The two-time track champion led every lap of the 60-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock feature. His No. 15 Chevrolet pulled away from the No. 32 Chevrolet of Nik Williams in the race, which went caution-free.
VanDyke won the season-opening race at the three-eighths-mile concrete oval for the third year in a row.
“The car was dominant. We worked hard on it and it paid off,” the Abingdon driver said. “It was a clean race, but I think if there was another five laps, it would have been different. A lot cars in front of me were getting antsy and I started seeing some fenders flying. I was fortunate it didn’t happen.
“Getting the first victory, we’ve done it three years in a row, and it was good to put on a good show for the fans. I know it was caution-free, but it was a good, hard race.”
Williams, the Chuckey racer who was the hottest driver at the end of last season, had another fast car. However, he had a bit of a handling issue and wasn’t able to keep pace with VanDyke’s red rocket.
With a tame race compared to other season openers, he never got the caution needed to bunch the field back up.
“We’re happy with the second place. I didn’t have anything for Kres today,” Williams said. “I was battling a tight car all day. I tried to lay back and save some tires since I didn’t have anything for him.”
Joey Trent of Gray drove his orange No. 26 Chevrolet past Bryson Dennis of Greeneville with two laps to go to finish third. Trent was aided by a little hard racing between Dennis and former track champion Nate Monteith.
“That was awesome because he got pretty far out ahead of me and I thought I was racing for fourth,” Trent said. “I saw him get caught up with lapped traffic. He and Nate might have swapped a little paint. I just run the absolute wheels off of it to get to him.
“It was nice to get third place and I think we have something to build off of.”
Dennis finished fourth and Derek Lane of Kingsport rounded out the top five.
DEFENDING CHAMP’S TROUBLE
Zeke Shell, the defending track champion from Johnson City, didn’t get to even make a qualifying lap when the motor seized up on his No. 1 Ford during practice. He worked out a deal to get in the No. 57 Chevrolet of Jimmy Acito, but the car had electrical issues and wouldn’t start.
“It’s nice to know we have friends in the pits who will give us their race car,” Shell noted. “Sometimes it’s just not meant to be and today was one of those days. Parts failures are a part of racing.”
Shell’s misfortune put him in a 30-point deficit to VanDyke in the track point standings. After rallying to win last year’s title, Shell remains confident about his chances.
“You can call it bad or good. Honestly, I call it exciting,” Shell said. “No one enjoys the show if there’s no drama. In the scheme of things, if the crew is happy, if the families are happy and we’re all having fun and putting on a good show, what else does it really matter? Are the points really important?”
BACK ON TRACK
Monteith finished seventh in his return to the track in the white No. 97 Chevrolet. He’s been concentrating on his young son Brayden’s racing career over the past couple of years.
“It felt good to be back out there,” the elder Monteith said. “I’ve had a lot of success with the (car owners) Nances here. We didn’t have a lot of time to come practice or work on the car before the season got going. I’m just happy to get out there and turn some laps. I just had to knock the rust and cobwebs off where I’ve been focusing my little man’s racing.”
Defending Mod 4 champion Kevin Canter — in the familiar black No. 3 decked out to resemble the paint scheme of the late Dale Earnhardt — held off Dennis Arnold — driving a red No. 71 based off the old paint scheme of Kingsport racing legend Gene Glover — for the victory.
Kingsport driver Keith Helton passed Brandon Southerland with two laps to go to win a highly competitive Pure 4 race.
Doug Austin went three-wide between two lapped cars to hold off Tony Dockery to win in Pure Street, and Kingsport’s Trey Lane held off Austin Peters to prevail in Mod Street.