During the past several years, one of the most consistent drivers in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway has been Concord, North Carolina native Justin Carroll, who has brought home two sixths and an eighth-place finish in his first three starts.
Carroll continued that success in the 2019 edition of the race after overcoming some early adversity, and was able to secure another solid showing inside the Top 10, but he admitted that he thought his car was strong enough to compete inside the Top 5 with drivers such as Lee Pulliam, Peyton Sellers and Timothy Peters.
“I thought we had a really good car throughout the whole weekend,” Carroll said. “The drivability and the balance were solid dating back to Thursday’s test, but we were missing some speed, so we went back to the shop and made some adjustments. When we showed back up on Friday, I thought we had found the speed that we lacked during the test.”
The increase in speed paid dividends for Carroll by the time the lights came on at Martinsville Speedway for single-car qualifying, as his lap of 20.116 was quick enough to put him in the tenth position, and also locked him into the 200-lap main event with the rest of the Top 20 qualifiers.
When the green flag dropped, Carroll struggled to make any meaningful progress through the field and ultimately fell back to the 14th position when the first stage concluded, but he was confident that he could fight his way back towards the front after making some adjustments during the ensuing mandatory pit stop.
As Carroll attempted to rejoin the field on pit road, his car failed to fire, and needed assistance from one of the wreckers to get back on track, which resulted in a penalty from NASCAR and sent Carroll to the rear of the field for the restart.
Although Carroll was unhappy with NASCAR’s decision, he maintained his composure and turned his attention towards the second stage of the ValleyStar Credit Union, as he knew that patience and smart decisions would be imperative for him to stay out of trouble and get back inside the Top 10.
“When you find yourself in the back of the pack, you’re going up against guys that you haven’t race all night,” Carroll said. “You have guys racing each other for 28th like they’re battling for the lead, so you have to be cautiously aggressive in trying to protect your stuff without damaging it as you work your way back through the field.”
Carroll would be a witness to multiple accidents over the next 75 laps, which included Taylor Gray’s flip down the backstretch after contact with Sammy Smith, but he survived all of the chaos and put his #57 Industrial Battery & Charger/GECI Ford into the 10th position by the end of the second stage.
Carroll stayed where he was for most the final stage but was finally able to make some progress following two-late cautions for Stacy Puryear and Travis Swaim Jr. respectively, which enabled to bring his Late Model home with a seventh place run.
Although Carroll wanted more out of his car at Martinsville, he was satisfied with his performance and believes that it will help him out in the Kulwicki Driver Development Program standings, in which he currently maintains a comfortable margin over Jeremy Doss as he attempts to pursue a paycheck of $54,439.
A victory in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 might have solidified Carroll’s grip on the Kulwicki Cup, but he admitted that there was not much he could have done with Josh Berry clearly separating himself from a field of talented drivers.
“Berry was in a zip code of his own, and we did not have a car that was equal to what he had,” Carroll said. “We were able to pick off a few more spots after the caution came out with 12 to go, and you have to work those restarts to your advantage. When second-eighth are so close in speed, it makes it hard to catch one another once things get strung out.”
Carroll’s 2019 Late Model season is far from complete, as he plans to defend his victory in the Rodney Cook Classic at Ace Speedway next weekend before making the trip up to South Boston Speedway for the CARS LMSC Tour season finale in the AutosByNelson.com 250.