KINGSPORT — Chad Finchum survived the chaos as Kingsport Speedway lived up to its nickname as “The Concrete Jungle” on Friday night.
After setting a new track record of 14.944 seconds in qualifying and winning the first of two 50-lap Late Model Stock features, the 18-year-old from Knoxville appeared to be cruising to his first season championship.
However, things changed quickly at the 3?8-mile concrete oval.
Finchum spun out Ronnie McCarty on lap 8 of the second feature and was sent to the back of the lead lap.
It was just a temporary setback as Finchum raced his No. 19 Ford back through the field and ultimately ended with a second-place finish.
He finished 13 points ahead of Zeke Shell, a 26-year-old from Johnson City, to win the track championship. It was Finchum’s first track championship since winning the 2009 Legends title at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“This is the most prestigious award we’ve earned,” Finchum said. “We’ve come up on some difficulties, and the Zeke Shell team was a well-deserving team. I’m proud to have a Kingsport title, as famous as this track is.”
Capping off a season highlighted by wild action, the Finchum-McCarty incident was just one of seven cautions over the first 30 laps.
It came after a relatively clean first feature which saw Finchum and Shell finish 1-2 and eliminate Daniel Pope II of Smyrna from championship contention.
“Going into the first race, we were nine points ahead of Zeke Shell,” Finchum said. “We had the tie-breaker on wins, and we had it figured up that I could finish 11th. After winning that first race, we had some breathing room and it relaxed everybody in the pits.
“That incident with Ronnie tensed me up a little bit. I thought I had a push from behind, but I didn’t. I just overdrove it going into the corner, eager to get a spot. You’re trying to points-race, but it’s hard because I hate losing more than I love winning.”
The same can be said for Shell, who was disappointed despite a career-best season which saw him win three races and finish second in the championship standings for a second straight year.
“I feel like I’ve been put on tumble dry, shaken up with a bag of rocks,” said Shell, driver of the red No. 97 Ford. “It’s been a really hard year. We’ve gone through four motors and finances really crippled us.
“We gave it one good hurrah trying to win the championship, but just not enough. It’s a paradox. It’s been our worst season with the equipment failures and our best season because of how good we did as a team. We had the most wins and most bad luck of any year we’ve had, all in the same year.”
Ben Rhodes was the winner of the final race after finishing third in the first feature. The 16-year-old from Louisville, Ky., won two of three races at Kingsport to end the season.
“You have a lot of tough cars here, but to run well here, it’s just survival,” Rhodes said. “There were so many cautions tonight and every time we had a restart, it was a mess. I was hoping to make it 3-for-3, but it’s just tough here.”
Tyler Goodwin, a senior at Daniel Boone High School, had already wrapped up Tennessee state Rookie of the Year honors prior to Friday night. He took a moment to reflect on the accomplishment.
“It means a lot to us,” Goodwin said. “It’s been a long season, a learning year. We’ve gotten progressively faster each race although we need a little extra stuff on the car to have that extra two-tenths the top cars have.”
The action was intense in the preliminary races as well.
Trey Lane executed a slingshot move on his brother Derek on the final lap of the Legends race, only to see the brothers hook bumpers on the backstretch. Trey Lane slammed into the wall as Derek sped onto victory.
Allen Rich of Sylva, N.C., won the Street Stock feature, but the real battle was behind him. John Harrell of Surgoinsville struggled on the restart and fell to fourth. It put him one point behind Nick Cole of Bristol in the championship standings.
Harrell raced his way back to third, tying race runner-up Cole in the points. Harrell won the championship by virtue of winning seven races this season to five for Cole.
Jason Ketron of Kingsport won the Pure 4 race, while his father John wrapped up the track title with a third-place finish. Billy Byington was the second-place finisher after winning the Rookie Pure 4 race earlier in the night.
While it was the end of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series for the season, Kingsport Speedway has three special events left on the schedule.
The track will host the CARS Pro Cup Series next Sunday afternoon for a 250-lap main event. The UARA touring series will headline action on Sept. 14, and the Kingsport Speedway Invitational, a late model stock race for non-winners, is scheduled for Sept. 21.