“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Les Brown

Since it’s revival as a sanctioning body last year, ASA has lived up to it’s name as the ASA STARS National Tour with the stars of the Super Late Model ranks gracing it’s field. It becomes evident immediately with the series’ first champion with Ty Majeski in 2023. But a closer look at this year’s roster solidifies it with names like Bubba Pollard, Cole Butcher, Jett Noland, Stephen Nasse, Casey Roderick…I could go on and on but truly the ASA Stars National Tour entry lists are full of the best Super Late Model talent in the nation. Add in great competitors like Chase Elliott and Josh Berry who came to Hickory Motor Speedway to compete on the tour as well, and the ASA STARS National Tour Tar Heel 250 is indeed a star studded field of outstanding short track racers. And with Ty Majeski out of the picture in the fight for this year’s championship, dedicating himself for the 2024 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series chase, the door is wide open for a new champion to emerge. That fact alone made the race here at historic Hickory Motor Speedway an important one, but when you add in the factors of adding yourself to the elite list of winners at “The Birthplace Of The NASCAR Stars” and bragging rights of beating some of the very best Super Late Model drivers in the country at one of short track racing’s most iconic tracks, then you can be assured that all of the drivers on the tour will do everything in their power to get it done in this event in an effort to park their machines at the end of the night in victory lane. Let’s take a closer look at how it all played out in the 2024 ASA STARS National Tour Tar Heel 250.

INEX LEGEND NATIONAL QUALIFIER

2021 Southeast Bandolero Tour champion # 79 Neal Dulin lays down the fastest lap in qualifying and will start on the pole of a stacked INEX Legend field followed by the # 62 of Keelan Harvick, son of NASCAR legend Kevin Harvick. Starting in third will be another familiar name in Carter McMurray who drives the # 40, son of 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray with # 4 Ryan Zima and # 39 Jacob Staten rounding out the top five. ASA STARS flagman Dan Spence waves the green and we’re racing at Hickory as Dulin will grab the advantage early. Staten takes a look on Zima, but it’s not enough with Harvick now looking for the lead. Dulin hangs on for the time being but Harvick has a strong car early and will clear for the top spot. McMurray drops back to fifth behind Zima and Staten as a piece of debris flies from Harvick’s car! He comes to a slight slow, stacking up the field and allowing Zima to inherit the lead. Harvick somehow clings onto second with Dulin sinking to fourth. A long green flag run means lap traffic, but there’s nowhere to go for Zima who checks up for the slower cars, opening the door for Harvick who makes a daring move for the lead! Staten moves up to second with Dulin in third, kicking Zima to fourth. They somehow don’t crash but right when I say that, Staten and Dulin come together, sending Staten around in turn four and drawing our first caution. After the choose, Harvick remains out front followed by Zima moving to the outside, Dulin, # 13 Jordan Black, and # 40 Carter McMurray. Harvick rockets out and clears as Dulin moves into second, but we’ve got more trouble coming out of four as McMurray and Isaac Kitzmiller in the # 97 make contact and spin. They’re both able to drive away with Harvick remaining in the lead, Zima second, Dulin third, Black fourth, and the # 50 of Jason Treschl fifth.

Harvick once again gets an amazing launch but we’ve got major trouble as multiple cars pile up in turn one followed by a subsequent pile up on the backstretch due to Dulin suddenly slowing, taking out multiple cars! Some with the worst damage include Spencer Bradshaw in the # 99, Sean McElearney in the # 98, Alison Johnson in the # 15, Cassidy Keitt in the # 7, and the # 25 of Josh Speas. Thankfully all drivers are able to walk away as they stop under the red. Once the Hickory track crew does their magic, INEX decides this restart will be single file with Harvick, Dulin, Zima, Black, and Treschl your top five. Dulin drops off the pace once again but he’s able to drop below the apron to avoid trouble. But the same can’t be said for the # 21 of Nathan Lyons who crashes hard on the backstretch due to yet another small stack up. The time limit rears its ugly head as the race will now be shortened to a green white checkered, setting up a shootout between Harvick, Dulin who remains on track after they reverted back to the previous lap, Zima, Black, and Treschl. Harvick gets a near perfect restart and tries to set sail as Dulin slows for a third time, giving Zima second. It’s a hornet’s nest behind as Kitzmiller and the # 88 of Aiden King crash on the backstretch. It doesn’t matter to Harvick though as he takes the big win ahead of Zima, Black, Treschl, and Hudson Bulger in the # 17.

