PENSACOLA, Fla. – A year older, a year wiser and a year more experienced, Texas young gun Kaden Honeycutt has returned to Five Flags Speedway this week for his second attempt at the Snowball Derby.
During his maiden voyage at the Derby in 2018, Honeycutt snuck into the show – qualifying 28th to barely lock in on speed – but was on the verge of big things in the 300-lap main event before a multi-car crash in turn two ended his day on lap 168.
Now, with 12 months more of race-craft under his belt and additional skills learned from honing his craft in both the ARCA Menards Series and regional IMCA dirt modified action, Honeycutt is confident he has all the tools necessary to succeed this week at the half-mile oval inside the Florida panhandle.
“I’m grateful and really excited to be back at Five Flags this week and have another shot at this Snowball Derby,” Honeycutt, 16, told SPEED SPORT. “Last year … we just were behind the 8-ball and I think that hurt us a little bit. We needed an extra Saturday practice, because we ended up finding some things wrong with the car on Thursday and Friday that we needed to fix. We ended up having a decent lap (in qualifying), good enough to lock in, but that just buried us and left us digging out of a hole on Sunday.
“During the race (in 2018), we ended up collected in everyone’s mess; I think we got spun out twice, and then got collected in an unfortunate accident that took us out just after halfway,” he continued. “We had a decent day going then and were making a little bit of headway, but left with nothing to show for it. To come back this year, start off on the right foot and really show what we’re made of is our goal this time and I’m super excited about it. I believe in this team and believe in our chances to shine this week.”
Honeycutt actually had a chance to shine in ARCA competition at Five Flags back in March, finishing ninth and leading 10 laps but believing his car was actually even better than his finish showed.
“We took our four-tire stop on the first stop in the ARCA race, and that killed us at the end, but we weren’t 100 percent sure on the strategy and just took a stab at it that didn’t work out for us,” Honeycutt recalled. “It happens; it’s one of those things that you learn from and take away, and we took away a lot from that race that … even though it’s a bigger car, I think will help us going forward.
“If that race had gone green the distance, instead of having the weird caution that it had that brought everyone else down pit road, we’d have been in really good shape, but that’s racing and it happens,” he continued. “For us, we were happy to lead laps and run up front. That day, I think, showed a lot of people that we were there and we want people to know we’re here to compete this time too.”
Honeycutt already has one solid run in a late model at Five Flags this fall, having scored a sixth-place finish in the Blizzard Series finale back in September that bolstered his confidence even more.
That race, too, came with some odd circumstances early in the weekend before a race-day rally.
“Man, that Blizzard race was a good night, all things considered,” Honeycutt noted. “We had a motor issue that took out all our practice on that Friday; it ended up being a master switch issue. With having to fix that, we got all of three laps on Saturday, and that was in qualifying. Once we finally got the car tweaked on and it was right in the race, we were really fast, so I think we’ll have that same speed again.”
At least so far, Honeycutt has proven that statement true, ranking fifth and seventh in the final two practice rounds held on Thursday afternoon and setting himself up for success.
“This is already a lot better than last year, man. We were 40th and 38th on our practices here last year and now we’re in the top 10 this time,” Honeycutt said. “It has just been a really good day. In our last practice, I messed up a little bit on our Q run. We probably would have been second (fastest) if I hadn’t messed up my mock-run lap, but it’s okay. We’ll just move on to tomorrow and make sure I don’t that in actual qualifying.
“Tomorrow’s a big day, but I think it will be really good to us. I hope so, anyway!”
Coming into the weekend, the Texas teenager hadn’t even allowed thoughts of winning the Tom Dawson Trophy to enter his mind.
Now, those thoughts are there, and Honeycutt is eager to see if those dreams can become reality.
“I really wouldn’t have expected what we ended up with today prior to getting here. In the preview, we did really well, but that transferring over to now … with the track being a little different, that surprised me,” Honeycutt noted. “It feels a little different than the preview; that was like two weeks ago and this track’s like a dirt track to be honest. It’s slick and wore out and
“The important thing is to not have a scratch on it at lap 200 and just go after at the end. If we can do that, I think we’ll be in the mix to go after it, for sure.”