The start to the 2018 CARS Response Energy Late Model Stock Car Tour season has been filled with many highs and lows for Marietta, Georgia native Cody Haskins. After recording three consecutive ninth place finishes to start the year, Haskins recorded his first career DNF in the Cloer Construction 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway after being off the pace all weekend, and hoped to turn his luck around with a strong finish in the U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway.
When the track opened for practice on Friday, Haskins posted times that were just outside of the Top 10, but gradually faded towards the middle of the pack by the time the last session on Saturday concluded. Haskins attempted to regain the lost ground in qualifying, but lost control of his car in the middle of Turns 3 & 4, and made slight contact with the wall, which slightly damaged the rear of his #2 KRC Power Steering/AA Industrial Contracting Late Model.
Haskins was forced to give up his 11th starting position in order to make repairs to his car and to change tires for the 100-lap Late Model feature. Haskins admitted that he was not concerned about the damage his car sustained in qualifying, and was pleasantly surprised at the speed his Late Model showed with rear-end damage and used tires that he borrowed from Ty Gibbs.
“When we started the race, we just planned on riding around,” Haskins said. “I went off into Turn 1 and it stuck, then I went off into Turn 3, and it stuck, so I figured I would try to pass as many as I could. The car was pretty good, and I knew we had a good piece all weekend, and it definitely showed in the feature, even though it was bent up.”
Haskins quickly began to work his way up through the field from the 24th starting position, as he took advantage of the early attrition that plagued series regulars such as Bradley McCaskill and Grayson Cullather, while also making several on-track passes that had him just outside the Top 10 shortly before halfway. After taking the 10th position away from Justin Hicks, Haskins began to chase down Sam Mayer for ninth when a severe thunderstorm descended onto the track, forcing CARS Response Energy Tour officials to end the race after 64 laps.
Haskins was proud of the hard work that he and his team put in to repairing his car after qualifying, and for providing him one of the fastest cars he has had all season. Haskins also believes that he could have challenged for a Top 5 finish if the race had gone the full 100-lap distance.
“My spotter kept me up to date on lap times,” Haskins said. “From RaceMonitor, we were consistently a Top 5 racecar. We got a little strung out near the end, and if we got to the guys in front of me, then I don’t think we would have had an issue passing them. I could put the car on the outside, on the bottom, and turn under whoever I wanted to. We could have at least run sixth or seventh.”
Haskins is in the middle of his first full season with the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour after only running four races in 2017, and is also a part of the series’ inaugural Touring 12 program, which is designed to directly benefit teams and drivers who sign up for it. Haskins has been getting assistance from both Jay Hedgecock and Ricky Turner to improve his Late Model operation, but switched back over to a setup that helped him lead 23 laps at Anderson Motor Speedway last season for the U.S. Short Track Nationals.
The entire 2018 CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour season has been a learning curve for Haskins, as he only has prior experience at Hickory with the series after both Anderson and Concord Speedway were removed from the schedule. However, Haskins looks forward to going to different tracks every weekend with the CARS Response Energy Tour, and believes that the variety of new races puts him on even ground with his fellow competitors, most of whom will be racing at Ace Speedway for the first time in the series’ next outing on June 9th.
“When you go to Hickory, you have Josh Berry and all of the regulars, and when you go to Myrtle Beach, you have Lee Pulliam who’s won races there forever, and so on,” Haskins said. “All of these competitors have run there, but now we’re going to Ace, and I’ve never run there, and half of the other guys have never run there, so I feel like I have the best opportunity to run better at Ace than I do anywhere else. I’m excited, and I’m used to running on places that have a lot of grip, so I think we’ll be pretty decent.”
Haskins’ strong run at Bristol moved him up one position in the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour points standings to eighth, but he remains 50 points behind points leader Bobby McCarty. Haskins will look to build off the momentum from the U.S. Short Track Nationals for the final seven races of the season, which will include all four tracks that neither he nor the series have visited prior to the 2018 season.