The regulars of the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour were in the center of the battle for the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday night.
Half of the top 10 finishers, including four of the top-five, were drivers who have regularly competed in the series’ 2022 campaign.
Current Late Model Stock Car points leader Carson Kvapil led the way for the CARS Tour regulars, finishing runner-up to winner Peyton Sellers.
Kvapil impressed in his ValleyStar Credit Union 300 debut, driving through the field after starting the race from the 23rd position on the grid.
He was quick to credit his battles in the CARS Tour for helping his efforts at Martinsville.
“I like the CARS Tour,” Kvapil said. “They have a really good program going there and it gets you really trained in for races like this.
“The CARS Tour is the most competitive series I have run in by far. We have no less than 20 cars every week and any 10 guys could win, week in and week out. Racing with good people makes you have to be a good driver week in and week out.”
Jacob Heafner posted a career-best third-place finish in his fifth attempt to win the grandfather clock. His night profiled similarly to Kvapil’s, having also made a charge to the front after starting 24th.
For the 2018 Hickory Motor Speedway Track Champion, running in the CARS Tour has made all the difference in his level of preparation for races like Martinsville. This is his first full season in the series.
“Up until this year, I’ve only run local shows,” Heafner said. “We won a championship at Hickory in 2018 and you think, ‘Okay, well, maybe I can go compete in the CARS Tour.’
“I’ll tell you, it’s been a humbling experience running with those guys and if I would have come here only running local shows, I probably would have been out to lunch just not knowing what I needed for a 200-lap show.”
Heafner’s car owner, Justin Carroll – himself a five-time competitor in this race – agreed with his driver.
“You go run the local races and you can slip here and there and still win races,” Carroll said. “The CARS Tour, Martinsville, these big triple-crown races, you can’t slip, or you’re going to lose 10, 15 if not more spots or be wrecked or starting in the back.
“It’s made us better as an organization, it’s made Jacob better as a driver, it’s made me better as a crew chief and owner, and I hope to keep making those progressions.”
While most of the CARS Tour front-runners on Saturday night highlighted the level of competition, Mike Looney looked towards the logistics as another piece of the CARS Tour that helps prepare drivers for big races like Martinsville.
“We basically prepared this car in one week – we turned it around after racing for a championship at Motor Mile last week,” Looney said.
“Typically, you have a month to get ready for Martinsville – you have to redo the brakes, and the rear end, and the motor and the body and everything. The CARS Tour is so competitive that we do that every week racing with those guys. Because we’ve run the CARS Tour so much this year, it was a fairly stress-free week – it was just like another race.”
Looney, the 2016 ValleyStar Credit Union 300 winner, won $2,000 as the winner of the race’s first two stages and finished fourth.
Just behind Looney in the running order was Nelson Motorsports’ Kaden Honeycutt, who had a fifth-place finish on Saturday night. That was also a career-best for Honeycutt in this race after running 10th with Justin Johnson Racing one year ago.
Honeycutt noted just how intense CARS Tour racing is in comparison to other forms of late model racing after his Martinsville run.
“It’s balls-to-the-wall racing the entire time,” Honeycutt said. “You don’t save at all in the CARS Tour unless you’re at a place like Florence.
“It teaches you to get up on the wheel and gets you ready for Trucks, gets you ready for ARCA, gets you ready for XFINITY and Cup. I’ve learned so much from racing these cars and it’s taught me a lot about my own racecraft and how I approach races.”
In the end, Honeycutt may have had the best summary of the frontrunners as the checkered flag fell.
“We ended up racing the same guys we’ve been racing. I’ve been racing in the CARS Tour all year and we were racing the same guys at the end after 93 cars showed up here,” Honeycutt explained. “What kind of coincidence is that?”