CONCORD, N.C. — It’s been a little less than a week since Nolan Pope shocked the CARS Late Model Stock Tour field by earning his first victory at Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway, and he still can’t believe what he accomplished.
The 22-year-old from Harrisonville, Mo., ran down NASCAR veteran Timothy Peters during the closing laps and executed a perfect last-lap pass to steal the victory in his Lee Faulk Racing and Development late model.
“It’s still kind of hard to believe honestly,” said Pope. “I never really thought I’d win a CARS Tour race. They’re the biggest races you can win around here. To actually get one, finally, is really, really cool. I’m still happy, still pumped up about it. Everyone at Lee Faulk Racing still is.
“Knowing you passed someone who ran in the top tiers of NASCAR, in the Truck Series, it for sure makes it pretty cool. Racing with him (Peters) was awesome. We raced each other clean, we didn’t wreck anybody or do anything like that. It was really cool to battle it out with him on the last lap.”
While some might think Pope’s win was unexpected, if you look at his performances this season, a CARS Tour victory is more like natural progression for the up-and-coming racer.
Pope admits he got off to a slow start this season, but after the season resumed following the COVID-19 shutdown, he seemingly found his stride. He ran up front and was running as high as second late in the CARS Tour event at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C., on June 6 before ultimately finishing fourth.
“At the beginning of this year we kind of were off,” Pope admitted. “I think it was the CARS Tour race at Ace where we started kind of figuring it out and getting back in the groove. I had a shot to win there and ever since then we’ve run up front pretty much on a weekly basis.”
He backed the finish at Ace up with a third-place effort in CARS Late Model Stock Tour action at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway seven days later. He also claimed a sixth-place finish that same night in CARS Super Late Model Tour competition.
When not racing with the CARS Tour, Pope has kept busy by running the occasional weekly race at various tracks in the Carolinas. He swept a pair of late model twin features at Tri-County Motor Speedway in Hudson, N.C., in early July.
He added a victory at Hickory a week later, nearly sweeping twin features that night at Hickory after falling a few feet short of besting Josh Berry in a photo-finish in the first of the two features.
Despite not running on a weekly basis for NASCAR points, Pope has managed to find himself ranked 60th in the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Division I standings.
It has added up to the best season of Pope’s career.
“Everybody at Lee Faulk Racing works really, really hard to bring the best equipment and cars that they can,” Pope said. “It takes me and my crew chief, everybody working together to make it all work. That’s a huge part. Everybody has got to do their part to make everything work.
“Last year was a good year, I think we had one or two wins but nothing real big. This year we started off really good. We have four wins this year. It’s by far been my best year. I didn’t expect to wind up with a CARS Tour win, but you just never know. Hopefully, it just gets better from here.”
Pope is scheduled to be back in action Friday (tonight) at Ace Speedway, but his next CARS Tour race is the late model stock car finale on Oct. 24-25 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
The Old North State Nationals, which will pay $30,000 to the winner and will be broadcast live by SPEED SPORT TV affiliate Pit Row TV, is expected to draw some of the top late model stock car drivers from the region. Pope said his team plans to use the same car he won with at Florence in an effort to leave Greenville-Pickens with the $30,000 payday.
“I expect it to be the hardest race of the year,” Pope said. “They’re not letting me run the car we won at Florence with just so we can have it ready to go for that race. Those two tracks, Greenville and Florence are, in my opinion, really similar. I think Greenville is a little flatter, but as far as the way you run the track, up against the inside wall and really right corners, I think they’re really similar.
“I think the car is going to run really good just like it did at Florence. I’m going in with the mindset that I think we’ll have a really good shot. I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s going to be hard. I think everybody at Lee Faulk Racing knows we can have a shot at the win if everything goes right.”