advantage of these stops and try to turn them into positions on the track. Meanwhile Mike Darne’s # 6 came down pit road as well, but unfortunately, their day is done as they have a broken spindle acquired after unwanted contact with the # 41 of Trevor Ward.
As we go back green this time, restarts are going to start to be crucial as everyone is going to be eager to try and gain positions while everyone is packed in together. Again it’s McCumbee up front but this time he’ll have Heafner to his outside, with Layne Riggs lined up third, Conner Jones fourth, and Carson Kvapil who’s clawed himself to fifth. Again McCumbee brings them down under the supervision of flagman Willard, McCumbee once again gets a good start, but this time Willard waves them off and shows them the yellow, and Heafner gets the warning to wait for the leader, his one and only warning the series allows a driver, and we will come back around and try it again. This time looks a lot better, and Willard gives his approval and drops the green, but Heafner in an effort to not make another mistake leaves a bit late and comes under fire from the field. Riggs gets by. He closes the door but now Jones is on his outside with Kvapil knocking on his bumper. You just don’t get a break if you lose momentum on this tour. Heafner gets clear of Jones who now has Kvapil to his inside, and # 87 Mike Looney leads the rest of the pack, who again is playing a game of high speed chess looking for an edge on their opponent. No wonder racing development teams at the top of the echelon bring their teams to compete on this tour like JR Motorsports, for as it’s said, “The sharpest blade is forged from the hottest fire.” You have to be sharp here, or you won’t survive the skirmish.
Kvapil now gets a run on Heafner for third and Looney moves in and puts a fender to Jones for fifth, as Justin Johnson moves in from behind. And Johnson shows some speed, moving past Jones and immediately dives in under Looney for fifth place. But Looney likes it there, and he powers back on the outside, and eventually makes enough ground to clear himself for the spot. William Sawalich moves into the top 10, but the # 07 of Chase Dixon is around in the middle of turns 3 and 4, and with just 50 laps to settle it, things are guaranteed to get tighter and tighter on the track. Connor Hall comes in under the yellow for adjustments, and he’s joined by the # 40 of Taylor Satterfield. Both drivers are just not getting their cars to handle as they would like here today, but they’re still working on it, hoping to find anything that’ll bring their cars to life. So with 50 laps left, it’s time to get down to business as again it’s McCumbee, who’s led every lap so far, bringing them down for the restart as Flagman Willard surveys the field. Riggs lines up second, Kvapil third, Heafner fourth, and Looney round out the top 5. Again McCumbee is perfect on the start, but now Riggs times his start just as well, and he challenges McCumbee on the outside in what is only the second real challenge of the race, as Kvapil and Heafner are two wide behind them. But Kvapil gets a good run on the bottom and clears himself in front of Heafner, and as Heafner moves to close the door and fall in behind the # 8 machine, Johnson dives in and puts a nose in and disaster strikes. Johnson makes contact with Heafner as he’s getting hit from behind by Looney, and sends him around into the fourth turn wall. And now several cars pile in, unable to miss the carnage that happened in front of them. All it took was a millisecond, and the whole complexion of the race has changed. # 91 Jonathan Shafer is involved. # 7 Dylan Ward comes sliding in backwards, and again Chase Dixon is around with nowhere to go. Most drive away, but Heafner and Looney take the brunt of this one.
The rest of the race is defined by a battle between Carson Kvapil, looking to make it two in a row to start the CARS Tour season, and leader Chad McCumbee who’s seen a big race or two, and uses his experience to keep his young challenger at bay. Layne Riggs gives the two a challenge, but he can’t quite get the run he needs, as William Sawalich is following his win in the CARS Pro Late Model race with a strong race in the Late Model Stocks, coming from the back half of the field to challenge in the top 5. And the Nelson Racing teammates of Kaden Honeycutt and Bobby McCarty worked their way to the top 10. But Chad McCumbee runs a flawless race, taking the pole and the win in dominating fashion, leading the most laps. Kvapil finishes second giving him a win and a runner up to start the 2022 season, with Riggs finishing third, William Sawalich comes home fourth, giving him a win and a top 5 on one of the toughest tours in the land, and Chase Burrow runs an amazingly smart and resilient race to bring home his # 8B machine fifth overall.
