KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Mother Nature threatened to wash out Mountain Empire Fence Co. Night at the Races Friday at Kingsport Speedway.
Thankfully the weather system finally moved out of Northeast Tennessee and skies cleared for a great night of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing in the Model City.
Kres VanDyke, who had visited victory lane the first two Late Model Stock races to begin the season, set fast-time in qualifying at 15.331 seconds. VanDyke rolled the dice on the front straightaway in victory lane which landed on six, thus meaning the top six from time trials would be inverted.
Zeke Shell and 16-year-old rookie Justin Fontaine brought the 18-car field to green from the front row. The veteran Shell quickly moved into the lead over Ronnie McCarty and Paul Nogradi Jr., with Lee Tissot and Chad Finchum battling for fourth in the running order. The race ran clean-and-green the opening 15 laps before Luke Fox spun between turns three and four to bring out the event’s first caution.
Back under green, Shell led McCarty while Nogradi and Tissot raced side-by-side for the third spot before the North Carolina campaigner Tissot took the spot. Up in the high groove, Nogradi wound up losing track position to VanDyke, Finchum and Ryan Stiltner to slide back to seventh place.
Just past the halfway point on lap 31, Shell held a six car length advantage over McCarty and Tissot when the yellow flag waved for Fox spinning between turns three and four.
Shell and McCarty were alongside one another on the front row for the restart, and once back under green McCarty was up on the wheel battling Shell for the lead. They raced side-by-side for four laps before Shell moved back out into the lead. But what would be the final caution waved on lap 36, when Fontaine spun in turn three.
On this restart, Shell shot back out ahead of McCarty, while behind them Tissot and Finchum were battling door-to-door around the .375-mile banked concrete oval. Over the final 20 laps, behind leader Shell the racing action was intense between McCarty, Tissot, Finchum, VanDyke, Stiltner and Nogradi as they battled back and forth swapping positions.
But out front the race clearly belonged to the 26-year-old Shell as he captured his first NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock victory of the season over a hard-charging VanDyke, Tissot, Finchum and McCarty.
“Man, following our deal last week in wrecking while battling with Lee (Tissot) for position and having to work on the car back at the shop this week, to bounce back strong tonight and get an impressive win, this is totally awesome,” said Shell. “We had a really good car tonight and I believe we showed that during the race, but I admit the luck of the invert really helped by putting us starting from the pole position. Hey, the deal with the invert is it can hurt you or help you. I’ve been quickest in qualifying before and with the invert I’ve had to start from the third row. It’s just one of those deals you hope will work out well for you.”
Other feature winners Friday included Royce Peters (street stocks), John Ketron (pure 4), Kirby Gobble (Mods) and James Deese (rookie pure 4).