Kres VanDyke works on his helmet before going racing Friday night at Kingsport Speedway. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — Kres VanDyke has unfinished business at Kingsport Speedway that stretches all the way back to 2002.
Needless to say, a rain delay just past the midway point of the 60-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model feature on Friday wasn’t enough to dampen his competitive fire.
Once the track dried, VanDyke pounced on race leader Paul Nogradi on lap 38, nudging the No. 02 car and moving it up the track heading into turn one to take the lead for good.
It was the first win of the season for VanDyke, who missed out on winning the points title at Kingsport Speedway by a single point back in 2002. That near miss is what is driving him in his quest to win the Late Model championship this season.
“Since then, I’ve never quit thinking about it,” VanDyke said. “When you’re a racer, you’re going to be a racer forever.
“I feel like I deserve it and I want it, but it’s a battle. I know all those other guys want it as bad as I do.”
Indeed, the points battle in the Late Model division at Kingsport Speedway is shaping up to be something special. Including VanDyke’s victory Friday, seven different drivers have won at least one Late Model feature over the first 13 weeks of the season.
With so many good drivers and cars in the field, the points standings are predictably tight. VanDyke, Zeke Shell and Daniel Pope are among the drivers hot on the heels of rookie Chad Finchum, who has taken his blazing-fast No. 19 machine to the top of the standings thanks to two victories and a heaping helping of consistency.
VanDyke pulled to within seven points of Finchum on Friday after Finchum came home fourth. Pope finished second to close within 10 points of Finchum, who hasn’t finished worse than seventh all season.
Pope has run his share of laps at Kingsport, but he said experience isn’t everything in racing.
“Experience has helped me a lot, but you also have to have raw speed,” Pope said. “The 19 car, he’s a rookie and he’s showing that speed.
“It’s a lot tougher than it’s been any year I’ve run here,” he continued. “There’s legitimately six or seven cars here every week that can win a race. It makes it really difficult compared to the last couple years when there’s only been two or three cars that were actually contenders every week.”
Pope’s second-place run on Friday was good news for a team that has been plagued by engine problems all season. Pope switched back to his old engine provider a couple weeks ago and the problems seem to be solved.
Johnson City driver Shell is equally hopeful that his mechanical failures are behind him as the points race heats up. Shell did a good job of biding his time Friday, running in sixth for most of the race before moving Nogradi out of the way on the final lap to slip into the top five.
Shell, who now sits 12 points out of the lead, said patience is a virtue he believes will help him in his chase for a championship.
“Overdriving a car and burning it up in the beginning is one of the worst things you can do when the only part that matters is the end,” Shell said. “You might fight and tear yourself up with a guy who won’t even finish the race.”
VanDyke agreed that avoiding the urge to get too aggressive is a constant battle.
“It’s walking a line,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful.”
But with a potential victory in sight on Friday, VanDyke felt like a little aggression in turn one was just what the doctor ordered.
It landed him in Victory Lane and, as they say, winning is always the best medicine.
Kingsport Speedway results
Friday, June 22
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series
Late Model Stock (60 laps)
1. Kres VanDyke #15-Claypool Hill, VA (60)
2. Daniel Pope II #16-Smyrna, TN (60)
3. Ronnie McCarty #5-Kingsport, TN (60)
4. Chad Finchum #19-Knoxville, TN (60)
5. Zeke Shell #97-Johnson City, TN (60)
6. Ryan Stiltner #22-Grundy, VA (60)
7. Austin Peters #66-Kingsport, TN (60)
8. Tyler Goodwin #64-Kingsport, TN (60)
9. Joey Trent #26-Gray, TN (60)
10. Allen Hawkins #14-Kingsport, TN (60)
11. Paul Nogradi Jr. #02-Clinton, TN (60)
12. Rick Pannell #33-Kingsport, TN (59)
13. Ben Rhodes #41-Louisville, KY (57)
14. Jamie Harrison #76-Church Hill, TN (55)
15. Justin Wright #21-Kingsport, TN (41)
16. Lee Tissot #7-Asheville, NC (31)
17. Anthony Anders #36-Easley, SC (31)
18. Dean Barrett #82-Abingdon, VA (30)
19. Wayne Hale #19-Bluff City, TN (25)
20. Erika Schmidt #19s-Greenback, TN (3)
Street Stock (30 Laps)
1. Allen Rich #03; 2. John Harrell #19; 3. Jared Broadbent #74; 4. Kirby Gobble #3; 5. Rob Austin #25; 6. Chris Tunnell #6; 7. Clint Watkins #91; 8. Sammy Ferguson #5; 9. Royce Peters #48; 10. Nick Cole #63
Pure 4 (25 Laps)
1. Jason Ketron #28; 2. Billy Ketron #27; 3. Keith Helton #14; 4. Chris Neeley #94; 5. John Ketron #26; 6. Danny Pless #5; 7. Jimmy Hillard #74; 8. Tim Abselseth #96; 9. Derek Penley #38; 10. Kenny Absher #11; 11. Jay Swecker #77; 12. Steve Skeen #17; 13. Todd Cross #41; 14. Alton Satterfield #95; 15. Darby Fleenor #66; 16. Dylan Bates #6; 17. David Trent #53
Legends (15 Laps)
1. Derek Lane #9; 2. Jacob Owens #8; 3. Jerry Lane #19; 4. Trey Lane #28