Kaden Honeycutt put together a performance worthy of a title in Saturday’s Throwback 276 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
After starting at the tail end of the field, the CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour rookie methodically worked his way through traffic to tally a seventh-place finish, keeping him within five points of the championship lead.
Honeycutt would have preferred to edge out points leader Bobby McCarty for sixth but admitted that he was satisfied with a Top 10 after struggling to diagnose prevalent issues with the car.
“We ended up side-by-side with Bobby there at the end,” Honeycutt said. “I almost beat him back to the line but luckily we didn’t lose any points. The weekend was a struggle and we didn’t know why. I’m just thankful that we had such a great recovery.”
With the setup on his Jason Stanley throwback not to his liking, Honeycutt and Justin Johnson’s teams went to work after qualifying to try and get the car fixed before the green flag dropped on the 138-lap feature.
The pre-race adjustments forced Honeycutt to drop to the rear of the field, which was only a handful of positions following a dismal run that placed him 26th of 29 cars.
Honeycutt’s car was still too tight for him once the race got going but he would have to make the most of a bad situation in order to stay in the championship battle with McCarty, Johnson and defending champion Jared Fryar.
A key part of that strategy for Honeycutt involved being conservative with his tires and avoiding any aggressive moves.
“Hickory is a tight race track,” Honeycutt said. “There isn’t much room to go three-wide and flat out pass everyone. We had to go very slowly because we couldn’t just barrel through during that opening 40-lap stage. The mindset was to not wreck while picking everyone off.”
Honeycutt made sure to get a proper education in tire conservation at Hickory by running two weekly events at the track before the CARS Tour race in March, both of which he won.
Honeycutt credited the previous track time for keeping him informed and composed while he negotiated slower traffic to put himself inside the Top 10 with only a handful of laps remaining.
Now only three points behind McCarty, Honeycutt knows that efficiency is going to be important as the CARS Tour closes out 2021 with a diverse set of tracks that he believes will test all of the championship contenders.
“The only track that really concerns me is Wake County,” Honeycutt said. “Everyone I’ve talked to thinks that race is going to be a wreckfest. I think that event is really going to throw a wrench in the point standings but we need to approach it like Hickory if we don’t have a car capable of winning right away.”
Honeycutt said that finishing seventh at Hickory despite an ill-handling car is proof that he and his team can overcome any obstacle in their way, which has given him confidence in his ability to win the CARS Tour championship as a rookie.