Halfway home in the inaugural CARS Racing Tour season, it’s beginning to look like the field is Brayton Haws and everyone else. Haws captured his 3rd victory of a breakout Late Model Stock season Friday night at Tri-County Motor Speedway, while “everyone else” provided the fireworks in a rough and tumble affair.
Haws was not necessarily untouchable Friday night, but the youngster under the guide of veteran crew chief Lee McCall, is starting to look more and more like a veteran. He tried different racing grooves throughout the night to see where his car would handle best. He weaved his way through wrecks. He was willing to cede the preferred groove on a restart to drive the line he thought his car was at its best. The net result was a convincing 10-carlength victory when all was said and done.
Not too bad considering Haws had never even seen the race track before gates opened Friday morning.
“I know they only open up for late models twice a year,” said Haws as his team pushed the car to tech, “so I came in here being told that it’s like Orange County [Speedway] and Hickory [Motor Speedway] mixed and that’s exactly how it felt. We were good pretty much all day long. I can’t thank this team enough.”
Haws’ two previous CARS victories had come at Orange County and Hickory earlier this season.
Haws would start on the pole by virtue of Mahle Pole Qualifying being washed out by rain for the first time in series history. The field was set by the rulebook with Haws bringing Deac McCaskill down to the green flag.
McCaskill would eke ahead of Haws for the lead on a lap 33 restart after Chris Hudspeth and Blake Stallings’ crash began to start a messy evening. Myatt Snider would follow through a few laps later and Haws would ultimately fall to 4th behind R.D. Smith.
A lap 55 crash between Mike Darne and Shane Lee brought about the most pivotal restart of the race. Leader McCaskill chose the high line, leaving young Snider to his inside. Snider overdrove turn three and got into McCaskill. Both drivers slid high into the marbles and the lead was momentarily four-wide before Haws snuck back to the top spot.
Snider and McCaskill both somehow held on, but their lost track position plus a flat tire for McCaskill meant that both would ultimately have to settle for finishes at the back half of the top-ten.
The next restart got even uglier. Todd Gilliland, who had been methodically working his way through the field and ultimately looked like Haws’ best remaining challenger, had Tyler Ankrum drive over his side racing for third. Seven more cars piled into the incident, most notably Tommy Lemons. Those three contenders were done for the day and suddenly the field was left with a handful of cars in one piece.
That meant Haws’ strongest competition was now Jamey Caudill. The wily veteran gave Haws all he could handle on multiple restarts over the next 20 laps, with Haws keeping his car wound up just enough in the top groove to prevent Caudill from a doing a slide job from the bottom lane to take over the lead. On the final run, Haws left Caudill in his dust before R.D. Smith ultimately grabbed second with a few circuits remaining.
Both Caudill and Smith could only shake their heads when asked if they had anything for Haws, who continues to torch the CARS Tour world.
“The first 50 laps of the race, I was just trying to take it a bit easy, run the inside of the track,” explained Haws. “But once Deac and Myatt got by me I decided to see if I could start making it work on the outside. That’s where I felt the best at. On that restart [with Deac and Myatt], I just felt something was going to happen. They raced really hard going into turns 1 & 2. Luckily I was in the low groove so when Myatt slid into Deac a little bit, I had an opening.
“That’s not the way I like to win the race. But I still did have really good hard competition from Jamey Caudill. He raced me intense, but he raced me clean. I let him take the bottom because I knew [up top] I could get the biggest run coming off the corners. The restart Deac and Myatt got past me, I picked the low line. So I learned from that and it worked out.”
Now that Haws has three wins and a solid points lead, a breakout season may well become a championship season. Off until July 11th at Motor Mile Speedway, Haws has separated himself in the chase for the first CARS Late Model Stock title.
“Our goal coming in to this tour from the start was the championship. Experience and wins too obviously. We’re proving what we’re made of on the track.”
— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // Southeast Editor & 51’s Third Turn // @thethirdturn