An unpredictable forecast dominated the week leading up to the second annual U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway, but that did not stop two dozen CARS Response Energy Late Model Stock Car Tour teams from arriving at the track on Thursday afternoon. Many CARS Tour regulars made the long trip to Bristol, with drivers such as Lee Pulliam, Sam Mayer and defending U.S Short Track Nationals winner Myatt Snider finding their way to the top of the practice charts early on.
One of the drivers who was notably absent when cars took to the track for the first practice session of the weekend was Late Model veteran Justin Johnson, who also missed the previous CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour race at Hickory Motor Speedway on May 5th. Although Johnson initially planned to run the entire CARS Response Energy Tour schedule, the Roxboro, North Carolina native has elected to step away from the driver’s seat and does not plan to compete in an another Late Model race this season.
“The hardest part for me was stepping away from a great racecar,” Johnson said. “Robert Tyler and Jason Stanley gave me one of the greatest racecars I ever had. However, I promised myself that I wouldn’t race anymore if I got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I believe that I’m at a point in my life where I just don’t want to race any longer.”
Johnson had been a part of the CARS Response Energy Tour since the series ran its inaugural race at Southern National Motorsports Park in 2015, but only competed in four races over the series’ first two seasons with his family-owned team. Johnson took a more active role in the CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour during the 2017 season when he teamed up with Jumpstart Motorsports, as he recorded four top five finishes in the series and finished ninth in the championship standings before departing Jumpstart to join Robert Tyler Racing in 2018.
Johnson was one of 12 CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour drivers who elected to participate in the series’ inaugural Touring 12 program for the 2018 season, which is designed to provide extra benefits and exposure to any drivers and teams that run the full schedule. In his three CARS Response Energy LMSC Tour starts this season, Johnson finished 22nd at Tri-County Motor Speedway after being involved in a late-race accident, but rebounded to score solid finishes of 3rd and 11th at Myrtle Beach Speedway and Orange County Speedway, respectively.
Johnson had filed an entry for the Cloer Construction 300 at Hickory Motor Speedway, but elected to pull out of the race in the days leading up to the event in order to re-evaluate his racing career, which forced car owner Robert Tyler to hire Will Burns to replace Johnson for the weekend. Tyler initially expressed disappointment with Johnson’s decision to retire, but believed that he made the right choice to focus on his family first.
“We had a pretty good deal with Justin to start the season, and we got off to a really good start,” Tyler said. “We were running Top 5 in just about every race, but I think the pull of family, business and a newborn kid were among the things on Justin’s plate that he needed to take some time to focus on. That’s why I stepped out of the seat too.”
After Johnson elected to step away from the seat, Tyler began searching for a replacement driver for the rest of the season, and was able to reach an agreement with fellow Touring 12 driver Charlie Watson. Watson is currently in the middle of his first full-time season in the CARS Response Energy Tour, and has been consistently improving since failing to qualify for the first race of the season at Tri-County Motor Speedway, as he earned a career-best finish of sixth in the Mid-Atlantic Classic at Orange County Speedway.
Tyler sees the partnership between him and Watson as beneficial to both parties, as it will allow Watson to focus more on his family-owned business when he is not behind the wheel of a Late Model. Watson is looking forward to his first race with Robert Tyler and believes that he will have equipment strong enough to contest for the win every week.
“Me and Jason Stanley have been good friends for a while,” Watson said. “I talked to Jason on the phone and he wanted me to come down to Bristol and drive his car. I didn’t know Robert personally before, but he’s a great guy. They go fast, and we work good together.”
Watson plans to run the rest of the 2018 CARS Response Energy Tour season and the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 with Robert Tyler Racing, but he still plans to compete with his family-owned team periodically at Hickory Motor Speedway. Tyler also wants to keep bringing Watson’ family-owned car to the track every weekend, as it currently remains a part of the Touring 12 program, and has contemplated transferring Watson’s points to a different team, or starting-and-parking Watson’s car for the rest of the year.