The Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Tour approaches their second-to-last event of the season at the tight confines of Wake County Speedway. The quarter-mile bullring located in Raleigh, North Carolina, is the shortest track on the tour circuit. Two drivers that occupy two of the top three points positions drive out of the same stable. With two races to go, they will attempt to outrun each other and series veteran Bobby McCarty in hopes of claiming the title on October 16th at South Boston.
Justin Johnson’s 2021 campaign was more successful than he had planned. Johnson originally planned to run a partial schedule before winning the inaugural CARS Tour event at Dillon Motor Speedway in South Carolina. Johnson went on to win at Caraway Speedway in May. He has two wins, seven top fives, nine top tens, and ten lead-lap finishes in 11 races thus far. Consistency has been the theme for the 34-year-old driver/team owner from Roxboro, NC. Johnson tries to prepare for each race in the same manner without over-analyzing his points position.
“I try not to think too much about the points and just go in and do the best we can,” Johnson said. “We’ll make sure our cars are prepared. Hopefully, we don’t have to worry about anything falling off of them or any DNFs. We really got to put a little extra attention into making sure both cars are as good as they can be. As far as on the racetrack, I try to block it all out. I just need to do my best as a driver and make sure Kaden does the best he can. If somehow one of us can get a victory or two in the last couple of races, that’s going to put us in a good spot to win the thing.
Johnson’s stable of cars at Justin Johnson Racing has grown tremendously in the past year and a half. His team entered five cars in the Valley Star 300 at Martinsville. The growth of the JJR program has spurred their reputation for putting together fast racecars. His group’s performance has greatly improved the team’s stock in 2021. Connor Jones, among others, has signed up for Johnson’s driver development program, which affords his team additional resources to maintain their race machines.
“I’ve been doing my own thing for years now,” Johnson mentioned. “I’ve got kids, and I probably won’t be in the seat forever. I still wanted to be involved. I’ve got really good people around me. I wanted to keep them employed. We didn’t really go into this year planning to run a third and a fourth car. We made that decision at the end of last year to expand a little bit. It’s happened quite a bit faster than I necessarily expected. I wanted to run a second car all this year, and Kaden filled that seat for us. We didn’t go into this year planning to run a third and a fourth car. If everything works out, we might run a third car full-time for the championship next year.”
The beneficiary of JJR’s improved performance is Aledo, Texas native Kaden Honeycut. Honeycut is coming off of a clutch win at Florence Motor Speedway that has put him in a great position in the overall standings. The pilot behind the wheel of JJR’s second full-time entry is sitting one point behind the Nelson Motorsports car of Bobby McCarty. Honeycut has the best average finish of every driver in the field at 5.5, with McCarty’s average at 5.7. Honeycut is also the only driver that has finished on the lead lap in every single race. He has two wins, six poles, and ten top tens according to https://www.racing-reference.info/standings/2021/C3/.
As a Late Model Stock Car rookie, Kaden Honeycut has shown his skills behind the wheel. They have been a key component to his high points position. Honeycut’s travel and school schedules are immense, having to travel from his school at a Texas Tech preparatory high school to North Carolina for every event. Jet lag hasn’t affected the 18-year old’s performance during a year in one of the most competitive tours in the country. When Honeycut isn’t racing on the asphalt short tracks of the South Atlantic, he wheels a family-owned 604 dirt Late Model around tracks in Texas and the Southern heartland.
Like many tracks on the schedule this year, Honeycut has to approach Wake County Speedway for the first time with a premium placed on being a quick learner.
“To be honest I’ve never had a racetrack that I’ve raced on that is like Wake County before,” Kaden mentioned. “It’s going to be a big challenge when we practice. I think we’ll be really good. Hopefully, we can get it right off the bat for myself and the car. Hopefully, we’re good off the trailer and I can get to adjusting right away.”
An advantage for any young driver is having a veteran in your ear that can coach you along the way and a team with enough resources and a solid notebook to make sure the car is dialed in. For Honeycut this year, JJR has been the perfect fit for developing his skills on the pavement.
“Justin has helped me out a lot from being at these racetracks and knowing what to expect. From the race team aspect, having experience at the track before at places that I haven’t been able to race at, having the car perform right off the trailer is huge. As a driver, I can just go out and drive and figure out how to run the racetrack. He’s been a huge help and I appreciate him taking a chance on me. Hopefully, we can have a championship for his race team. That would be pretty cool.”
The one man who could keep both drivers off of the champions list has closed the deal before. The Kernersville, North Carolina driver, Bobby McCarty, won back-to-back championships in 2018 and 2019. His one-point lead going into the 7-degree banked quarter-mile facility is by no means a safe cushion, but he is a driver known for doing whatever it takes to win. For Honeycut and Johnson, they will do their best to keep McCarty in their mirror as well as the rest of the highly competitive CARS Tour field this Saturday at Wake County Speedway.
This Saturday, the Raleigh-area bullring will host the final CARS Late Model Stock race in the state of North Carolina. Two races remain in what has been a captivating season filled with parity and first-time winners in 2021.
Cover photo by Corey Latham.