The Championship Auto Racing Series (CARS) Tour returns to Orange County Speedway for the second round of the 2016 season, the site of several exciting moments in last year’s inaugural season. With high speeds, big crashes, hot tempers, and a blazing fire highlighting the two dates at Rougemont, North Carolina last season, Saturday’s Orange Blossom 300 promises another exciting event for the series.
A handful of drivers are taking advantage of the month-long break for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to join the field, including Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, and Timothy Peters. Bell is the defending champion of the Super Late Model portion of the Orange Blossom 300, leading 110 of the 150 laps in last year’s event. When Bell has joined the CARS Tour field, he is always a contender, with three wins and a runner-up finish in four career starts. Nemechek will be making his second career start after finishing 16th at Orange County in his debut last year.
Peters makes his CARS Late Model Stock debut Saturday, but he will immediately be considered a threat to win the event. Last season, Peters won the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway and nearly captured his second ValleyStar Credit Union 300 victory, battling eventual winner Tommy Lemons, Jr. to the checkered flag. Peters also cut his teeth at the Rougemont facility, winning the 2002 and 2003 Orange County Speedway Late Model championships.
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour will take to the 0.375-mile oval first in Saturday night’s event. When the CARS Tour last visited Orange County in August 2015, Josh Berry and Deac McCaskill waged an incredible battle throughout the event, with Berry ultimately taking his second career CARS victory. With McCaskill taking the win in the 2016 season opener at Southern National Motorsports Park and Berry finishing third in that event, those two drivers promise to contend for the victory.
However, there are other drivers to watch in the Late Model Stock field. Tommy Lemons, Jr. has been on a tear to start the 2016 Late Model Stock season, winning races at both Myrtle Beach Speedway and Caraway Speedway. He followed that up with a runner-up finish at the #CARSTour300 at Southern National despite qualifying 18th in the field of 27 cars.
There are also a handful of local Late Model Stock drivers who plan on defending home turf with a strong showing at Orange County. Semora, North Carolina’s Justin Johnson ran just a pair of CARS Tour events in 2015, but finished sixth in last year’s Orange Blossom 300. Burlington, North Carolina’s R.D. Smith returns to the CARS Tour for the first time since last August’s CARS event. Smith crashed out of that race, but finished fourth in the April event. Throw in other local drivers such as Ronald Hill and Chris Davis, and there’s plenty of talent looking to pick up a backyard win this weekend.
The CARS Super Late Model field is a star-studded one, which should create one of the best races of the CARS Tour season. Kyle Grissom will also join Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek in this weekend’s field, making his first CARS Tour start of 2016 after finishing second to Cole Timm in last year’s title hunt. Grissom and Timm each notched top-five finishes in both CARS Tour events at Orange County last season. Brandon Setzer was the August winner in the CARS Tour at Orange County, the first of his two wins on the circuit last year.
Quin Houff won the Super Late Model feature at the #CARSTour300, securing his second career CARS Tour victory. Houff could easily have three victories on the tour, as he was one of the few drivers able to compete with Bell in last year’s Orange Blossom 300. A late-race restart penalty relegated Houff to the rear of the field and a 13th place finish. Houff blew an engine early in Friday’s practice sessions, leaving his team thrashing to put a new motor in his #17. If everything is squared away with the new powerplant, however, Houff will in contention for another CARS victory.
Orange County Speedway’s grandstands will open at 4:00pm, with qualifying slated to begin at 4:30pm. There is a Fan Fest scheduled following qualifying, with driver introductions beginning at 7:00pm and the green flag dropping at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children between the ages of seven and 12, and free of charge to children aged six and under.
If you are unable to make it to Orange County Speedway this weekend, RACEFEEDX.com will provide live pay-per-view coverage of the race. Short Track Scene will also be on hand with coverage and updates during and following the Orange Blossom 300.
Short Track SCENE’s Brian Nagy contributed to this report.