Matt Craig was the class of the field in the Super Late Model half of the Throwback 276 for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour at Hickory Motor Speedway on Saturday, leading much of the 138-lap event to pick up his first victory of the year.
Craig, the three-time and defending series champion, qualified his No. 54 Chevrolet Camaro on the pole and led the race’s first 19 laps before being passed by Carson Kvapil. Content to ride and save tires and equipment, Craig slotted into the second position for the middle portion of the race. Soon after the restart for the event’s second competition caution, Craig pulled back around Kvapil on Lap 82 and never looked back, surviving one more restart after a spin by Daniel Webster and holding off a hard-charging Chandler Smith on the way to Victory Lane.
In the spring event at Hickory, Craig led 99 laps before Kvapil made a last-lap pass for the win. However, this summer he would not be denied.
“I saw him [Kvapil] pushing and I knew I needed to ride a little bit more than than that so I let him by, I mean he passed me, but I wasn’t pushing the car real hard,” Craig said. “I was hoping he would give me the outside on that restart and the car was good, my tires were good, and I was able to just keep on digging and pull away a little bit.”
The win was Craig’s ninth career victory with the CARS Tour and his fourth with the series on the famed .363-mile oval in the western Piedmont region of North Carolina.
“We get the car really good [at Hickory], this is a track we come and test at when we need to try something because it’s the closest track to our shop, so this is our home track,” said Craig, who hails from Kannapolis, North Carolina. “We put in extra effort, we want to win, we want to be good at our home track.”
Meanwhile, on each of the race’s long runs, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Chandler Smith moved forward as the laps clicked off in his No. 24 Wilson Motorsports-prepared Toyota Camry.
“We definitely couldn’t fire off as good as everybody else with the Super engine, we had a crate engine in it today,” Smith said. “We got back from Five Flags, had a crate car already sitting here and just figured we’ll bring the crate car instead of putting in the Super. So, we brought it and knew it was going to be really good. These Wilson Motorsports guys bring me a heck of a Toyota Camry every weekend no matter what. I knew we were going to have to have a long run to run them down. We fired back off second, Bubba [Pollard] passed us, I got back by him and started running Craig down and just ran out of laps.”
Short track legend Pollard rounded out the podium in his familiar No. 26 Ford Fusion, beginning to climb the leaderboard after a pit stop during the race’s first competition caution at Lap 40. He ran as high as the second position before Smith relegated him to the third spot with 13 circuits remaining.
“There weren’t many cars and we were already saving so we just came in and did air pressure and went back out,” said Pollard, who also finished 25th in the Late Model Stock race. “We really didn’t change the race car any, just adjusted the air. We were decent, we were just too tight. It’s just hard running two cars and bouncing back and forth and doing what we needed to do to make both cars right. A new car, first night out with it, not bad. We just got tight there in the middle to the end of the race.“
Kvapil ultimately finished fourth, with Kyle Plott coming home fifth after a physical late-race battle with hometown favorite Brandon Setzer.
With the victory, Matt Craig extended his slim points lead over Kvapil with just three races remaining in the 2021 season.
“We just have keep doing what we’re doing, keep getting a little bit better and better and better,” Craig said of his approach to finish out the year. “The next few tracks are really good for us, Motor Mile, Tri-County, South Boston, we’ve won at all three tracks before. I’m ready for it.”
Honeywell Home Throwback 276 presented by Baker Distributing
Super Late Model Full Results:
1. 54 Matt Craig
2. 24 Chandler Smith
3. 26 Bubba Pollard
4. 35 Carson Kvapil
5. 4. Kyle Plott
6. 6. Brandon Setzer
7. 27 Lee Tissot
8. 11 Michael Ritch
9. 8 Daniel Webster
10. 49 Jeff Batten
11. 7 Justin Crider
12. 7C Tyler Church