ASA STARS NATIONAL TOUR TAR HEEL 250

Mother Nature has tried her best, but the ASA STARS will indeed come to life for 250 laps. Brent Crews in the Donnie Wilson owned # 24 lays down a flyer of a lap, timing in at 14.224 seconds to start on the pole. Starting alongside will be the # 26S of Dawson Sutton followed by NASCAR Cup Series driver and Late Model veteran Josh Berry in the # 4, Gio Ruggiero in the # 22, and rookie Kyle Steckly in the # 30. Flagman Dan Spence looks over the fantastic field, likes what he sees, and we’re green in the Tar Heel 250! Crews rockets out to a great lead as both Chase Elliott in the # 9E and Matt Craig in the # 54 move by Steckly. Ahead, Ruggiero gets into Berry and Berry nearly spins out of two! He somehow saves it as Berry drops to sixth while Ruggiero falls all the way back to tenth. That’ll give Elliott third ahead of Craig and Steckly. The caution will fly for the first time as Kodie Conner in the # 45 comes to a stop in turn four. That’ll institute our first choose of the night as Crews lines up first followed by Sutton, Steckly, Elliott, and Craig. Crews times his launch perfectly and clears for the lead as Elliott moves to second followed by Steckly. Sutton continues his fall with Craig and the # 26R of Casey Roderick sneaking around Sutton’s ill-handling machine. Sutton will get a chance to regroup though as Michael Hinde in the # 69 stops out of two. We’ll see the same front row for the next restart as Crews and Elliott will do battle ahead of Roderick, Steckly, and Sutton after the choose. It’s the same song and dance for Crews as he fires out to the lead. Steckly smacks the backstretch wall but keeps it straight as Craig dives to the inside of Steckly. Steckly gets loose on the outside which allows Craig and Berry to get by. Another caution will fly however as debris has found its way on the track.

Crews, Elliott, Roderick, Craig, and Steckly make up the top five as Crews makes some contact with Elliott in the restart zone coming to the line. Clear will be Crews with Elliott hot on his bumper. Elliott tries his best, but it’s Crews who will win the first Phoenix Water Solutions stage. After a round of pit stops for tires and adjustments, it’s the same top five for the restart. Crews and Elliott are as even as they’ve been all race but Steckly doesn’t get going and creates a huge stack up, causing Justin Crider in the # 7C to shoot over # 32 Caden Kvapil’s right rear and into the outside wall extremely hard, destroying his family owned machine. Crider is thankfully okay but the car is not as it’s unfortunately taken away on a rollback. Steckly will keep his fifth place spot as the top five once more stays the same. Crews and Elliott are doorpost to doorpost but Crews hangs on while Craig muscles to third ahead of Roderick. Elliott looks to the inside of Crews, but he starts to overheat! He’ll take the # 9 Ricky Turner machine to the hauler as he’s unfortunately done for the night. That moves Craig to second followed by Steckly who gets by Roderick, and Sutton in fifth. Dustin Smith in the # 33S will go for a wild spin on the backstretch, causing the yellow to fly. He’ll get back going as Crews will have a new challenger in Matt Craig followed by Steckly, Roderick, and Berry. Crews still gets the best of the field with Sutton getting by Berry. But back up front, here comes Craig! Craig pokes his nose under and takes the lead, but Crews gives him a nudge as they trade blows back and forth! Now Steckly looks to make it three wide but thinks better of it as Craig ultimately takes the top spot. Steckly keeps up the fight though underneath Crews, but he gets loose and spins! He’ll fire it back up, but will unfortunately have to go to the rear as Craig lines up first followed by Crews, Roderick, Sutton, and Cole Butcher in the # 28.

