Myrtle Beach Speedway (SC) is known as a racetrack so hard on tires that often times even veterans struggle in conserving their equipment. In Saturday’s 100-lap CARS Tour Super Late Model feature though it was two fast-rising young stars though who figured out their strategies early and let the fans see an excellent show down to the wire.

 

At the end, it was Raphael Lessard coming out on top, rocketing past Matt Craig with eight laps to go to score his third CARS Super Late Model Tour victory of the season. The impressive win for the 15-year-old also nearly locked up the CARS Tour title after rival Brandon Setzer finished last (18th) in the field. Simply avoiding trouble in the final two races should be enough to net Lessard the crown.

 

“I’m always thinking about the championship,” Lessard said taking stock of his position, “but we’re trying to go race by race and do my best every race. I just know my David Gilliland Racing team will work hard every race and we should be very good.”

 

Lessard set a new track record in qualifying (Speed51.com photo)

Lessard set a new track record in qualifying (Speed51.com photo)

Lessard, in his first visit to Myrtle Beach, started on pole after burning down the old track record in qualifying, being the first driver to crack the 20-second barrier at the facility. Rival Setzer would start on his outside.

 

But quickly after the race began, it was clear some drivers were planning on holding back as long as possible on their tires while others were going to try to get to the lead and set sail. A number of drivers such as Jeff Batten, Gus Dean, Matt Craig, and even shotgun-starting Hannah Newhouse would make their way into the top-five within the first 25 laps of the race.

 

Craig would ultimately lead the charge of that group, sailing from fourth to first in a single turn to grab the lead and pull away from the field. It was not a surprise to see Craig go a bit harder than everyone else. He had used the same strategy at Greenville-Pickens Speedway earlier this summer, taking advantage when a caution never let the field catch back up to grab the win.

 

And for the longest time, it looked like that caution would never come. Craig stretched his lead to a full straightaway at times over the cars in conservation mode and, even though Lessard and others had begun to make their moves at the lap 70 point of the race, it did not appear likely they would catch him without a caution.

 

But the first caution of the night flew on lap 80, when Setzer stopped on the track with a flat tire. Series officials penalized him a lap for drawing the caution and he would ultimately prove to be the only car not to finish on the lead lap. It allowed Lessard and company to catch back up and Craig had to fight to maintain the lead. He fought valiantly, but ultimately Lessard got by with eight laps to go.

 

A final caution would essentially set up a green-white-checkered, but Lessard simply powered away. Gus Dean was able to grab second on the final dash, with Dalton Sargeant, Craig, and Tyler Ankrum rounding out the top-five.

 

“It was very hard, I’ve never had to be that smooth in my life,” Lessard said. “But Seth [Smith, crew chief] was telling me exactly what to do and I was able to do it right. I think I saved a little bit more of my tires in the beginning than he [Craig] did, but he did an excellent job. I got into him a little bit, but it was racing for the lead and I want to thank him for racing me clean.

 

“I’m just so happy. It’s just awesome to have two wins in a row like this. I can’t thank everyone enough.”

 

Craig showed a little frustration for coming up short, but also looked at the bright side of things in his post-race thoughts.

 

“We ran the race too hard the way it played out. In my head, in a perfect world, it was a caution-free race. That’s worked out for us a couple of times already this year,” Craig explained.  “We were really banking on that. Setzer – I love Setzer to death – but he brought a caution out on purpose to get caught back up. That cost him a lap, but that cost us our whole strategy. Once the 99 [Lessard] got by us, we were just hanging on for dear life. It’s been a good year though; I can’t complain at all.”

 

The race was certainly one of the highlights the Tour has had all year long. Routinely cars were going three-wide in traffic as drivers jockeyed for position and the strategy element certainly made figuring out who had the upper hand a mystery until the final run to the checkered.

 

In the CARS Late Model Stock side, Josh Berry made things significantly less dramatic. The JR Motorsports start also qualified on pole, never fell further back than 4th, and then made short work of track hero Sam Yarbrough when Berry decided it was time to push forward. The win is Berry’s 7th in 11 CARS Tour appearances. He will not win the title this year due to missing a race for an XFINITY Series appearance, but it doesn’t appear to be costing Berry any motivation.

 

Berry in Victory Lane for the Late Model Stocks (Speed51.com photo)

Berry in Victory Lane for the Late Model Stocks (Speed51.com photo)

“DJ Kopp put me in a [NASCAR Camping World] truck on Friday night,” because he saw me race at Tri-County, saw me win, and called me to say, ‘Hey, let’s go run a race'” Berry said in Victory Lane. He had finished 13th the night before in that underfunded truck at Chicago.

 

“Those opportunities are few and far between right now,” “I just know that at this stage of my career, I’m not getting any younger and I need to perform at a high level in every race. We’ve got a great crew and great racecars right now, and when you have those you’ve got to win, and that’s what I’m trying my hardest to do. I never thought I’d have the success I’ve had, and I’m just very thankful for the opportunity, and I’m always trying to find the next one and hopefully that comes soon for me.”

 

Berry’s next big opportunity will be next Saturday night in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Kentucky.

 

The CARS Tour returns on October 29 for a twin-bill at the popular Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, North Carolina. It was originally scheduled to be the season finale, but the Labor Day event at Southern National was recently rescheduled to be run in November.

 

Unofficial Results Results
CARS Super Late Model Tour
BakerDist.com/Honeywell 200 presented by Sports Radio 100.3 The Team
Myrtle Beach Speedway – September 17, 2016
POS NUM DRIVER LAPS
1. 99 Raphael Lessard 100
2. 56 Gus Dean 100
3. 55 Dalton Sargeant 100
4. 54 Matt Craig 100
5. 58 Tyler Ankrum 100
6. 98m Jody Measmer 100
7. 51 Todd Gilliland 100
8. 8 Tate Fogleman 100
9. 67 Clay Jones 100
10. 16c Chad McCumbee 100
11. 66 Steve Wallace 100
12. 7k Jody Lavender 100
13. 16 Lucas Jones 100
14. 97 Chase Purdy 100
15. 5 Korbin Forrister 100
16. 49 Jeff Batten 100
17. 98n Hannah Newhouse 100
18. 6 Brandon Setzer 99

CARS Late Model Stock Tour
BakerDist.com/Honeywell 200 presented by Sports Radio 100.3 The Team
Myrtle Beach Speedway – September 17, 2016
POS NUM DRIVER LAPS REASON OUT
1. 88b Josh Berry 100
2. 27 Tommy Lemons 100
3. 20 Sam Yarbrough 100
4. 1 Christian Eckes 100
5. 08 Deac McCaskill 100
6. 98m BJ Mackey 100
7. 88t Robert Tyler 100
8. 7 Justin Crider 100
9. 12 Austin McDaniel 100
10. 99 Layne Riggs 100
11. 41 Haley Moody 100
12. 98 Stefan Parsons 100
13. 28 Chris Hudspeth 100
14. 74 Ronald Hill 100
15. 5 Stephen Leicht 100
16. 23 Zachary Dabbs 100
17. 88 Chris Davis 100
18. 31 Thomas Beane 99
19. 42 Craig Stallard 84 Mechanical
20. 8 Trevor Rizzo 63 Exhaust
21. 5b Bryant Barnhill 50 Mechanical

-By Tim Quievryn, Speed51.com Correspondent – Twitter: @thethirdturn

-Photo credit: Speed51.com

Lessard is More: Tire Strategy Fuels Myrtle Beach CARS Win