The opening round of the 2019 FUEL Late Model Series season was contested Friday night on the red clay at Carolina Speedway in Gastonia, North Carolina. Seventeen cars took the green flag in pursuit for the season opening win, but at the end of the night it was a former series champion getting back on top.

 

2017 FUEL Racing Series champion Steve Banal snagged the first win of the season on a night when finishing first earned him a payday of $2,500.00.

 

Banal seemed destined for a second-place finish; however, he capitalized when early-race dominator Adam Yarbrough made contact with the outside on a late restart. Banal took advantage of Yarbrough’s mishap, driving under him for the lead off of turn two and never looking back on his way to victory lane.

 

“Well, the night was really good,” Banal said after the race. “We’ve had a terrible last few days. We had the motor tore apart last night at midnight, the guys they put it back together so it’s a relief.”

 

Picking up the win at the famed Carolina Speedway is a huge confidence booster for Banal and his team heading into the remainder of the 2019 season. He told Speed51.com that he plans on running all of the FUEL Late Model Series races, as well as some other races around the region.

 

“I’m going to run all these races, some I-95 races and a few other ones,” he said.

 

By virtue of his victory Friday night, Banal will carry the series points lead into the next FUEL Racing Series event at Cherokee Speedway (SC) next Saturday, March 30.

 

“I really like racing at Cherokee. It’s usually a good race track, so I’m looking forward to it.”

 

Austin Holcombe brought his No. 8A across the finish line in second, while FASTRAK champion Matthew Nance completed the podium in his No. 4 machine.

 

Holcombe’s second place finish was well-timed after struggling a little bit earlier in the year.

 

“It’s great, we needed this confidence boost,” he said. “We ran a bit this year in the Modified down in Florida and we didn’t have too much good luck. We started running Late Models last year a little bit and we’ve been dabbling in it this year, so I feel like we had a good run going.”

 

Knowing he had a shot at the win if he could make it to the back bumper of Banal, Holcombe took his chance on a late restart but came up short.

 

“We fell back a little bit there on one of them restarts and came back up to third,” he explained. “I knew if I could get behind the leader I knew I had a chance. We blew the top off on that restart and we made it up to second, we just didn’t quite have enough for Banal. It’s a good run for us, I can’t thank my guys enough.”

 

Like Banal, Holcombe also is looking forward to the next FUEL Late Model Series stop in Cherokee.

 

“If it’s a FUEL race, we’ll be there. I think that’s what we’re going to follow this year,” Holcome stated. “Trying to get a championship; that’s the goal anyway.”

 

Nance was taken back with the rough track conditions but still held on for a solid podium finish.

 

“We had a pretty decent night. It was getting really rough in turn one and two,” Nance said. “It was kind of a survival in turn one and two and not run over someone or knock the fence down, a lot of them end up climbing the wall. I really think we left some on the table in one and two but it’s better to bring the car home together than a total loss.”

 

Nance believes he has some more set up work to do to his car before the season continues.

 

“I feel like we’re pretty decent, we’re just still too tight for these tracks down here,” he stated.

 

Yarborough, who dominated the first half of the race had to retire early, but was still able to put on a smile after a strong run early on.

 

“Banal got by me, something happened to my car, I ran second there for a while but on the restart with five to go I think the fuel pump just quit. It ended my night. All in all it was a pretty good race, I had a pretty good time even though it didn’t turn out good.”

 

The FUEL Late Model Series’ next race will be next Saturday, March 30 at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina for their second of 12 races for the season.

 

Race fans can watch the full video highlights from Friday night’s FUEL Racing Series main event now on the Speed51 Network.

 

Full results, photos and more from Friday night’s race can be viewed by visiting Speed51’s Race Day Now coverage.

 

– Story by Kendra Adams, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent – Twitter: @2KendraAdams
– Photo credit: Speed51.com

Former FUEL Champ Gets Back on Top in Season Opener