Robersonville, NC – Racing returned to the high banks of East Carolina Motor Speedway this weekend for a pair of Late Model Stock twin races for the Lets Find a Cure 200. Thomas Burbage entered the evening coming off a victory the last time out as well as the point’s leader. Sixteen Late Model Stocks, plus two start and parks, were in attendance for East Carolina’s first full field, points paying race since running under the NASCAR banner.
The field for race number was set by your traditional single car-qualifying format. Of course the field for the second race would be determined by the finishing order from the first. A six-car invert was scratched from the agenda after drivers expressed concern with such few laps being run in each race. One of the tightest Late Model fields of the year, outside of the Ronnie Barnett Memorial race, with the top ten being separated by just about two-hundredths of a second. Brenden Queen was able to lay down the fastest lap of the afternoon with a 15.482 second lap to win his second ever career pole. Thomas Burbage, Rusty Daniels, Kenneth Mercer, and Tyler Matthews would make up the rest of the starting five.
It did take quite a few laps to get things started after Tyler Matthews crew was lobbying to officials they were the second fastest qualifier, siting a popular scoring app showed him running a time that was second fastest. As I use this app rather frequently to see times, running orders, and drivers names, I must say there is a disclaimer at the bottom of every screen that says the timing and scoring being displayed is not official. Luckily for Matthews and his crew they dropped back to where he was supposed to be so he could be scored in the first race.
Thomas Burbage got the start of his life and immediately jumped out in front of Queen to take the lead. Phil Warren, Queen’s crew chief, tried arguing to the officials that Burbabge jumped the start as he did beat the leader to the line. Race control called the start good; it was on from there. It was quite easy to see early that Burbage and Queen were going to be the cars to beat as they opened up an easy ten car lead over third place.
Racing nose to tail was just what the rest of the field wants to see. The more those two put pressure on each other, the easier it is to catch up. In addition, just in front of the leaders, about halfway through the race, Evan Horne fell off the pace but was able to get the car down to the apron, out of the way of the leaders and off the track.
The top five stayed pretty consistent throughout the first twenty laps with some good racing throughout sixth through tenth. Things looked to be calming down as laps ticked down. With just ten to go, every position looked to be separated by about two cars each when leaders started to approach the slower machine of Cameron Bowen. Bowen would yield the low line into three allowing the leaders to get by pretty smoothly from our vantage point.
It was about five to go, Burbage still leading Queen, started to light up the front break rotors. We later found out that the car had started to get tight and Burbage had to start using the break to get the car turned. The battle was on with just three laps to go! In typical short track fashion Queen put the bumper to Burbage, moved him up the track and took the lead with two laps to go. The following lap Burbage returned the favor, once in turns one and two, and then again in turns three and four. Both cars jacked up and sideways coming off four and it was a drag race to the stripe.
Queen and Burbage were able to keep the cars straights and would finish first and second respectfully, Tyler Matthews drove back to a third place finish followed by Rusty Daniels and Kenneth Mercer would round out the top five.
The starting order for race two was of course set by the finishing order of race number one. With no invert, this left Brenden Queen & Thomas Burbage, who just had the battle of season, and an interesting conversation on the front stretch during podium celebrations, to pick up where they left off. It was a repeat start from race one.
Burbage getting the better jump again and was able to get by Queen again to take the lead before diving into turn one. Race control paying extra close attention to this start, after complaints from race number one that Burbage jumped the start, called it a good start and we were green flag racing. While the top two again started to check out on the field a great battle between Matthews and White started to heat up. White, who had pretty dormant in race one, was really turning up the heat and making passes where they count. Do want to point out that it was either the break in the action or the changes made to the car in the break but Matthews was going the wrong way and fast.
Certainly didn’t take long for things to get interesting up front. We found Queen and Burbage battling hard for the top spot. The two would make contact entering turn one sending Burbage up and around. Tyler Matthews, Kenneth Mercer, Melvin Langley looked like they all got a piece of the action. One of the longer caution periods of the night to clean up the carnage in two and review footage of the incident going in one. After East Carolina officials were able to take a look at the video it was deemed that Queen would keep his position on the speedway. “After taking a look at two separate videos it just looked like a racing incident,” Race Director Dalford Briley said after the race. “Nothing was intentional which is why we let Brenden keep his position.”
Back to green flag racing with Queen and White battling for the top spot. The two sail it down into turn one, touch a little bit but were able to keep things going. The contact upset Louis’ car just a bit. White was able together things back up and not only track the leader back down but also make the pass for the lead on lap twelve.
Thomas Marks, making his first career starts in a Late Model Stock Car, had to be the biggest mover of the race fighting his way back from a break issue in race one up to a second place finish. In the last ten laps Marks was able to drive his way all the way from outside the top five all the way up to second. Meanwhile Louis White had opened up a solid ten-car lead over the field. Queen would hang onto the third spot for this second podium of the night, Michael Fose and Rusty Daniels rounded out the top five.
