The Late Model feature of the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Tour Race Face Tel-Med 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway was primarily dominated by Layne Riggs and Corey Heim, with the latter pulling away for his first career victory.
As the laps wound down, rookie Gage Painter began to charge up through the field and would fight his way inside the Top 5 before coming home in second, which was his best finish in three Solid Rock Carriers CARS LMSC Tour starts.
“This feels pretty good,” Painter said about his run. “My dad and my crew chief and my spotter were all preaching for me to save my tires so everything would pay off. I just rode until about Lap 130 and they all told me to go get them.”
Painter is no stranger to the abrasive surface at Hickory, as he has spent the last couple of years logging laps and knocking off several victories at the track, one of which came in the Throwback 52 Limited Late Model feature in 2018 that served as a preliminary to the Throwback 276.
The victory put Painter in the Throwback 276, but he was unable to compete due to him being only 13 years old at the time. Painter used the momentum from that LLM win to put together a strong LMSC campaign at Hickory during a 2019 season that saw him visit victory lane five times at the track.
For 2020, Painter wanted to visit other short tracks along the East Coast and elected to join the Solid Rock Carriers CARS LMSC Tour on a full-time basis after making his series debut in the 2019 Throwback 276 Hickory in 2019, where he finished 26th following a mechanical failure.
Painter encountered several problems during the 150-lap feature and finished in 23rd two laps off the pace. Painter fared slightly better in his next Solid Rock Carriers CARS LMSC Tour start at Ace Speedway, as he survived the late-race carnage to finish on the lead lap in 12th.
Hickory presented an ideal opportunity for Painter to put together a complete race, but he knew that his previous starts at the facility would benefit him, especially when it came to tire and equipment conversation during green flag runs.
“The experience really helped,” Painter said. “Knowing what the track is going to do on a long race like that really pays off when you have races like [Saturday’s.]
Painter lined up 16th on the 25-car grid and spent a majority of the feature’s opening half by saving his equipment and staying out of trouble, all while Heim, Riggs, Craig Moore and others battled intensely for the lead.
Several drivers had used up their tires and cars by the time the race entered its last 50 laps, which enabled Painter to pick off his competition one-by-one and drive his way up to fourth before a spin by Ryan Millington brought the yellow flag out with 14 to go.
On the restart, Painter managed to pass both Moore and Riggs for position, but he would find himself in a close battle with Nolan Pope up until the checkered flag was displayed. Pope pulled alongside Painter several times, but Painter successfully held him off to claim the second position.
Painter credited his crew for all of their hard work into making his #12 Lock-Lane Construction Chevrolet so competitive on Saturday night, but he admitted that passing Heim for the win on a final restart would have been challenging.
“Lee Pulliam put together a pretty fast car for Corey,” Painter said. “I think we could have raced with him, and hopefully I would have beaten him, but a night like tonight really gets your momentum up and it helps build a winning attitude.”
Painter will look for another strong run when he makes the trip to Swansboro, North Carolina with the rest of the Solid Rock Carriers CARS LMSC Tour competitors on July 11 for the Crystal Coast 125 at Carteret County Speedway.