Garrett Campbell, making his first CARS Late Model Stock Tour start in more than two years, nearly scored an upset victory at Tri-County Motor Speedway. However, a late caution thwarted his plans, allowing Josh Berry to earn his 11th career CARS Tour win.
Chris Davis slowed after Campbell had taken the white flag at the 0.400-mile oval. This re-racked the field for a green-white-checkered restart, where Berry took the lead and defended a last-corner pass from Campbell with a crossover move for the victory.
“Finishes like that are what you dream about, to have that opportunity and capitalize on it,” Berry told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS. “I didn’t really think it was going to be like that. I just got a hell of a run and was able to get there. I don’t really know how I did it. It was just a hell of a finish.”
Campbell expressed agitation with Berry’s initial pass for the lead on the final restart, disappointed after seeing a victory slip away in his first CARS Late Model Stock start since the series visited Tri-County in June 2015.
“We had about a quarter lap to go before we got the checkered flag,” Campbell said recounting the thrilling finish. “Somebody spun out. We had a restart, I chose the outside. Josh Berry just drove us out of the racetrack.
“He’s a JR Motorsports driver and races every week. This is my first time in the seat in two whole years. If I ran every week like he has and had to run somebody three grooves up to win, I’d really feel good about taking the checkered flag. He can do it however he wants to do it. He got the win. That’s racing, I guess.”
After Berry had taken the lead, Campbell took one last shot at the win, passing Berry on his inside before rolling to the outside groove. This allowed Berry to cut back to Campbell’s inside, setting up the drag race to the finish.
“I haven’t been in the seat in two years,” Campbell said. “My thinking process wasn’t there. I had my mind a little boggled there. I just overdrove it, got tight and washed up the track and he got underneath me.”
“At one point, I thought I was leading in the last corner,” said Deac McCaskill, who had a great view of the last corner before finishing fourth. “I thought the 88 [Berry] and 81 [Campbell] would get together and we’d be able to shoot by, and we came home fourth. This track is such a fun racetrack. It’s got to be fun to watch for the fans, and it’s a lot of fun for the drivers. It sucks, I thought we had a chance to win this thing.”
For most of the race, the battle for the lead was between youth and experience. 17-year-old Brandon Grosso battled McCaskill, the defending series champion, for the first 80 laps after the duo passed polesitter Craig Moore. Grosso took the lead from McCaskill on lap 23, but could not get away from the Late Model veteran.
“The last CARS Tour race, we weren’t very good,” Grosso said. “We were in the back, we got lapped twice. The car just wasn’t there. I raced hard with the 08 [McCaskill], got by him 15 or 20 laps in. We didn’t really rub at all.”
“[Grosso] was strong,” said McCaskill about the battle. “He was up top and I was thinking, ‘Man, he’s just going to kill his tires.’ I was keeping mine nice and straight and cool. There with about 60 laps to go, I just couldn’t get by him. I knew he’d get looser and looser and looser.”
Meanwhile, Berry and Campbell, who started seventh and ninth respectively after time trials were washed out by rain, searched for a way to the front. They both found that the extreme high groove around the Hudson, North Carolina oval produced fast laps on Saturday evening.
“I ran a little bit up top in practice, but that was way higher than I ever went in practice,” Berry said. “I don’t know, it worked. Once it got cleaned off, we were able to go up there and make up some time.”
For Campbell, the high line allowed him to rocket through the field, taking the lead from Grosso on lap 82.
“I’ve won three races here, so I always knew the high line was there if you were struggling with forward bite,” Campbell said. “So I went up there, got some momentum and got the lead.”
Campbell’s return to the seat was an impromptu one. Jared Fryar typically drives the No. 81 owned by Larry Coleman, but needed a last-minute replacement. Campbell, with plenty of experience at the circuit, suited up and scored a strong run for the team.
While Campbell does not have any plans at the moment to race again in 2017, he enjoyed getting back behind the wheel and competing for a win.
“It gets my confidence back up to where we need it,” Campbell said. “I don’t have anything planned after this race. It was a fun race, glad we finished second”
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour returns to action on July 22 at Orange County Speedway. The tour visited the Rougemont, North Carolina facility two weeks ago, with Layne Riggs securing the victory in that race.
Story by: Zach Evans- Southeast Correspondent
Photo by: Speed51.com