Every sports competitor knows that when it comes down to chasing championships, you train relentlessly hoping that it allows you to be ready to capitalize when the right moments come along that allow you to rise above your competition. The stiffer the competition, the fewer those opportunities will present themselves. This season on the zMAX CARS Tour, every race counts, so every team on the roster came to Tri-County Speedway hoping for the race that will either get them back in the game, or separate themselves from the rest of the field. Every race is important in the run for a title and as the tour inches closer to the halfway point of the season, the drivers will be racing hard to put themselves in position to be as close to the top of the board as they can get.

Tri-County Speedway’s new pavement is curing just right and that means the racing groove is expanding and giving the racers all the room they need to jockey for position. So no matter how the car is handling, you can adjust your line and find a place to make speed which will make the field even tighter. It will literally be bumper to bumper and door to door in this event throughout. There will be no room for mistakes. The action will be extreme to say the least. It’s time for another round of high speed chess and it’s going to be interesting to see who comes out on top and who’s left scrambling to recover. And this on a tour where things can change on a dime. Let’s take a closer look and see how it all played out in the zMAX CARS Tour SoundGear 225 as the tour starts this Memorial Day weekend in honor of America’s heroes that gave the ultimate sacrifice at one of the nicest and raciest tracks in the country, Tri-County Speedway.

zMAX CARS TOUR PRO LATE MODEL FEATURE

Nick Loden in search for his second career win puts his # 43 machine on the pole with a time of 14.954 seconds ahead of second place qualifier Tristan McKee in the # 6 Setzer Racing And Development ride. Starting third will be home track hero Ashton Higgins in the # 9 hot rod followed by Jake Bollman in the # 24 and T.J. DeCaire in the # 96. The flagman looks over the hungry field, likes what he sees, and we’re green at one of the most exciting tracks in the country! Loden will clear coming down the backstretch as Bollman takes over the third spot from Higgins. Higgins’ problems aren’t done yet as DeCaire dives low but washes up into him, nearly spinning but somehow saving his car! That moves Logan Jones in the # 77 to fifth as they’re nearly five wide behind trying to sort everything out! The action finally starts to dwindle down a bit as Loden looks to try to get away from McKee. DeCaire has regained his composure as he makes a successful move on Jones, breaking his way back into the top five. Back up front, McKee is all over Loden, looking to the inside any chance he has. McKee has a run coming down the back as they bang doors. They bang doors again heading into three and they crash! Loden spins into the outside turn three wall hard as McKee spins as well. Loden is understandably not happy as his car will be taken out on a rollback. After a lengthy cleanup, Bollman will now be your leader ahead of DeCaire, Higgins, Caden Kvapil in the # 35, and Jones. Bollman gets a huge restart as Kvapil will take it three wide for second! Higgins will prevail on the outside with DeCaire dropping to third ahead of a hard charging Jimmy Renfrew Jr in the # 00 and Kvapil, who falls to fifth. The # 15 Jonathan Shafer machine seems to be best suited for the long run as he gets by Kvapil. Kvapil now seems to have some sort of issue, dropping all the way to ninth and eventually to pit road.

The # 51 of Kaden Honeycutt starts to show some muscle as he makes a move on Shafer for fifth. But now Higgins has a problem! He’ll come down pit road as Shafer gets back by Honeycutt, now for fourth. Give it back to Honeycutt though as both drivers put on a fantastic battle. Another fantastic performance is that of Jake Bollman as he’s pulled out a major lead heading into a Shiti Coolers competition caution. He’ll start on point for the next restart accompanied by DeCaire, Renfrew Jr, Honeycutt, and Shafer. Bollman gets another flawless restart as they go three wide behind! Honeycutt barely pulls ahead of Renfrew Jr, but now he has to deal with the # 29 of Spencer Davis. Davis wastes no time, getting into the rear of Honeycutt to move him up the racetrack. The bump and run works for both he and Renfrew Jr who follows through, kicking Honeycutt to fifth. Honeycutt is trying all he can to get back up to Davis to return the favor, but Renfrew Jr’s competitive # 00 won’t go down without a fight in between. But talk about competitive, up front is still Bollman who will take his first career zMAX CARS Tour Pro Late Model win in dominant fashion with Donnie Wilson Motorsports, beating out DeCaire, Davis, Renfrew Jr, and Honeycutt.

zMAX CARS TOUR LATE MODEL STOCK FEATURE

Taking his third Tri-County zMAX CARS Tour pole in a row is the # 03 Lee Pulliam Performance driver of Brenden Queen with a time of 15.285 seconds. Starting alongside on the front row is R&S Race Cars’ # 08 of Deac McCaskill. Rounding out the top five will be the # 8 of Carson Kvapil, # 16 Chad McCumbee, and the # 1 of Andrew Grady. The flagman looks over the giant field, approves the formation, and we’re green! Queen launches out like a rocket as McCumbee will slide his way around Kvapil. Behind them, it’s classic Tri-County as you’ve got cars from top to bottom. Making some big moves early is the # 00 of Chase Burrow, motoring past both Grady and Kvapil. Burrow will bring the # 22 machine of Connor Hall along with him as Queen looks to gap the field early. But the gap will be erased as the # 15 of Ryan Millington spins in turn four. He’s able to get it back rolling but will visit pit road to be safe as Queen will line up on the outside in first followed by McCaskill, McCumbee, Burrow, and Hall. Give it to Queen again as Burrow looks to the inside of McCaskill. McCaskill will slam the door, but Burrow opens it back up as they’re still side by side. McCaskill finally gets some breathing room and now sets his sights on Queen. He’ll get a chance at the # 03 as the # 15W Tri-County local Late Model Stock points leader of Mitch Walker spins out of four and takes out some pit road entrance cones. That sets up the top five to be Queen, McCaskill, Burrow, McCumbee, and Hall after the choose.

