The two front-runners in the CARS LMSC Tour point standings in Bobby McCarty and Josh Berry were unable to keep pace with race-winner Ryan Repko in the Throwback 276 on Saturday, but both managed to bring home decent finishes of third and sixth, respectively.
Berry left Hickory with an eleven-point lead over McCarty after accumulating bonus points from leading the race’s opening laps, but he admitted that the performance of his #31 Dale Earnhardt Jr. tribute Late Model during the 138-lap feature left a lot to be desired.
“We were just too loose from the start,” Berry said. “We tried to manage it the best we could, but thankfully the race played out like it did where it stayed green, and we were able to still finish sixth, but we were too loose.”
Berry was initially one of the fast Late Models out of the 36 that filed an entry for the Throwback 276, as he posted the quickest time in final practice with a 15.175 before backing that speed up in qualifying with a blistering lap of 15.286 that earned him the pole.
While Berry put himself in a great position to pick up his fourth career CARS LMSC Tour victory at Hickory, McCarty was dealing with a Late Model that was not to his liking all weekend, which forced him and Nelson Motorsports to make several adjustments to it prior to taking the green flag.
“We wholesaled this car about four times,” McCarty said. “We were moving truck arms, upper air horn mounts, and just about everything else. There is not a bolt on this car that we didn’t touch this weekend. I think I even adjusted the steering wheel during the race.”
The adjustments gradually paid off for McCarty as Saturday’s on-track activities progressed, with the #22 Bobby Allison tribute Late Model qualifying in the 12th position for the feature, which allowed McCarty to conserve his equipment as he slowly moved towards the front of the field.
McCarty passed Berry on track for position shortly after the halfway point and had worked his way up to the fifth position before a competition caution was displayed on Lap 80, setting up a long green-flag run to the finish.
On the restart, McCarty found himself in a heated battle with Layne Riggs for the fourth position over several laps, but he was finally able to complete the pass on Lap 88, all while keeping Berry in his rearview mirror.
McCarty’s aggression proved to be costly, as he had to overcome a large deficit to Repko while once again battling an ill-handling Late Model. McCarty caught Craig Moore for the second position, but he settled for the third position after being narrowly edged at the start-finish line.
“I felt like I let one slip away,” McCarty said. “Hindsight is 20/20, and I wish I could have gotten around [Riggs] a little quicker so that I could have gotten to the leaders a little bit sooner, but after this weekend, a third-place finish feels like a win to us, so I can’t be too mad about this.”
McCarty stated that wins are his primary focus at this point in the season, but he knows that Berry will be one of the main competitors standing in the way of his goal during the final two races of the season.
Berry shares a similar mindset to McCarty in regards to the CARS LMSC Tour point standings, but the idea of a second championship in the division has crossed his mind, which has motivated he and his team plan to do everything possible to conclude their season on a positive note.
“It’s hard not to think about points,” Berry said. “We still have two races left, so we just have to keep trying to do what we need to do. We missed it a little bit here [at Hickory], so we’re just going to try to be better next time.”
The 2019 CARS LMSC Tour championship battle between Berry and McCarty will continue at Orange County Speedway in the Mid-Atlantic Classic on Aug. 24. McCarty has not won at Orange County since joining the series in 2018, while Berry visited victory lane at the facility twice in 2015 and 2018