Prior to last weekend, Mike Looney had only visited Hickory Motor Speedway once during his storied Late Model career and that ended with him behind the wall due to an incident.
Looney’s second trip to Hickory played out much better, earning the pole with finishes of second and fourth in a pair of NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Twin 40 lappers in advance of Saturday’s 150-lap CARS Late Model Stock Tour feature.
“This was a good learning experience,” Looney said. “We were pretty quick off the truck but I have no idea how the car is supposed to feel [at Hickory]. This track is really rough and doesn’t have as much grip compared to what we’re used to. We were fortunate enough to sit on the pole, but I think I had the car too tight for a long run, so now we’re going to look back our notes and do something different.”
Having primarily raced at Motor Mile Speedway, Franklin County Speedway and other Virginia tracks throughout his life, Looney wanted to venture down South for 2021 and elected to join the CARS LMSC Tour for the full season.
Looney recorded a solid seventh-place finish in the season opener at Dillon Motor Speedway on March 6, but knew that he needed to get familiar with the other tracks on the schedule so he could maintain a competitive pace throughout the year
The two 40-lap Late Model features at Hickory last Saturday served as an impromptu test session for Looney and a handful of his fellow CARS Tour competitors. Among them was Kaden Honeycutt, who had not seen Hickory until he pulled into the track that Friday.
A power steering issue during qualifying was only one of Honeycutt’s issues during the weekend, as he initially struggled to figure out how to properly navigate Hickory’s abrasive surface.
“This is by far the roughest track I have ever been on and that includes dirt tracks,” Honeycutt said. “I’ve had potholes go up to my kneecaps, and I’ve handled those better than this place. This is a cool place, but if they repaved it, then it would certainly be interesting. I do think they need to keep it the way it is, because there are not many tracks left like this.”
Honeycutt’s fortunes changed as soon as the green flag dropped for the first 40-lap feature. He quickly picked off regulars such as Jacob Heafner and William Cox III before passing Looney for the win with 12 laps remaining.
An invert placed Honeycutt in the back of the 13-car field for the second race, but he once again proved to be unstoppable by rapidly surging through his fellow competitors to overtake the race leader in Cox by Lap 30.
Honeycutt said that the most important lesson he learned from the two races was mastering tire conservation. He believes that he learned enough last weekend to the point where he is confident that his team can contend for the win on Saturday evening.
“When I started moving through the field at Lap 10, I was very conservative,” Honeycutt said. “I got to Jacob pretty quickly and I wasn’t going to waste time since I was quicker than him in both races. We went 80 laps on the tires, so now I know what I have to do for [Saturday]. It’s a long, 150-lap race so anything can happen.”
While Looney would have preferred to be the one celebrating in victory lane on both occasions, he was satisfied with his performance at Hickory and hopes that the experience obtained from last weekend helps him gain an edge on his fellow competition.
“This is a racy place,” Looney said. “You can run the high side for a little while and I learned my way around some of the bumps by following some of the guys that have run here some. Right now the car is too tight, so we have to get her to run the center a little better and if we can do that, we’ll stand a chance.”
Looney will be searching for his first career CARS LMSC Tour win in his third visit to Hickory for the MTP Tire 250 on Saturday evening following the 100-lap Super Late Model feature.
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