We caught up with Louis after his victory to talk about both races; we also asked if that was his plan to ride in race one to save tires. “When we got here tonight we had a fast car,” White said after his victory in race two. “It’s a brand new car, it’s only the third time we have run it and I haven’t quite got these bump stumps figured out. The driver had a better car than he qualified in. It was a pretty tight field so I ended up starting ninth. I saw the leaders sliding all over the place but from ninth its pretty hard to win a Late Model race in just 35 laps. I figured we would just pick off what we could there in first race and save my tires for the second one. We made a couple of adjustments there between races and the guys up front used up their tires and it worked out in our favor.”
We also caught up with Brenden Queen at the end of the evening. Queen certainly had one of the most interesting nights ultimately coming home with a win in race one and a third in race two. “You know it was a great night for the first time this car has been on the track since September,” Queen spoke after the race. “We set it on the pole but had to use the tires up in the first race after they let the nine get away with the start. We had to run pretty hard there to catch him [Burbage] and I have to be honest we did move him for the win but we were just rolling the center better. He tried to move us up the hill which I totally understand, its for the win and that’s what your supposed to do but we came out on top. Just gotta thank the man above and my parents and this crew for all the hard work.”
We also asked Queen about the events of the second race with a similar initial start and then the contact between the two as they were battling for the lead. Queen had this to say.
“The same thing happened there on the start and they let him get away with it after saying they were going to watch it more closely,” Queen mentioned. “We had a little bit better car than him and we got under him and rolling the center better again. That was the lowest I had seen him run the straightaway there and I was inside. I like Thomas, he is a great guy and all, but we just ran out of track. It was we get into the grass or stay on the pavement. I hate that he went around, especially after what happened in the first race. I don’t wanna come down here to tear up cars and certainly don’t want mine torn up. Louis just had better tires there and we couldn’t hold him off.
We also caught up with Burbage at the end of the night after working on the car to get back in the trailer after his lap nine spin to hear what happened from his point of view.
“I got a great start,” Burbage said about the first race. “Some argue that I jumped but it wasn’t ruled that way by the track. The car was really good for about ten laps but started to tighten up on me. I knew Brenden was good so I was trying save a little. I was getting good runs off of 4 but he was making up good time down in one and two. Towards the end of the race I think we had a four or five car length advantage on him but I got held up a little by his teammate and that enabled him to pull back up on my bumper.”
Of course we had to ask Burbage about the thrilling end of the first feature and what things looked from his windshield. To be perfectly honest, looks like both Queen and Brenden had somewhat equal views in the closing laps.
“With two to go I knew he was there because he put the bumper to me and was able to move me up the racetrack,” Burbage said. “That’s racing. I race people how they race me and I returned the favor going into one. I got him loose through the center and pushed up so I wasn’t able to capitalize on the move. I stayed tucked up under him and tried it again in three and four. Not once did I try to wreck him. I could have done that back in one. It was good hard racing I guess but his team surely didn’t see it that way. Since I’ve been home tonight I’ve played that race back over and over in my head trying to figure out what I would have done differently. It’s always disappointing to lose the race on the last lap.”
We also asked his view on what happened in the second race. Of course Burbage wasn’t the happiest but he did have this to say.
“Very frustrated with how things went,” Burbage told us. “I feel like I was dumbed in the second race and everyone I talked to said the same thing. Doesn’t look like I’ll make the next race tough. The car had a lot of left front damage. With my budget I don’t have spare parts to bolt on and it will probably take a while to get what I need from the chassis builder to replace them.”
East Carolina Motor Speedway will be back in action next weekend May 21st with Late Models, Street Stocks, UCAR, Bando’s, Legends, on top of Grand Stocks and Pro Six. Registration and Pit Gates open at 2:00 PM, Practice begins at 3:00 PM with green flag racing at 7:00 PM.
Race #1 Results:
P1. #03 Brenden Queen; 35
P2. #9 Thomas Burbage; 35
P3. # #63 Tyler Matthews; 35
P4. #16 Rusty Daniels; 35
P5. #25 Kenneth Mercer; 35
P6. #7 Louis White; 35
P7. #54 Michael Fose; 35
P8. #01 Jeff Shiflett; 35
P9. #12 Wesley Johnson; 35
P10. #88 Thomas Marks; 35
P11. #29 Melvin Langley; 35
P12. #77 Malik Koonce; 35
P13. #51 Doug Warren; 35
P14. #19b Cameron Bowen; 34
P15. #28 Tyler Horne; 23
P16. #6 Evan Horne; 15
P17. #29b Chet Christman; 2
P18 #03b Mike Queen; 1
Race #2 Results:
P1. #7 Louis White; 35
P2. #88 Thomas Marks; 35
P3. #03 Brenden Queen; 35
P4. #54 Michael Fose; 35
P5. #16 Rusty Daniels; 35
P6. #01 Jeff Shiflett; 35
P7. #12 Wesley Johnson; 35
P8. #77 Malik Koonce; 35
P9. #63 Tyler Matthews; 35
P10. #19b Cameron Bowen; 35
P11. #29 Chet Christman; 35
P12. #25 Kenneth Mercer; 13
P13. #9 Thomas Burbage; 9
P14. #51 Doug Warren; 9
P15. #6 Evan Horne; 2
P16. #03b Mike Queen; 1