For 150 laps in the Hampton Heat on Saturday evening, everything was right in Chad McCumbee’s world.
The former NASCAR driver and Late Model Stock veteran had been practically untouchable from the pole, only losing the lead briefly to Timothy Peters on a strategy call.
What appeared to be a dominant win for McCumbee quickly evaporated when a mechanical failure forced him to pull off track while leading and behind the wall for a disappointing 25th place finish.
“Something in the driveline seized up,” McCumbee said. “The lap it went out, it just started pulling back really hard and locked up the rear tires. I’m not exactly sure what happened but this is the cruel game we play sometimes.”
Saturday’s outcome was a crushing one for McCumbee, who was determined to carry over momentum from a Top 5 in the Thunder Road Harley-Davidson 200 into the second leg of the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown.
McCumbee had never competed in the Virginia Triple Crown prior to 2021 but felt comfortable in his team’s ability to perform having raced against many of the same drivers in events like the Myrtle Beach 400.
Despite this, McCumbee’s inexperience at tracks like Langley and South Boston Speedway meant that he and everyone else at McCumbee Elliott Racing would have to prepare meticulously to figure out how to put together the best car possible based off the needs of the driver and each track.
McCumbee said Saturday was a culmination of that hard work.
“We went back to the drawing board a month ago,” McCumbee said. “There was some success early in the season and we went back to some of that stuff. Our car was just phenomenal and you don’t get cars that good often.”
The near-perfect condition of his No. 16 Aaron’s Sales and Lease Ford left McCumbee even more frustrated knowing a car that efficient could not even challenge race-winner Josh Berry during the final laps.
McCumbee said there is no point lingering on what could have been in the Hampton Heat and that the best way to recover is to simply focus on MER’s next event, which is the Throwback 276 at Hickory Motor Speedway with Sam Yarbrough.
One positive that McCumbee has taken away from Saturday is that his performance in the first two Virginia Triple Crown races is a reminder that the efficiency of MER extends far beyond South Carolina.
“For a limited schedule, I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve done,” McCumbee said. “We’ve certainly had speed in the races we’ve run this year and tonight we had everything we needed. Now we have to build off of this and keep the momentum going.”
The rest of McCumbee’s 2021 schedule has yet to be determined but one race remains circled on his calendar in the ValleyStar Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway.
If the car McCumbee brings to Martinsville is anything like the one at Langley, he believes leading more than 150 laps is a strong possibility.