Craig hangs tough on the outside but can’t hold off Crews with Crews taking back the high ground. Craig makes another run, this time on the inside but it’s for naught as Crews remains your leader. Behind, Sutton slides past Roderick as Craig again looks under Crews. The fans are on their feet as they trade the lead yet again! One corner it’s Craig, one corner it’s Crews as they switch places multiple times! Craig finally gets the best of Crews as Crews is now under fire from Sutton. The door is open and Sutton steps a foot in all while Roderick starts to sneak in as well. Throw a blanket over the battle for second as Roderick overtakes Sutton. Under Crews goes Roderick and the two make slight contact, causing Crews to spin into the backstretch outside wall hard rear end first! The contact between the two didn’t look major, but it shows just how on edge these Super Late Models are as Crews is done for the night. With caution laps counting to outlast the rain, that’ll end the Phoenix Water Solutions stage with Craig winning. After another cycle of pit stops, your top five will now be Craig, Roderick, Sutton, Butcher, and Berry. Craig will clear coming onto the backstretch but the caution will fly as the # 62 of William Sawalich gets into the # 44 of Conner Jones, sending him around in turn four. As a result of the contact, Sawalich will go to the rear as they line back up for the restart with Gio Ruggiero in the # 22 now in fifth. Craig and Roderick are even, but Craig gets the run down low and hangs on with Berry retaking fifth behind. Smoke flies up front as Roderick gets into the left rear of Craig multiple times. Give it to Roderick as his perseverance pays off to take the lead with Butcher following through, kicking Craig to third. Championship contender Ruggiero has a mechanical issue and takes it to the trailer, and at the same time, Jett Noland in the # 50 blows a motor and puts oil on the racetrack, bringing yet another caution out. The caution soon turns into a red flag as extensive clean up has to be done, but the Hickory track crew is up to it as the surface is clean in a jiffy. For the restart, Roderick decides to pick the outside this time, leaving the inside to Butcher.

Neither one gives an inch on the restart but Butcher’s car loves the bottom of the racetrack and takes the lead while Billy VanMeter in the # 23 spins out of two. Butcher. Roderick. Who gets it? Roderick gives it his best shot on the outside during the final restart, but it’s just not enough as Butcher gets his fourth overall Late Model win at Hickory. Casey Roderick comes home second, Sutton gets a great run in third, Craig salvages a fourth, and Berry will round out the top five.

MY TAKE

There are a few things that are important to take away from this short track event. First, the Hickory Motor Speedway track crew faced the weather challenges head on and they are once again to be commended on their diligence in getting the entirety of this event in. It’s something we’ve seen from this crew before and our hats are off to their efforts that were nothing short of outstanding. But equally diligent was the short track racing fans that came to this race and waited out the rain. It’s a running story for this historic short track as well as we’ve seen fans here sit hours in the rain before, determined to see what they came here for, and that’s great racing. They were rewarded for their efforts with some extremely competitive racing, but our hats are off to the fans here at this event. Fans that we know love short track stock car racing as much as we do and we can’t even begin to tell you the respect we have for that. It was indeed a heartwarming thing to see.

Secondly, we have to say that the tour’s competitors and the Legend contingent that joined them in a local feature at this event made the efforts from the track crew and the amazing fans in attendance well worth the effort. It was a night of racing that indeed lived up to the mantra of “Take Your Best Shot” as time and time again the drivers went for it. In the end, young Keelan Harvick gave a true indication that he’s serious about his goals and commitment of becoming one of racing’s next rising stars as he rose above the Legend contingent in what may have been his best outing yet at one of short track’s trickiest places to shine. And Cole Butcher showed once again why he is one of the very best Super Late Model competitors in the business. While it may be true that Butcher can be considered one of the most controversial short track drivers at times, the truth of it is when you compete at that high a level with the kind of success he’s having, that just comes with the territory. What is consistent however is the fact that Cole Butcher finds himself time and time again in position for wins when it comes down to getting it done at the end of big races. It’s the mark of a champion. With two wins already on the tour this season and another top ten with a ninth place finish at New Smyrna, he’s already put himself on the list of who to beat for this year’s ASA STARS National Tour championship.

And lastly, the stars were out at this event. From Keelan winning with his future NASCAR Hall Of Fame father in attendance to NASCAR Cup competitors Josh Berry and NASCAR’s most popular driver Chase Elliott competing in the ASA Super field, it is just another indicator that the sport of stock car racing rests on the shoulders of it’s short track racing foundations. That said however, it’s great that drivers like Chase Elliott understand that. It’s truly important that drivers like Chase don’t forget where they came from. I asked Chase before the race, “…you’re a NASCAR Cup Champion, what keeps you coming back to these short track races?” He answered very humbly that he thought it was important to put yourself in positions out of your element and outside of the box of your comfort zone. And that’s true to keep yourself sharp when you’re at the top of your game to sustain it. But I wonder if he truly knows how important it is to the fans and the sport itself that the biggest stock car stars continue to visit their roots, not only to have fun racing again at the local short track level, but to validate it’s very existence as the highest levels of stock car racing has moved for the most part from the short tracks to the superspeedways. Still, after all these years, the future stars of the sport hone their craft on the way up the ladder at the places they always have, your local short track. Until next time, as always, See You At The Track!

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

Leave a Reply

123   Post in our HUB Storage

Subscribe now

If you want to receive our latest news send directly to your email, please leave your email address bellow. Subscription is free and you can cancel anytime.

Search