When the CARS Tour season takes the green on Saturday afternoon at Dillon Speedway in South Carolina, it will do so with its winningest driver on the other side of the country.
Josh Berry will spend at least the first half of the year chasing a dream in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, meaning there is an opening on the Late Model Stock totem pole to join Bobby McCarty, Jared Fryar and Layne Riggs as the elite in the discipline.
March 6 is the earliest start to a season in Tour history and the entry list reflects it at 22 cars, but it’s a competitive field on a tight South Carolina bullring.
A list of things to watch can be found below.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A HOT START
Jared Fryar captured the championship last season with finishes of 13th to open and close the season, but that’s not the most optimal path to the crown, especially with only one victory to his credit. How did he do it? Sheer consistency. The third-generation racer posted an average finish of 4.0 between his bookends and was able to coast to the championship at Greenville-Pickens.
Fryar notwithstanding, it’s important to set the tone with consistency early. Consider that Bobby McCarty entered 2020 seeking three straight championships but began the season with finishes of 10th and 18th. Granted that second race was the infamous finish at Ace Speedway but it derailed his campaign and not even a 5.0 average finish the rest of the way could reverse his fortunes.
Layne Riggs won twice last year and had consistently the best performing car but couldn’t overcome mechanical issues at Hickory and Florence.
The goal is winning races with championships taking care of themselves as a result, but there is something to be said of the way Fryar did it last year.
BOBBY MAC ON THE ATTACK
Last year was a pretty forgetful campaign for the two-time CARS Tour champion. It started with a middling opener at Southern National that completely fell apart in the second race at Ace when he got dumped while leading by Josh Berry in retaliation for something that happened earlier in the night.
Beyond that, it wasn’t a terrible season with a victory at Hickory and four finishes inside the top-six over the final five races, but something just seemed off with the No. 22 Nelson Motorsports group last year.
If they’ve righted the ship during the winter, and it shows early, it could prove a long summer for the rest of the field.
They won four times in 2018, the Summer of McCarty, so there’s recent evidence that it’s possible.
LARGEST FULL-TIME ROSTER EVER
The Touring 12 loyalty program guarantees a dozen full-time competitors in CARS Tour throughout the season, but the overall health of the series has actually attracted several others. Fryar, McCarty, Riggs, Justin Johnson, Mini Tyrrell, William Cox III, Sam Yarbrough, Jonathan Shafer, Jonathan Findley, Mason Diaz and Jessica Cann will race for a championship under the Touring 12 banner.
Mike Looney, the 2016 Martinsville 300 winner, also intends to race full-time this season. Deac McCaskill, the 2016 CARS Tour champion, attempted to run the full schedule last year before a general lack of performance sidelined him. All of this is to say, that a good run by anyone outside of the Touring 12 on Saturday could lead to a larger car count for the second race on March 20 at Hickory.
PLENTY OF NEWCOMERS
Mixed in with the Touring 12 and experienced veterans at Dillon are a group of young rookies looking to make a strong first impression on the 2021 season. William Cox III will pilot the #88 for JR Motorsports long driven by Josh Berry while Kaden Honeycutt is looking to build off the momentum from his first start with Justin Johnson in the Icebreaker at Florence last month.
Other rookies in the field include Conner Jones, who finished second in the Pro Late Model standings during the World Series of Asphalt, David Gilliland Racing development driver Joe Valento and Daniel Silvestri, who is piloting a car for H.C. Sellers.
HOW TO WATCH
Every CARS Tour race in history is available live and on-demand on the division’s official broadcast subscription service — CARSTour.TV. The broadcast quality stream and complete on-demand catalogue, which also includes other events, is available for $24.99 monthly.