LUCAMA, N.C. — Raphael Lessard and Josh Berry visited victory lane in the final event of the CARS Racing Tour Season at Southern National Motorsports Park on Saturday night, the CSX Play it Safe 250 presented by MMIA.
Lessard cemented his super late model championship with the victory and Josh Berry brought home the team (owner’s) championship for JR Motorsports while Deac McCaskill captured the late model stock driver’s title with a seventh-place finish.
For the first time in his CARS Tour career, Jeff Oakley led the field to green from the Hedgecock Racing pole position after setting a new track record in time trials. Championship leader Deac McCaskill started alongside and quickly fell behind Oakley in the opening laps as the Virginia driver rocketed out to an early lead of nearly half a lap at times.
As the laps wound down, McCaskill, Berry, Layne Riggs and others began to close in on Oakley as he struggled in traffic and his car visibly began to lose grip and slip in each end of the speedway. R.D. Smith, after passing Josh Berry on lap 93, looped his Toyota by himself in turn two to bring out the only caution of the race.
After the restart, McCaskill used his home track experience to motor by Oakley for the race lead but it was short-lived. Oakley powered by around McCaskill for the next 19 circuits and appeared to be en route to his first career tour win until Josh Berry found his way to second and began to stalk Oakley’s No. 11 in the closing laps. Berry made contact while getting around Oakley in turn one on lap 115 and ultimately pulled away to his fifth CARS Late Model Stock Tour win of the season and the eighth of his career, tops all time.
Layne Riggs, Christian Eckes, Chris Hudspeth and Tommy Lemons, Jr. rounded out the top five.
Deac McCaskill, who entered the race with a 13-point cushion over Lemons, finished seventh and secured the driver’s title by 11 points. Berry, whose team entered the race one point behind McCaskill’s in the owner’s standings, won the owner’s title by six points.
“We had that caution and my spotter asked ‘whatcha got?,’ and I said ‘I don’t know if we got it today, boys,’ but on that restart it was like it was a different car after everything cooled down and we tightened up,” Berry explained. “Everyone started beating and banging, we got in the right lane and got a couple of spots pretty quick, and before you knew it I was racing for the lead. They all started checking up on the bottom and I just tried it [up high] since they laid down some stuff in it and it was better. I think Oakley started losing his right rear tire at the end and I was just trying to time it to get by him.”
McCaskill was overcome with emotion after the race when asked about his championship. Often haunted by taunts of being a one-track success, the CARS Tour championship was something he coveted since the first day the series began. Unofficially, he won the title by 11 points over Tommy Lemons, Jr.
“It was wild and a handful to drive, that last heat cycle just killed our tires, we just ran too hard and burned the right rear tire off of it. Congrats to Tommy Lemons, he was the first person over here,” McCaskill said. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered under the muffled sobs. “I think it just hit me right now. Traveling to all these different tracks and being able to run like this — oh well, I don’t mind crying. It’s just tough. To be able to be competitive is tough to do. I can’t help but think back to Concord and Hickory and what we did there, and that saved us there. Everyone said coming to your hometown track it was going to be really easy and I never took it for granted because I knew it was going to be tough.”
For the second consecutive event, Brandon Setzer put his No. 6 Ford on the pole position and reset the track record in the process with Matt Craig alongside. Setzer led the opening three laps until Craig worked his way past for the next 76 laps.
Championship leader Raphael Lessard took advantage of Craig’s mistake in slower traffic to take the lead on lap 80, but a caution on lap 94 for Jake Crum’s stopped racecar reset the entire tempo of the race. On the restart, Lessard bobbled but still jumped back to the point while Setzer and Craig battled behind him, making contact which put Craig’s car into the outside wall and brought a caution on lap 97 for debris from Setzer’s machine. Cole Timm led his only laps immediately after the ensuing restart until Lessard muscled his way back around on lap 99.
Behind Lessard, the field jockeyed for position in the closing laps with various race strategies playing out as the field raced closer to the checkered flag. Setzer, who fell back after the contact with Craig, made his way around Cole Timm for second with less than 25 laps to go and began to reel in Lessard for the lead, but time eventually ran out. The French-Canadian sensation won his fourth race of the season by a 1.524-second margin over Setzer, Timm, Tate Fogleman and Lucas Jones.
“I didn’t think we would end like this at all,” said Lessard about his four-win season, a performance that ties him for second on the all-time win list with fellow Toyota protégé Christopher Bell. “I thought we would have some top five finishes or something like that, but I never thought we could get some wins. I have to thank David Gilliland Racing, they worked so hard to get my car ready and get my car perfect like this weekend.”
Setzer’s runner-up performance solidified his second place ranking in the season standings with Matt Craig, despite missing a race, finishing third.