Saturday, April 15, 2023

XFINITY: Kaden Honeycutt shows speed in practice, but blown engine cuts short his series debut

PHOTO: Isaac McKissick, @isaacthegoat48

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kaden Honeycutt scored the 1st last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s Before You Dig 250 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #74 Service Master Restore Chevrolet lost the engine after 83 of 250 laps.

The finish came in Honeycutt’s series debut. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 17th for the #74, the 277th from engine issues, and the 615th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 57th for the #74, the 1,133rd from an engine, and the 1,884th for Chevrolet.

Last week at the Bristol Dirt Track, Honeycutt was one of the biggest stories of the Truck Series race. In the fourth and final heat race, the 20-year-old CARS late model racer from Willow Park, Texas charged from 10th and last on the grid to 3rd at the end of 15 laps, securing him 3rd on the grid. He then finished 9th in the main event, tying his career-best run from last fall’s championship race at Phoenix, where he drove for On Point Motorsports.

Martinsville, site of Saturday’s race, was also where Honeycutt made his Truck Series debut last year. After G2G Racing parted ways with Matt Jaskol, costing much-needed sponsorship from, Honeycutt was brought on to run an unsponsored black #46 for the race. While rain washed out qualifying, Honeycutt completed more than half the distance before a tangle with Austin Wayne Self ended his night in 34th. The deal with On Point followed, leading to his current Truck Series effort with Roper Racing, which is still piecing together their 2023 schedule.

This trip to Martinsville would see Honeycutt attempt his first-ever start in the XFINITY Series, pulling double-duty with Trucks, where he finished 28th. His XFINITY ride would be with CHK Racing – formerly Mike Harmon Racing – which with Brennan Poole in the 2022 running of the Martinsville race made it only a few feet past the starting line before a catastrophic engine issue ended their night. In the season’s first seven races, the CHK team had only once qualified for a race – Phoenix – where they again finished last, this time due to fuel pump issues with Dawson Cram driving.

Brennan Poole pits for brake fluid.
PHOTO: Cameron Tracey, @conrail_1

At Martinsville, Honeycutt made a statement in Friday’s practice session, putting up the fastest lap for a time before still securing the 12th-best time of the 40 entrants. This was critical as he knew two teams would be sent home after qualifying, and the CHK Racing effort was ranked next-to-last based on points, just ahead of FRS Racing, which had yet to make a start, and was again entered with Kyle Weatherman. Both Honeycutt and Weatherman made the race. While Weatherman secured 27th in FRS’ former Brandonbilt Motorsports equipment, Honeycutt put up a lap of 91.536mph (20.687 seconds), which was just enough to secure the 33rd spot on the grid – the last spot on speed. 

This sent home Garrett Smithley in the #4 Morooka USA / Black Draft Chevrolet and Chad Finchum in Motorsports Business Management’s unsponsored #66 Ford. Due to Martinsville’s small garage area, both Smithley and Finchum’s cars had to remain in the garage an extra night. Honeycutt’s team made changes before the race, which meant he’d incur a tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. Among the dignitaries on hand was Morgan Shepherd, who would watch the race from CHK’s pit stall.

One of the other four drivers set to the rear was Richmond last-place finisher Anthony Alfredo, whose #78 Dude Wipes Chevrolet had issues in inspection and turned just one lap in practice, ranking him 38th of the originally entered 40. The other drivers sent to the rear were 3rd-place Sheldon Creed in the #2 Whelen Chevrolet, 22nd-place Jeremy Clements in the #51 First Pacific Funding Chevrolet, and Alex Labbe in the #91 Parking Guidance Systems Chevrolet. Instructed to line up behind Labbe on the outside of the final row, Alfredo was told by his crew to watch for drivers fighting for the bottom, and to turn on his fans after four to five laps. “Only one way to go,” they told him.

At the end of Lap 1, Alfredo was 5.696 seconds back of the leader with Honeycutt now in front of him, just 0.176 second ahead. By Lap 6, Honeycutt was alongside Labbe, and the pair were just 0.054 apart at the stripe. As Labbe inched ahead to defend the 36th spot, Alfredo reported his car was tight center-off, unable to turn off the corner. Despite this, he still managed to remain just a couple tenths back of Honeycutt. Alfredo had dropped just a half-second back of Honeycutt on Lap 24 when the leaders caught them both, putting Alfredo the first car one lap down.

