KINGSPORT -- Knoxville driver Chad Finchum outdueled Hayden Woods of Piney Flats to win a wild season opener at Kingsport Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
Finchum, driving the No. 19 Chevrolet, dove underneath Woods’ No. 87 Chevrolet with five laps to go in the 60-lap Late Model feature for the NASCAR All-American Series. Two laps later, he held on as Woods got into the back of his bumper and nearly turned him sideways.
Regaining control, Finchum held Woods off for the final three laps.
“I was digging as hard I could,” Finchum said. “Hayden and I were running hard, and I spun the tire coming off (turn) two. He gave me a shot going into (turn) three, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from him. That’s just good short-track racing and I loved every minute of it. Once I saw that white flag come out, it was like I’m going to get this one”
The 18-year-old Finchum led a parade of teenagers across the finish line. Woods, a 17-year-old who attends Providence Academy, was second and 16-year-old Blake Jones of Sevierville finished third.
Woods passed Jones for the lead on lap 31, and was closing in on a first Late Model victory until Finchum made the winning pass.
“We had the lead up to the mid-50’s, but Finchum had a great car,” Woods said. “I was following him and he could just turn down at the center of the corner. He just turned below me. We had a strong car too. If we had two more laps, we might have had him back. When I hit him, it actually unsettled my car and I couldn’t get below him. It didn’t work like I thought it would.”
It was rough-and-tumble action throughout the the race, slowed by seven cautions over the first 23 laps. Jones’ No. 80 Chevrolet looked worse for wear, with sheet metal damage to both the front and back of his car. Emergency crews gave him oxygen after the race as the damage led to overheating in the cockpit and carbon monoxide poisioning.
“It definitely wasn’t the race we were looking for,” Jones said. “We were looking to win without even tire marks on our race car. But, we didn’t get the qualifying run we were used to, and I was stuck without rear brakes for most of the race. We charged up there and led, and I was proud of that. We’ll be back next week looking for a checkered flag.”
Veteran Lee Tissot of Asheville finished fourth in a Ford, left complaining of the rough driving by the younger drivers, and South Carolina driver Anthony Anders rounded out the top five in a Chevrolet.
Zeke Shell, a 25-year-old from Johnson City, appeared to have the only car to outrun the wild band of teenagers. His No. 97 Ford led the first 23 circuits until his right front tie-rod came loose as the cars were ready to take the green flag.
“We knew we had something in practice, but we didn’t want to show how fast we were,” said Shell after a 17th-place finish. “When the race came out, we let the big dog eat. I feel real bad for my team. They deserve a lot better than this, but we know what we’ve got and what we can come back with.”
Paul Nogradi paced qualifying with a track-record lap of 15.060 seconds in his Dodge. He was involved in a wreck on lap 23 and finished 18th in the 20-driver field.
For his part, Finchum was glad to avoid most of the contact.
“Everybody was moving around and skating,” Finchum said. “That first corner, they went three-wide and the No. 02 spun up. Everything was happening so fast here. It really was the concrete jungle today.”
The preliminary races provided plenty of action, particularly in the Pure 4 race.
Johnson City driver Amber Abrams made contact with leader Keith Helton on lap 16 in an accident which sent her pink No. 97 Ford in a barrel roll down the backstretch. She was unhurt in the accident, and Helton held on to his lead.
He remained there until lap 21, when he was teamed up on by the father-son duo of Jason and John Ketron. Jason Ketron pulled into the lead with his father in tow. They finished that way ahead of Helton in a 1-2-3 finish of Kingsport drivers.
John Harrell of Surgoinsville powered past leaders Rob Austin and Allen Rich on lap 21 to win the 30-lap Street Stock feature. Zack Walton of Blountville made his way to the front on lap 5 of the Legends race and stayed out front the rest of the way, and Chris Steadman won the Rookie Pure 4 race.
Kingsport Speedway has another night of weekly racing scheduled for Friday night. Gates open at 6 p.m. with races slated to begin at 8 p.m.