Matt McCall started his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series offseason with a trip to victory lane Sunday evening. McCall was officially declared the winner of the 17th Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park (N.C) nearly three hours after the checkered flag following deliberation between track officials and the teams involved.
“We worked really hard to get here, and it’s always good to get rewarded with a trophy,” McCall told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “That’s why you come here. It worked out.
“It’s really hard to come back to Late Model Stock racing and know what pace to run, but it came to our hands,” McCall added. “We seemed to have a little more tire than most to end it.”
On lap 175, the caution flag flew for an incident involving Brenden Queen and Devin Dodson. At the time, as they had several times throughout the evening, McCall and Justin Johnson were battling for the lead.
On this occasion, race control determined McCall led the last completed lap before the caution, giving him the lead when the race restarted on lap 182. Tommy Lemons, Jr. restarted to McCall’s outside after a choice-cone restart, but McCall maintained his lead and cruised to victory.
Per track owner Michael Diaz, the scoring transponder was secured in an improper location on McCall’s Late Model Stock. However, he chose to uphold the final result, with McCall taking the win.
“The transponder was at a location where, in pre-race tech, we failed to verify that,” said Diaz explained. “We have a rulebook. I understand that. I want to uphold the rulebook and my integrity as a track owner. But we failed to verify that. Based on what my techs explained to me, we decided to leave it the way it is.
"It takes a mountain of people to run a race track," Diaz added. "Sometimes we make mistakes. If I call it by the rulebook, people will call me crazy because Johnson had 25 laps to catch him and pass him."
Whether or not the transponder played a result in the scoring of lap 175 prior to the Queen/Dodson incident, McCall believed he was in the lead at the time of the caution.
“I thought I was in the lead, but every time I had contested earlier they put me behind,” McCall stated. “It is always weird, because they go back to the last completed lap in Late Model Stocks, there’s not really loops. I don’t know.
“I don’t know if it would have made a difference,” McCall added. “Maybe the 44 [of Johnson] thinks differently, but we were pretty good at the end.”
Justin Johnson firmly believed he was leading at the time of the caution, as he had been since inheriting the lead following an eight-car invert at lap 115 during the halfway break.
“We were clearly in front on the restart,” Johnson said. “They gave it to Matt. I led the last two laps and he never had a nose in front of me. They gave it to him.
“I just want to thank all my guys for the awesome job they did this weekend,” Johnson added. “Mr. Puryear, Puryear Tank Lines for believing in me, Bedlam Vodka. It’s just a shame to lose on the race because of officiating.”
Johnson explained that he chose to restart in third place after the final caution, behind McCall, as the outside line had not been effective throughout the race.
“The outside was so bad that no one could use it. I chose to go to third there. By the time I cleared for second, there was nothing I could do, I was out of time.”
Johnson was entered in a Jumpstart Motorsports entry, the fleet of cars fielded by Tommy Lemons, Jr. Lemons finished third in the race after winning last season’s Thanksgiving Classic.
“We had a really good car,” Lemons said. “The first half we were bottoming out and just trying to save our equipment. In the second half we made some adjustments, had to invert to seventh and got up third.”
Lemons expressed confusion at the decision that put McCall to the point on the final caution.
“I was baffled,” Lemons said. “That was the first thing out of my mouth when they said they were going to put the 51 (McCall) to the lead. I don’t even know how that’s possible. I think Matt was in between me and Justin, and actually hit Justin getting into one when the caution come out. There is no way he was in the lead.”
The race concludes the 2017 Late Model Stock season, as the last “major” of the discipline’s calendar. McCall collected $20,000 with the win after gambling on the event’s “Racing Roulette” payout. A standard $125 entry fee would have netted a winner $6,000, but McCall’s choice to pay $1,000 for his entry fee earned him a $20,000 payout.
Race fans can find on-demand coverage of Sunday's Thanksgiving Classic by visiting Speed51.com's Trackside Now.
-By Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Correspondent - Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Thanksgiving Classic Official Results
November 26, 2017 - Southern National Motorsports Park (NC)
Pos. # Driver
1 51 Matt McCall
2 44 Justin Johnson
3 27 Tommy Lemons, Jr.
4 07 Bradley McCaskill
5 5P Lee Pulliam
6 22 Bobby McCarty
7 26 Peyton Sellers
8 4 Jonathan Findley
9 21 Mike Darne
10 9R Alex Brock
11 41 Sam Mayer
12 9W Charlie Watson
13 55 Mark Wertz
14 82 Cameron Burke
15 99 Layne Riggs
16 63 Tyler Matthews
17 2 Robert Powell
18 90 Terry Carroll
19 9B Devin Dodson
20 03 Brenden Queen
21 24G Colin Garrett
22 18 Jason York
23 01 Philip Morris
24 5 Adam Resnick
25 1 Juan Gonzalez
26 24 Mason Diaz
27 17 Stacy Puryear
28 19 Cameron Bowen
29 33 Ryan Haddock
30 46 Thad Moffitt
31 22C Grayson Cullather
32 82B Will Burns