Matt McCall (51) and Deac McCaskill (08) battle for the win late in the 2018 Thanksgiving Classic. (Andy Newsome photo)

After finding himself at the tail end of the field as a result of being involved in an accident just past the halfway point, Matt McCall pulled off an incredible drive to race his way up to the lead and pick up his second consecutive victory in the Solid Rock Carriers Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park.

A former regular of Late Model competition, McCall is only able to compete in the Thanksgiving Classic every season due to his commitments as crew chief for Jamie McMurray in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. McCall has always considered Southern National to be one of his best tracks throughout his career, and was thrilled to have another opportunity to celebrate with his family and team in victory lane on Sunday night.

“We don’t get to race much, and I’m trying to keep the streak alive of winning a race year for a long time,” McCall said. “That’s why I only show up back here one time to try and keep that streak going. This is really my only opportunity to do that.”

McCall proved to have one of the fastest Late Models out of the 32 that were entered for the 2018 Thanksgiving Classic, but his blistering time of 15.295 was not quite enough to earn him the top spot for the 200-lap Duragloss Late Model feature. The pole would belong to four-time Southern National Late Model track champion Deac McCaskill, who was looking to score his first victory in the prestigious Late Model race since 2006.

McCaskill pulled in front of outside polesitter Philip Morris at the drop of the green flag, and held a small but consistent lead in front of Morris and Bobby McCarty as the three pulled away from the rest of the field. McCall struggled to find grip in his #51 Davis Farms Late Model in the early stages of the feature, but his patience eventually paid off for him as he found himself in a battle with McCaskill and McCarty for the lead as the duo tried to navigate through lap traffic.

A major turning point in the race occurred shortly after the halfway point when Ryan Wilson got turned around on the backstretch in front of the leaders. McCaskill made it through the accident with no damage on his car, but McCarty got into the back of McCall as the two tried to avoid the stopped car of Wilson, which caused damage to both cars and led to several other drivers getting involved.

When NASCAR officials sorted out the running order after several caution laps, they determined that McCall had not kept his forward momentum going after being spun by McCarty, which forced him to start from the back of the pack. McCall was not happy with NASCAR’s decision to place him at the rear of the field, but he took full responsibility for putting himself in that position.

“They paid money at Lap 100, and I got a little greedy trying to get the money, and it put me in a bad spot,” McCall said. “It’s however you want to call it, but I knew that I had enough laps that we could fight the call and try to get the position back, but we weren’t able to. We tried picking them off and saving there, but there wasn’t much saving on that last run.”

McCaskill managed to maintain the pace that he had set during the first half of the Solid Rock Carriers Thanksgiving Classic as day turned into night, all while he had to hold off a strong charge from his cousin Bradley. Several cautions in the latter half of the race would bunch the field off, but no one had anything for McCaskill as he opened up his lead in pursuit of a victory to cap off a solid 2018 season.

McCaskill would get his first real test of the evening with McCall, who had rocketed his way up to second in only 70 laps and found himself within striking distance of the top spot. McCaskill attempted to shake McCall by picking up his lap times and carving his way through lap traffic, but McCall remained on McCaskill’s back bumper as the laps wound down.

With three laps to go, McCall found the opening he needed when McCaskill slipped up the track in Turn 4, which allowed him to get a strong run to the inside of the Late Model and take the lead away from him for the first time all evening. McCall nearly saw his comeback abruptly end when he bounced off the wall in Turn 2 on the final lap, but a strong run from McCaskill on the high side was not enough for him to regain the lead as McCall narrowly held on for the win.

As McCall celebrated in victory lane, McCaskill could not help but feel dejected after coming home second in a race that he dominated from the drop of the green flag. Despite coming up short, McCaskill applauded McCall for the determination that he displayed to work his way back up to the front of the field, adding that there was very little he could do to hold off McCall despite the mistake he made on the last lap.

“It’s never over until the checkered flag falls,” McCaskill said. “I got a great run off of Turn 2 and I was going to try and get the bumper on him, but when he hit the wall, it was kind of like ‘oh crap, what’s going on?’ He hit the wall and went low, so I had to go high. The last thing I wanted to do was for both of us to wreck. I couldn’t move him to save myself. and the only way to get by him was to wreck us both, and I wasn’t going to do that.”

The last lap was more exhilarating from McCall’s point of view, as he was worried that all of his progress to get to the lead was going to be derailed on the last lap of the race. However, McCall knew that McCaskill would not try anything reckless on him in an attempt to get the lead back, which gave him a small bit of confidence as he tried to cross the finish line first with a wrecked Late Model.

“That’s just how Deac races,” McCall said. “He always does, and he even raced me clean at the end when I really pile-drived the fence on the backstretch. I got loose off Turn 2, and I knew there was no reason to lift or it was going to get ugly, so I just drove it into the fence. Fortunately it was enough for me to get through Turn 3 and 4 and to get the checkered.”

Bradley McCaskill had numerous opportunities to take the lead away from his cousin on restarts, but never found the necessary momentum to accomplish his goal, which forced him to settle for a third place finish. McCarty rebounded after sustaining damage in the halfway caution to come home in the fourth position while Layne Riggs rounded out the Top 5.

Duragloss Late Model Results:

1. 51 Matt McCall 200
2. 08 Deac McCaskill 200
3. 07 Bradley McCaskill 200
4. 22 Bobby McCarty 200
5. 99 Layne Riggs 200
6. 12 Brandon Pierce 200
7. 01 Philip Morris 200
8. 17 Stacy Puryear 200
9. 63 Tyler Matthews 200
10. 03 Brenden Queen 200
11. 17 Taylor Gray 200
12. 54 Drew Dollar 200
13. 44 Justin Johnson 200
14. 21 Mike Darne 200
15. 30 Clifton Daniels 200
16. 24 Colin Garrett 199
17. 8 Tyler Hughes 199
18. 55 Mark Wertz 199
19. 82 Mike Ganoe 198
20. 92 Casey Wyatt 198
21. 2 Dennis Holdren 195
22. 36 Chris Johnson 195
23. 06 Davin Scites 194
24. 9 Thomas Burbage 193
25. 94 Robbie Babb 169
26. 12 Ryan Wilson 161
27. 4 Jonathan Findley 161
28. 81 Mini Tyrell 146
29. 19 Cameron Bowen 138
30. 01b Camden Gullie 91
31. 06 Terry Dease 90
32. 23 Terry Brooks 64