The inaugural CARS Racing Tour season has four races in the books with six races still set on the schedule. Friday evening's show at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, North Carolina thus marks the halfway point of the season.
Frankly, one of the most important questions entering the 2015 CARS Racing Tour season was if the Tour would be around come June. New racing series, especially ones as ambitious as the CARS group, often stumble. A big purse seemed as though it would certainly help the car count, but a big purse did not help the predecessor Pro Cup series much in previous seasons.
Luckily, that question has emphatically been put to rest early this season. Thirty-plus car fields have greeted solid trackside crowds with corporate sponsors helping push the purse up early this season. That being dispensed out of the way, let's look at five questions that will be answered Friday evening.
How Will Super Late Models Perform At Tri-County?
Tri-County is a track born for Late Model Stock Cars. It's tough on tires with plenty of speed and three distinct racing grooves. Plus, being just a few miles down the road from the historic Hickory Motor Speedway, most of the region's best are easily able to load up and put on a good show for the fans.
What's not known at all is how the Super Late Models will take to the track. Tri-County Motor Speedway has not hosted a Super Late Model race since Mike Rowe won a PASS South race there in 2006. Faster and lighter than Late Model Stocks with less wheelspin exiting the corners, it would not be surprising to see the Supers glued to the bottom of the track, their left side doors skirting the Dover-esque inside wall that surrounds the facility.
Of course, that's just one supposition. What's certain is that a new track for these cars means we're more likely to see an upset winner.
So Who Will Break Through In the Supers?
It'll be hard to go against the usual suspects. Expect Cole Timm, the points leader, to lead the charge especially in qualifying. But it's hard not to circle Kyle Grissom's name as a favorite.
Grissom had four top-fives in nine UARA Late Model Stock appearances at Tri-County and should have the most Tri-County experience of anyone in the field Friday night. His mechanical knowledge, between working on his own car and fine tuning the LMSC of Roddey Sterling, means that he will probably figure out the setup pretty quick. And he's a very smart racer at these foothill bullrings. Tire conservation and working different grooves are two of Grissom's strong points and it will come in handy Friday more likely than not.
Grissom may only have one SLM victory this season – in April at Pensacola. But this has been one of his most impressive seasons since his PASS championship in 2012. Despite being caught up in a few wrecks not of his own making, Grissom has been fast in both his primary car and backup car. He's gone from being a solid top-10, maybe top-five contender last season to a consistent top-five finisher who can also threaten for the win. Perhaps his big CARS breakthrough will come by week's end.
Can You Win Starting Outside the Top-Five?
The average starting position of the winner of the first eight CARS races (four from each division) combined is 2.62. No one has started any worse than fourth and won a CARS race to this point. In fact, only one driver has finished on the podium of a CARS race thus far after having started outside of the top-10. Chase Elliott started 11th before finishing second at Hickory.
Friday's races are shortened to 100 laps in each division due to noise and curfew considerations, so there will be even less time to make it to the front if you have a bad qualifying expert.
One driver whose qualifying effort has hurt his race efforts especially this season is Steve Wallace. Wallace has a habit of being able to contend if he can start up front. The JET Tools driver always seems to find a little extra speed if he has the leader in his sights. On the Late Model Stock side, Tommy Lemons, Jr. is another popular name who has struggled in qualifying.
The net result for both drivers is that they simply have not contended for wins. Wallace has started no race better than 13th and Lemons – after qualifying fifth in the season opener – has failed to crack the top-10 in time trials since.
Can Myatt Snider Take His Game to the Next Level?
Snider comes into the Late Model Stock race this week just a few points off Brayton Haws in the points chase. He's the only driver that has finished in the top-10 each race thus far.
Snider's problem is that he has a big 0-fer in the wins column. He entered the season in the same category as Haws - showing potential but needing to start winning to prove staying power. Haws has responded emphatically with two wins. Snider has not done so.
Who Are The Dark Horses?
Let's throw out three names that may surprise some people this weekend at Tri-County.
- Stephen Leicht (SLM) – Won the pole at Hickory. Otherwise, a quiet season for a very talented driver. Driving for Lee Faulk Racing, this track is practically their backyard. He has not raced at Tri-County since 2002, but this was the track his career really got launched at in the old ARA Late Model Stock Tour.
- Thomas Beane (LMSC) – Okay, this track is almost literally in his backyard. He could probably just push the car to tech from his house instead of bothering to load up a trailer. Beane's a driver who has shown marked improvement in the last three years despite being a grassroots operation. His first few UARA starts were – to put it kindly – subpar. But he's been competitive for most of the CARS Late Model Stock races this year, racking up an eighth at Orange County. Might be a good locale for him to contend for a top-five finish.
- Jamey Caudill (LMSC) – It would be hard to call any driver as experienced or decorated as Jamey Caudill a "dark horse," but he's been relatively quiet in the CARS Late Model season thus far. Too quiet. He has one major Tri-County victory (UARA, 2009). He well could add a second Friday night.
- By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Southeast Editor - Twitter: @TimmyQuivy
- Photo credit : Speed51.com