Justin Johnson’s afternoon in the Old North State Nationals began with promise.
He qualified his No. 44 Puryear Tank Lines Ford on the pole and had one of the fastest cars early on by engaging in an intense battle for the lead with Deac McCaskill.
By the time the checkered flag flew, Johnson was watching the finish of the Old North State Nationals from his own pit stall after a late accident knocked him out of the event.
“We had a very stout racecar,” Johnson said. “This one’s a heartbreaker. The car was amazing but we just didn’t have the luck all day.”
Johnson’s misfortunes started on Lap 46 when he cut a right front tire down heading into Turn 1. He managed to keep the car off the wall but had to take a one lap penalty after intentionally stopping on track.
Once Johnson got back on the lead lap, he methodically worked his way to the front of the field, finding himself on the verge of a Top 5 with under 45 laps to go.
As Johnson attempted to make a pass on Layne Riggs coming off Turn 4, the two made contact, breaking Johnson’s steering arm and sending him into the outside wall.
Johnson was disappointed that all of the progress made from his earlier tire issue ended up going to waste and voiced his displeasure over the way Riggs raced him in the closing laps.
“I don’t know what Layne’s problem with me is,” Johnson said. “He can’t let anybody pass him without beating the heck out of them. He hit me pretty hard when he cut me off out of Turn 4 and broke the steering arm.”
Sunday was not the first time Johnson and Riggs have come together during the 2021 season.
The two battled intensely during the final laps of the CARS LMSC Tour season-opener at Dillon Motor Speedway, with Johnson powering his way around Riggs for his first career CARS LMSC Tour win.
Riggs, who ended up falling out of the race late himself, was displeased himself with Johnson but believed that he was not the only one being aggressive on Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone just wanted to get up under me and put me in the wall,” Riggs said. “I’d be up against the wall on the right side and they would have me pinned on the left side. People that you wouldn’t expect to do that were the ones who did it, so it’s kind of disappointing and that makes me question who I race with.”
While Johnson believed he could have come back and won the Old North State Nationals with a couple more cautions, he intends to move forward knowing that his car is capable of many more wins this year.
“We know we are fast and we know how good we are,” Johnson said. “We have to seal the deal because we know this one’s going to hurt.”
Johnson said that his victory at Dillon is proof that his program can compete for a championship and is eager to showcase his speed when the CARS LMSC Tour heads to Ace Speedway on May 7.
Short Track Scene’s Andy Marquis contributed to this report.