Johnson Slips by Late at Caraway to Win After Tumultuous Week

Johnson Slips by Late at Caraway to Win After Tumultuous Week

Wildcard Race would be an understatement for the inaugural 125 lap CARS Tour feature at Caraway Speedway. The David Lightning Saunders Late Model Stock race was filled with unpredictability. Mike Looney qualified on pole with a CARS Tour track record time of 16.747 seconds. Local driver Dylan Ward from up the road in Walkertown, NC, started on the outside pole.

Mike Looney (87) and Dylan Ward started up front in the David Lightning Saunders Memorial 265 at Caraway Speedway on Saturday, May 22, 2021. (Bridger Swinimer photo)

When the green flag dropped, Looney fell off slightly early in his first run. Bobby McCarty grabbed the lead from Mike Looney on lap five. Lap nine came as a surprise when Josh Berry and his JR Motorsports entry pulled in with engine issues. Berry was filling in for Will Cox III. Cox was recently let go from the team. Bad luck befell the front row of the starting field almost simultaneously in the early stages of the race. On lap 29, the Dylan Ward car slowed and came to rest before re-firing as the caution flag came out for the first time of the night. Just three laps later, pole-sitter Mike Looney suffered an oddly similar issue on lap 32. Unfortunately for Looney and Ward, their mechanical woes put both drivers out of contention despite excellent qualifying runs.

On lap 36, Sam Butler collided with the Jonathan Findley car in turn three. The lap 49 caution period may have been a case of attempted retribution when Findley contacted Butler again in turn four but spun to the inside as Butler continued straight. Justin Johnson and Deac McCaskill had broken into the top six by lap 50. Johnson had a rough qualifying effort and started back in 16th position. McCaskill was a goer as well, climbing up from the 12th position.

Dylan Ward’s (7) night comes to an early end with a mechanical issue after starting on the front row and being one of the fastest cars all weekend at Caraway Speedway for the CARS Tour event. (Bridger Swinimer photo)

A debris caution at Caraway stacked the field up once more on lap 53. On lap 76, Jonathan Findley’s race went from bad to worse when he collided with the machine of Jonathan Shafer. Despite bad luck early on, Findley had repairs done to compete and finish in the top ten. The first of two restarts on lap 76 bore witness to some trickery. Bobby McCarty had Kaden Honeycut snookered by touching the gas just before the restart zone. On lap 80, one of the only competitors that had competed at Caraway Speedway regularly endured troubles. Jared Fryar stalled his car and brought out another caution at the .445 mile track.

When the green flag flew once again, McCarty and Honeycut’s cars danced side by side. The two drivers wheeled their automobiles door to door before Kaden Honeycut had begun to pull away. The longest green-flag run of the night occurred during the run to the finish. Justin Johnson had worked his way up to the second place with 22 laps to go, but the race looked well in hand for Kaden Honeycut to grab his first CARS Tour Late Model Stock feature win of his career.

A meager three laps remained when Connor Jones contacted Daniel Silvestri; the quarter panel of Silvestri was struck, which sent his car spinning into the wall. Connor Jones had worked his way up to fifth from 20th place. Jones was penalized and sent to the back after the contact. The Jones team decided to park it for the night. The lead advantage that Kaden Honeycut had accrued vanished. The strand of old-school yellow bulbs strung over the fence illuminated once more to the chagrin of the number four-car team.

Deac McCaskill (08) races to the inside of Joe Valento for position during the Inaugural David Lightning Saunders 265 at Caraway Speedway. (Bridger Swinimer photo)

The man in black style competitor of the CARS Tour, Kernersville, NC native Bobby McCarty, restarted behind the young leader from Aledo, Texas. The frenetic restart caused the 95 of Sam Yarbrough to make slight contact with the McCarty machine. Bobby McCarty drove very deep in turns one and two as he and Kaden Honeycut made contact. As both cars got out of shape, Roxboro NC driver Justin Johnson shot the gap on the outside and finished his ascension from 16th to first. Johnson got the lead taking the two to-go sign, followed by the white flag. Johnson crossed the finish line and took the checkered flag ahead of the field after only leading two laps all night.

Justin Johnson was able to put his roller-coaster week behind him. He overcame adversity that stemmed from a violent issue the week before at Tri-County Speedway. The fight involved him and a family member using a torque wrench as a weapon. Johnson felt relieved and unworried about his detractors as he caught up with race22.com about his situation.

“Haters gonna hate man,” Johnson said. “It was an unfortunate deal last week. I never wanted it to happen. I didn’t start it and didn’t want to be a part of it. I can’t take it back now. We’re just going to try to contrate on working on race cars and winning more of these races. I don’t even know why all of it happened anyway, it’s just a confusing situation. I’ve played it over in my head a million times, trying to figure a way out of it. But it’s over, it’s done with. I had my mind made up right after; that is not us.”

Johnson went into detail about the people and the drive inside himself to keep pushing despite the PR and legal nightmare that he had to overcome.

“Just a never give up attitude, I guess,” Johnson explained. “All my guys stuck with me and are 100 percent behind me. I’m just glad to get this week over. We want to concentrate on racing only and not all the extracurricular activities. But I am just really proud of my team. Thankful to all of our sponsors and partners for sticking behind me and doing an awesome job with both me and Kaden tonight, glad to get him up in the top three there.”

Johnson admitted that he did not have the best car after practice. His team tried a mockup of Honeycut’s setup verbatim. Climbing from 16th gave Johnson pride in his team despite all the distractions and hurdles of the last seven days.

“Kaden really and truly had the better car,” Johnson stated. “I thought he had it all but won until that late caution. But I want to thank GXS Wraps, Puryear Tank Lines, John Wes Race Engines, R&S Race Cars, Furniture 4 Less, and William Travis Jewelry. It is good to have everybody on board with us. It takes every one of them. I go out and qualify 16th so, it’s like uh-oh. But it just shows how good our stuff is. To come through a strong field like that is just unbelievable.”

Bobby McCarty led the most laps but ended in a disappointing 4th position after the late-race caution. McCarty started with an apology for the way he and Honeycut made contact.

“I want to apologize to the four car on that last restart,” McCarty explained. “I just got into him. I tried to get off of him, and I got carried from behind by the 95. He had the car to beat. I hate how it happened.”

Justin Johnson became the first repeat winner in the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Tour. The tour will try to match the intensity that the first third of the year has provided thus far. The inaugural CARS Tour race at Caraway Speedway fully lived up to its billing of a Wildcard event.

The circuit will continue in two weeks at Langley Speedway. It will be the first race in the state of Virginia in 2021. The drama and actions of Late Model Stock Car racing are one of a kind. Readers and fans can follow race22.com and race22 on Facebook for more stories, content, and live updates from the Short Track Authority.

Results:
44 Justin Johnson
08 Deac McCaskill
4H Kaden Honeycut
22 Bobby McCarty
2 Brandon Pierce
95 Sam Yarbrough
4 Jonathan Findley
24 Mason Diaz
77 Trevor Ward
17 Joe Valento
97 Daniel Silvestri
91 Jonathan Shafer
14 Jared Fryar
81 Mini Tyrell
27 Coy Beard
21 Connor Jones
7 Dylan Ward
81B Sam Butler
99 Layne Riggs
87 Mike Looney
18 Jason York
88 Josh Berry

Dan Hodgdon contributed to this article.

Cover photo by Bridger Swinimer.