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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The battle for the track championship at Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway came down to the wire, but in the end it was a familiar face who emerged as champion this year.
Kingsport’s own Ronnie McCarty captured his second-straight NASCAR Whelen All-American Series track championship at the Tennessee .375-mile concrete oval, winning the title by a scant four points over rival Zeke Shell.
The championship for 30-year-old McCarty came despite a slow start to the season, which saw him fail to visit Victory Lane until the eighth points race of the year on June 10. He would add an other four victories to his season total at the track known as the ‘Concrete Jungle,’ including one during the season-ending doubleheader on Aug. 26.
“We kind of started out a little slow. We had some mechanical there at the beginning of the year, which put us a little behind,” McCarty said. “About halfway through we kind of kicked it into high gear and started having some great finishes, which put us right back up there where we needed to be (in the points).
“It was pretty darn close.”
Entering the season finale on Aug. 26 at Kingsport, McCarty was one of four drivers who mathematically had a shot at the championship. McCarty and Shell were separated by just two points at the start of the evening, while Lonesome Pine Raceway track champion Wayne Hale and Kres VanDyke were both within 22 points of the title fight.
In the end, however, it was McCarty who emerged with the championship after a victory and a fourth-place finish on Aug. 26.
McCarty said he thrives under those tight conditions, making the battle for the championship during the season finale that much more fun for him.
“I perform best under pressure, so a lot of times whenever stuff gets down to where I need to do something or make something happen, I normally do better than I normally would in other circumstances,” McCarty said.
Along with his five victories, McCarty recorded 16 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes in 18 starts. He did so with the support of a number of sponsors, including Charlie Long Race Engines, A 1 Bonds of Kingsport, Price & Ramey Insurance, Chili’s and Ron’s Mobile Home Parts, just to name a few.
It is also worth noting the three drivers McCarty was battling for the Kingsport Speedway track championship - Shell, Hale and VanDyke - also finished within the top 50 in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings.
That’s some pretty competitive company.
“It’s crazy how our little track in Kingsport can rank so high nationally,” said McCarty, who was 35th in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National standings. “I think it’s impressive that the people I normally race typically finish in the top 50 nationally.”
“You’ve just got to stay consistent. Sometimes you have to play it safe and sometimes you can go for it. It takes a full year of dedication to make it happen,” McCarty said. “You’ve got to make sure when you go into at the first of the year that you’re focused on doing what you set out to do and not go in there and try to win races. If you go in there to just try and win races you can get messed up or taken out. Bad things happen.”
Despite coming out on top of the battle for the Kingsport track title, McCarty lost another battle as he came up four points shy to VanDyke in the battle for the Tennessee state championship. McCarty was the defending state champion entering the 2016 season.
U.S. state and province champions are determined by the best 18 finishes at tracks within the respective state or province.
“Yeah, it would have been great to win it again, but also I’m glad somebody else won it also. I don’t know, it’s kind of a weird thing. I wish we could have got it. I wasn’t expecting to get it be-cause he had more wins and in that points situation it is better to go in winning then it is to go in looking at points,” McCarty said.
Despite falling short in the state title race, McCarty still gets to enjoy the track championship at his home track. He lives on a half-mile from the facility, so to bring home another track championship means the world to him and his entire family.
“It means a lot to me, but it means a lot more to my family,” McCarty said. “My Papaw use to have a late model race car, my mom raced. It’s almost a legacy I guess. So I’ve done what they’ve always wanted to try and accomplish, so that is why it means so much to them.”
McCarty will get to continue his celebration later this month, when he is one of the many NASCAR track and state champions who are honored on Dec. 9 during the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards inside North Carolina’s Charlotte Convention Center.
McCarty produced five wins, 16 top fives and 17 top 10s en route to his second consecutive track title at Kingsport Speedway. Courtesy of Drew Hierwarter/MotorSportsPhoto.com