Queen doesn’t falter as he again shoots out in front of the hornet’s nest that’s forming behind. Burrow shoots to the outside of McCaskill and uses it to perfection to clear McCaskill in search of his first career zMAX CARS Tour win. Another driver looking for his first tour win is Grady, who’s drove his way back into the top five behind Hall and McCaskill. With 41 to go, the # 37 of Landon Huffman’s unfortunate year continues as he’s stopped on track. He’ll come down pit road but is able to get back out as Queen continues to lead, Burrow is second, McCaskill is third, Hall is fourth, and Grady is fifth. Burrow stays to the inside for a moment, but it’s not enough as Queen clears again. Burrow won’t let him off the hook though as he’s still right on his bumper. Behind, Hall and Grady are side by side for fourth with Grady prevailing in what is a career run. Hall’s struggles continue as Kade Brown in the # 23 gets by as well, Brown’s first appearance in the top five. Trouble strikes behind with Ronnie Bassett Jr in the # 04 spinning in turn four, meaning another occurrence of the Shiti Coolers Caution. After the ensuing choose, we’ll see Queen now lead Burrow, McCaskill, Brown, and Grady. Queen fires off in the Death Wish Coffee Restart Zone flawlessly, but here comes Burrow! They make a little contact as Burrow is all over Queen’s left rear quarter panel! But it’ll be interrupted as NASCAR Xfinity Series team owner Tommy Joe Martins in the # 44M spins in turn one. On the restart, Burrow is there again, but we’ve caught a case of yellow fever as Kaden Honeycutt in the # 17, Katie Hettinger in the # 71, Brandon Pierce in the # 2, Huffman, and Bassett Jr all pile up on the backstretch. Pierce and Bassett Jr will unfortunately be through for the night as Queen and Burrow lock in for the next restart.

The fans are on their feet as Burrow gets the best restart he’s gotten yet, right to the inside of Queen! They bang doors on the backstretch heading into three as Burrow nearly spins! They’re leaning on each other with smoke flying as behind, Kvapil goes around with help from Hall. Hall will be sent to the rear with the top five now consisting of Queen, Burrow, McCaskill, Grady, and a fantastic run from Bryce Applegate in the # 45. Burrow again sticks to the inside of Queen, but Queen will surge ahead. Burrow gives a few slight nudges to Queen’s quarter panel, but Queen is stuck to the track like Velcro and will notch his first zMAX CARS Tour Late Model Stock win of the year after his brakes went out near the end. Second goes to an amazing run from Chase Burrow, third is Deac McCaskill with no cool air in his helmet, fourth is a career best run for Andrew Grady, and rounding out the top five is a much needed good run for Kade Brown.

MY TAKE

The simple truth is that in any situation in life, you have to make the most of any opportunity. That fact could not have been more self evident than on Saturday night in the SoundGear 225. Jake Bollman has been pretty quiet in 2024 in the Pros coming into the race just outside of the top 10 in points in 11th with only 1 top 10 and a DNF. But in actuality, he’s been improving all year, waiting for the right moment to capitalize on. That moment came early in the Pro Late Model feature at Tri-County Speedway as leaders Nick Loden and Tristan McKee tangled battling for the top spot. From there on it was all Bollman as he was never really challenged from that point, winning in dominating fashion, and putting himself on the map for the Late Model fans in the region.

And in the Late Model Stock feature, it truly was no surprise that Brenden Queen won the race. They’ve been tremendous at this race track and he was the true favorite coming in. But what is surprising is that they came into the race without a win on the season. The team has struggled with the new Hoosier tire but they have been working hard getting it all figured out and when they unloaded and hit the track this weekend their efforts truly showed. Putting in great practice times and ultimately taking the pole put themselves in the position they needed to be, and that’s with the opportunity of getting what they most needed at this point of the season, a statement win. And they did so at the most opportune time as what else was a surprise at this race was the fact that most every other top contender had issues that left them with less than ideal finishes. Points leader coming into the Late Model Stock feature at Tri-County, Connor Hall, finished nineteenth after contact with Carson Kvapil that sent Kvapil spinning and onto a 22nd place finish. Not the luck Kvapil needed as he had moved to third in points coming into the race even after missing a CARS Tour event to go Xfinity racing at Martinsville. Bobby McCarty fought hard to come into this event second in points only to also have issues in the SoundGear 225 that left him with a twentieth place finish at Tri-County and looking to rebound as the tour heads to Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway on Saturday.

In the end, what was an extremely entertaining race for the fans was also a shake up race for the top points competitors, and a race that had serious championship chase implications that will rumble through the rest of the season. Brenden Queen and the Lee Pulliam team took their opportunity to enter victory lane for the first time this season and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. This coming Saturday the tour travels up to his home track where he again will likely be the favorite, but Connor Hall and the Nelson Motorsports team will also be looking to capitalize at a track he knows very well, and he will also be looking to make up the points he lost here at Tri-County, which will make him also a huge threat to the zMAX CARS Tour competition. The season still has a long way to go. But as the halfway mark moves ever closer, every win becomes that much more crucial to deciding the championship. And every falter and misstep becomes that much more detrimental in a championship chase that hinges upon every race. 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)

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