Honeycutt stopped in Turn 2.
PHOTO: Cameron Tracey, @conrail_1
The first caution fell on Lap 37 for Brett Moffitt spinning from 14th in his #25 AM Technical Solutions Ford. Moffitt would recover nicely to finish 9th – the third top-ten finish of the year for his team. Under his yellow, Alfredo and crew continued to discuss adjustments, including both his tight condition and that he was loose on entry. Honeycutt reported he was “wrecking tight,” saying his brake pedal felt low and some chatter from the right-front tire. 

On Lap 40, Brennan Poole suddenly took over last place due to an extended stop by his #6 SEM Chevrolet. He had brake issues, saying he only put in a round of rear brake early and didn’t make any adjustments after. The team looked over the bleeders and the fluid level, and decided they needed more brake fluid. Unable to top off the fluid immediately, they sent him back out telling him to be careful. Poole managed to get some of his brake pedal back, but by now was already three laps down. He let the field pull away as the race restarted on Lap 44.

On Lap 60, Poole made it to the end of Stage 1 without incident, and Alfredo had climbed to 31st in time to earn his lap back with the “Lucky Dog.” Under yellow, Poole said, “I definitely need some brake fluid, but I do have some pedal.” Poole made two consecutive stops, receiving the fluid on the second one, and in between the crew discovered they had dropped a lug nut. After looking under the hood and sending him back out, he’d lost another two laps and was now five circuits behind the leaders. “Pedal feels normal now,” said Poole on Lap 69, “That was definitely it.” He’d soon say his car felt neutral and a little tight in the center as the caution flew on Lap 88.

Honeycutt's car getting towed to the garage.
PHOTO: Cameron Tracey, @conrail_1

That time by, Honeycutt was still in 37th, two laps down and three ahead of Poole. Heading into Turn 1, smoke erupted from behind hie right-front wheel, and Honeycutt pulled into the high lane of Turns 1 and 2, stopping next to the outside wall. “Thank you guys,” said the driver. “We'll get them next time.” Honeycutt climbed out without incident, but his day was done. He took last from Poole on Lap 91 as the tow truck brought him down the empty backstretch pit road into the garage. An extended caution ensued to clean up the fluid leading into Turn 1. NASCAR confirmed he was out with engine issues on Lap 114. 

Poole managed to climb to 29th by the checkered flag, the beneficiary of some late-race carnage that eliminated several contenders. Taking the 37th spot was Joe Graf, Jr., whose #38 Lefcourt Brothers Ford hooked fenders with Ryan Ellis’ #43 Costa Oil Chevrolet, sending Graf nose-first into the Turn 1 wall. Ellis continued onward to finish 28th, the first car one lap down, well ahead of both Dawson Cram and Kyle Sieg, who were collected in a stack-up down the backstretch on Lap 145. Cram’s #07 Be Water Chevrolet went behind the wall two laps before Sieg’s #28 Night Owl Ford. Rounding out the group was Kyle Weatherman’s #96 Fanttik / BrewHaHa Chevrolet, which had suspension issues.

Just outside the Top 10 came Parker Retzlaff, who was one of the big stories in qualifying when he earned 4th on the grid in Jordan Anderson’s #31 Funkaway Chevrolet, three spots ahead of teammate Jeb Burton’s #27 J.E. Burton Construction Chevrolet in 14th. In between came Blaine Perkins, who after a disastrous start to 2023 with SS-Green Light Racing claimed a much-needed 13th in Our Motorsports’ #02 Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Chevrolet – just his second start since reuniting with the Chris Our team.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #74 in a Cup race at Martinsville.

38) #74-Kaden Honeycutt / 83 laps / engine
37) #38-Joe Graf, Jr. / 133 laps / crash
36) #07-Dawson Cram / 143 laps / crash
35) #28-Kyle Sieg / 145 laps / crash
34) #96-Kyle Weatherman / 198 laps / suspension

1st) CHK Racing, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
2nd) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Emerling-Gase Motorsports, JD Motorsports, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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