There is a lot to unpack from this race. And we’ve kind of watched as this one slipped a bit under the radar. But we feel if you take a good look at this race, and we recommend watching the replay on carstour.tv powered by Pit Row TV, whether you were at the race or if you watched the stream as it happened already. And so also, I was going to make a long spiel on my thoughts about it, but after further thought, I think I can sum it up pretty quick, and mostly due to one thing. You. See, the ones of you who are reading or listening to this part of the article are usually our adamant supporters, and at the least, are a short track fan as passionate about the sport as we are. And if you are, you should know, that this race was one for the ages, and for many reasons. For one, Chad McCumbee showed why he got to run races at the highest levels of the sport. And, Carson Kvapil’s start to the season is epic, that the other teams in the field now will have to pivot their eyes on him, at least for now, as the front runner of the tour. Chase Burrow had an amazing race battling to a top 5, as did many other young drivers who are showing the future of the CARS Tour is as bright as it’s ever been. Most notably is William Sawalich, who came into Hickory taking the CARS Tour Pro Late Model pole, following up with an impressive win, his first on the tour. And then coming into the Late Model Stock race battling to a fourth place finish after qualifying sixteenth on the field. Sawalich had an historic day that earned him our Blue Collar Racer Of The Week this week, with a day that some drivers only dream about.
And of course we have to touch on the elephant in the room, and that’s the wreck with 50 laps to go on a late restart that we feel redefined the race. You see, most of the cars involved in that wreck had spent the entire race putting themselves in position for the run at the end that would get them a great finish. And most definitely the cars that were the most involved still hadn’t shown how strong their cars were, and were going to be a factor at the end. The race was setting up to be about a five car shootout, but it ended up being a battle between three as the laps wound down. So let’s look at it. It all started really when Carson Kvapil cleared himself in front of Heafner. This caused Heafner to be out of position a bit as he tried to fall in behind Kvapil. And seeing a little daylight, Justin Johnson dove in trying to get a fender deep enough to get the position. And when he knew he was just a bit too late, he tried to correct but Looney and a number of cars with him were already committed behind Johnson, leaving Johnson with no ability to correct his mistake. I saw it live, and I watched the replay provided by our friends at Pit Row TV several times. What happened was a perfect storm. And all of it happened in the blink of an eye. And so we conclude, that despite run ins by the teams of Johnson and Heafner prior, that in this case, we are convinced, that although we concede it must be considered a bit more than just another racing deal, hence why we gave it so much coverage, there was definitely in our neutral opinion, no malice intent in this deal.
Everything lined up perfectly in this case. The move by Kvapil, Heafner’s response to that move, and Johnson’s move once he saw Heafner out of position, and the train that was running bumper to bumper behind him. Mistakes were made. But again, all of this happened within moments, not seconds or minutes, as a result of the way the race played out all day. And I bet that that’s one Johnson would like back if he had a choice, but in the end, we hope that these two teams can move past it, as all good rivalries have to die eventually, and as all of the great ones always do. As we also think a lot of this rivalry between these two teams is built on misunderstandings that have elevated to what some see as alarming. But, I say everyone should remember, that basically it comes from a passion for the sport, and the competition that builds once a certain level of talent is gathered in one place.
And see, that is the true story of this race to us. It wasn’t the wreck in the end once you take a good look at this event. It’s the level of competition that led to it. The Late Model Stock racers went to war all day in this race. The top 20 ran almost identical times in qualifying, and at the end of the race, the whole field was still running in a pack. But this is every race they run. I think the story of this race, besides all the great racing it produced, and we can tell you that this was an epic race to say the least, is the statement the drivers made to each other. And that is that this year, the road to the championship is going to be one hard fought road this year. And if it continues as it’s started, this may be, and I mean this, the best CARS Tour year in history. And this race at Hickory, like many races through the years of this historic track dubbed the Birthplace Of The NASCAR Stars, will take it’s place in history as the race Chad McCumbee got his first CARS Tour win, on the same night William Sawalich gets his first CARS Tour win. And the Kvapil brothers who swept the 2022 season opener for the tour comes into race two both taking runner up positions. And what we’ll remember is an epic race for the ages that had everything a short track fan could want.
All that said, we would like to end this article by taking a moment to speak to our greatest supporters. Those of you who have made it to the end of this article. An article I wanted to dedicate to you. An article we put out at a certain time, knowing you would still be here reading it. We want to thank you. We know that you have come to understand the reason we put things out like we do, and why we culminated it with our extended coverage articles. You who know that we put out a post race report complete with winner photos after every race right after the race, and follow it up with pictures from the whole day of the event. But you should know that it’s you that we write these extended racing articles for. The ones that love short track racing enough to want to know more than just who won or lost. We write these for you who are just as passionate about the sport as we are. From driver, team member, track promoter, track staff, and especially you, the short track racing fan. Thank you for your support! We look forward to seeing you all through the 2022 season and beyond. And so as always, we thank you for your support of short track racing, and Short Track Report. See You At The Track!
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