By David Rogers. NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Racing came to the outskirts of the High Country on May 17, with a tripleheader of late model competition at the iconic and recently renovated North Wilkesboro Speedway.
Although NASCAR Cup regulars were sprinkled throughout the opening races of the All-Star Race week, late model veterans Brenden “Butterbean” Queen, Bubba Pollard and Augie Grill emerged victorious in the CARS Tour Late Model Stock Window World 125, the ECMD 150, and the Crossroads Harley Davidson 75 events, respectively.
The Window World 125 race included NASCAR Cup regulars Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, and the “unretired” Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Queen started the race on the pole and held on for the win, leading the opening stages and staying in the hunt throughout. A multi-car crash on Lap 31 took seven cars out of the field, including those driven by Keselowski and Suarez, although both rebounded to take the No. 12 and No. 15 finishing positions, respectively.
None of the NASCAR stars could catch Queen. The driver of the No. 03 Toyota remained in command through the final 25 laps, pulling away and beating Ryan Millington to the checkered flag by 4.78 seconds.
Queen was all smiles after the race.
“Man, as a driver you dream of winning races like Martinsville, Hampton Heat, places like that. This is exactly like that,” said Queen. “I knew when I won the pole that I had my work cut out for me. Anything can happen. Our car was so good early on, I was trying to not get over-anxious and race the track, not the other drivers. That last pit stop, putting on some fresh tires helped. I didn’t want to rough anybody up and we were so good at getting off Turn 4 well that once we got the lead, I felt good about it. This is something that, I can look at 40 years from now and say, ‘Man, I won at North Wilkesboro.’”
Pollard held off NASCAR stars William Byron and Chase Elliott over the final 40 laps of Wednesday’s nightcap, the ASA STARS National Tour ECMD 150, to score an emotional win.
The owner and driver of the No. 26 Ford had Byron, Elliott, Sammy Smith and Daniel Suarez staring him down as the thrilling, 150-lap feature drew to a close. None of the NASCAR quartet were Pollard’s equal on Wednesday night, though, as the Senoia, Georgia, native sped to the point, negotiated lapped traffic and never looked back.
Byron was second with Elliott, Smith and Suarez completing the top five. Caden Kvapil, Casey Roderick, Cole Butcher, Derek Thorn and Ty Majeski rounded out the top 10.
“We took off there and we were pretty good, but I let William (Byron) by me for a while to see if he was any better,” said Pollard, after the race. “We started the race tight – I wanted to start the race tight – but we made the right adjustments on the last break (at Lap 100) and after that, we were good. It’s so great to be here with the history of this place and with it coming back, I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
In his post-race interview, Byron analyzed the track and the competitors, as well as had complimentary observations about the victor, Pollard.
“I had a lot of fun out there. The race track was abrasive on tires. You could feel it through the wheel and how the tires just didn’t grip the road,” said Byron. “… It’s fun any time you can race with Bubba (Pollard). He’s probably the best in these cars. I thought Chase (Elliott) was maybe the best on old tires — he had a lot of grip — but when we put tires on, Bubba was the best. I didn’t have anything for him. We’d get to lapped cars, but I couldn’t really catch him. He was good… It’s going to be interesting on Sunday (for the All-Star Race). The facility looks amazing and the place is really cool. The atmosphere here is pretty perfect for an All-Star Race.”
CROSSROADS HARLEY-DAVIDSON 75
A spate of early caution periods gave way to a frantic race to the finish in the CARS Tour Pro Late Model Crossroads Harley-Davidson 75. Augie Grill and NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series regular Corey Heim fought for the lead and the win in the closing laps of the night’s opening race.
When the checkered flag flew, though, it was Grill out front and Heim – who will also compete in Saturday’s Tyson 250 – second. Connor Zilisch was third with Tristan McKee fourth and Katie Hettinger fifth.
IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion Jordan Taylor made his oval-racing debut in an E33 Motorsports-owned Chevrolet painted like NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon’s iconic DuPont scheme of the 1990s.
Taylor – racing under the name of his alter ego, Rodney Sandstorm – avoided trouble and finished 20th in the 40-car field.
“I’d come back and race here again, for sure,” Taylor said. “This is all about seat time for me. I was just glad to make the race. Hopefully, we can build from there.”
The race winner, Grill, summed up his night.
“I was really wanting to ride a bit more than I did. I felt like Corey (Heim) and I were pretty even, and whoever was going to be up front (at the end) was going to win.” said Grill. “Luckily, I was able to keep it up front and now I get to take the trophy home. It was nerve-wracking (toward the end). He was so close to me that if I made a mistake, he was going to pass me. Luckily, the mistakes I made were minute enough that they didn’t matter. All in all, it was a pretty good race that I put together. I’m emotional now. Any race that I win is special, because they’re hard to come by these days. This is definitely a top-three win for me. It’s such a cool place to race at, and a cool race to win.”