Following Saturday night’s 100-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock Car race at Hickory Motor Speedway, two drivers admitted that they had to go for a move that they thought would end with a season-opening victory.
Neither left with the winner’s trophy.
Josh Berry, the defending Hickory track champion, saw an opportunity to get the lead in the final laps, but contact with fellow leaders in a three-wide move cost him a shot at the win.
R.D. Smith had a shot to take his first win at the historic North Carolina track when he pushed Austin McDaniel from the top spot on the final lap. The moved seemed to work as he took the checkered flag first, but Smith lost what would have been a win in his first Hickory start in post-race technical inspection.
The shocks on Smith’s No. 16 Late Model were found to not be compliant with the NASCAR rule book, forcing the disqualification and subsequent official victory being handed to McDaniel.
Smith followed McDaniel on the white flag lap before using the bumper to move McDaniel up the track in turns three and four. He took the checkered flag first and celebrated in victory lane, but lost the victory a short time later in the tech shed.
“We came this far, we might as well win,” Smith told Speed51.com powered by JEGS in victory lane, before being notified of the disqualification. “I got in there deep and got into him. Moved him out of the way.”
McDaniel, who rallied from his 15th starting spot to lead late in a carnage-filled event, was left miffed after finishing second on the track.
“I can’t tell if it was dirty or not,” said McDaniel, also before Smith’s disquaification. “I probably would’ve done the same thing, honestly. At the same time, we’re the ones who lost so I feel like I got run over. Unfortunately we had to come from the back, but we worked our way up. We caught the cautions right and there at the end it was a wild race. To be up there at the end, considering we came from the back, was a good run for us.”
Josh Berry was the class of the field for the first half of the race. Picking up where he left off in 2014, Berry was quickest in practice and in time trials. When the green flag dropped, he checked out for the first 40-plus laps of Saturday’s feature.
Payton Ryan was the only driver to hang with Berry towards the halfway mark. Ryan took the lead on lap 48, only to lose it back to Berry a few laps later.
Berry lost the lead and then some following a lap-75 tangle with Ryan and McDaniel. The top three jumbled up and Berry spun from the lead.
Berry then worked his way back up in the following 20 laps. He was in third and went for more when he went three wide with Ryan and McDaniel on lap 95.
That was the move that Berry admitted he had to make if he was going to atone for earlier issues. That same move also knocked Payton Ryan up the track with some contact. Ryan exacted his revenge a corner later when he paid the favor back to Berry. Berry spun and Ryan was penalized to the rear of the field, but instead Ryan parked his car for the night. The incident all but eliminated two early contenders and paved the way for the McDaniel-Smith battle to the checkered flag.
“The 23 (Ryan) and the 12 (McDaniel) got side by side and I had come that far, so I might as well go for it,” Berry told 51. “I rooted the 23 off the bottom and then he came down to wreck me. I don’t know. I rooted him, but only he knows what he was trying to do. I’m sure he didn’t try to spin me out because it cost him a chance to win the race. You’ll have that, but if his intention was to wreck me, that’s pretty ignorant because it cost him a chance for the win.”
In the end, both cars were taken out of a chance for the win with one late-race incident.
“We were going at it hard all race and it definitely seemed like we had the two fastest cars in the field,” said Ryan. “He got into me a little bit and I returned the favor and I guess he couldn’t handle it and spun out. That’s just racing I guess. I hope nobody’s mad. I feel like we had the win locked up, so I was a little frustrated.”
Following Smith’s disqualification and McDaniel being declared the official winner, Shane Lee was bumped up to second. Matt Piercy was credited with third. Berry, for all his issues throughout the race, left with a fourth-place finish, while Ashley Huffman was fifth.
Round two of the 10-race Paramount Kia Challenge Series for the NWAAS Late Model Stock Cars is Saturday, March 28 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
To replay the live Speed51.com Trackside Now coverage from Hickory, click here.
– By Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director – Twitter @MattKentfield
– Photo credits: Speed51.com