It’s Craig Over Noles In CARS Tour SLM Battle

It's Craig Over Noles
Matt Craig en route to victory at Florence Motor Speedway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. – Trevor Noles may have led Saturday’s CARS Super Late Model Tour feature at times, but series point leader Matt Craig made sure the final outcome was never truly in doubt.

Craig rebounded from a disappointing run at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway during the U.S. Short Track Nationals with his third victory of the season, moving ever closer to a second straight series title.

The defending champion never ranked worse than second in the 125-lap super late model contest, held as part of the Aarons 250, and led a race-high 82 laps. He won over Noles by .832 seconds.

“We struggled really bad at Bristol, but tonight we had a really good car,” Craig said. “We were really fast off the truck on Friday. My car was really similar to Trevor’s, as we both have Rowdy [Manufacturing] cars, so it was kind of like an IROC race with everyone having the same car, but it was fun.”

The first 80 laps of the race were relatively clean, with a pair of competition cautions for 40-lap green flag runs and numerous lead changes as tire conservation became a chess match at the front of the field.

Craig shot to the lead on the initial start but just as quickly ceded command to Noles, who paced the field from laps three through 28 before Craig fought back on the outside during the 29th rotation.

Not to be outdone, Noles retook the point on the 31st lap before Craig led lap 32. As they scrapped at the head of the pack, longtime veteran Michael Ritch – a competitor in the Hooters Pro Cup Series, the forerunner to the CARS Tour – made it a three-horse race when he came to the front on lap 38.

Ritch was the leader at the first yellow flag, but Craig regained control on the ensuing restart and held serve until lap 67, when Ritch hit the button again and raced his way back into the lead.

But Craig snuck through on lap 79, placing himself on point for the second yellow flag at lap 80 and getting out of the mayhem that ensued on the subsequent restart with 45 to go.

A jump start on the first green-flag attempt led to a stack-up on the second, where Ritch collided with Carson Kvapil and had the right-side door of his white No. 11 torn off in the exchange.

That eliminated Ritch from contention and left Craig and Noles to decide the win among one another.

Ultimately, Craig dominated the final 45 laps and Noles could do little to stop him, despite a pair of late yellows for spins by Kvapil and Jeff Batten, respectively. Those slowdowns were on laps 106 and 108.

Behind Craig and Noles at the finish were Sammy Smith, Kodie Conner and Justin Crider.

The CARS Super Late Model Tour will close its 2020 season with the All-American 400 at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, tri-sanctioned between the CARS Tour, Southern Super Series and ARCA/CRA Super Series.

While Craig’s lead in the CARS Tour standings is comfortable, he knows he can’t let his guard down because the field at Nashville will be one of the most stacked all season long.

“With the All-American 400, 32 cars start that race,” Craig said. “I think we’ll still have to finish in the top 25 or better at Nashville to clinch. A lot of things can happen there, but hopefully we can hang on and get another championship.”

Brody Pope won the companion late model stock car feature, his first series win.

The finish:

Super Late Models: Matt Craig, Trevor Noles, Sammy Smith, Kodie Conner, Justin Crider, Tyler Church, Jeff Batten, Kris Wright, Carson Kvapil, Cole Timm, Michael Ritch.