DILLON, S.C. – Justin Johnson snookered Layne Riggs with a last-lap, last-corner pass to win Saturday’s CARS Late Model Stock Tour season opener at Dillon Motor Speedway.
Johnson muscled his way inside of Riggs down the backstretch as the pair worked through heavy lap traffic at the four-tenths-mile paved oval, shifting Riggs out of the groove in turns three and four coming to the checkered flag in the Black’s Tire & Auto Service 125.
Finding the forward drive he needed off the final corner, Johnson’s blue-and-white No. 44 surged ahead in the final 200 yards, nipping Riggs by .085 seconds for the $6,000 victory.
It marked Johnson’s first CARS Tour victory in his 30th series start. Saturday also put to bed a season of frustration from a year ago, when Johnson only scored one top 10 and had an average finish of 14.6.
“Man, I don’t really like to win aggressively, but I would expect the same thing from him,” Johnson said in reference to the contact between he and Riggs at the end. “I wouldn’t have wrecked him for anything in this world. I think a lot of Scott (Riggs, Layne’s father) and I have a lot of respect for Layne. He’s probably one of the best youngsters I’ve ever seen in this sport. He’s a real hot shoe. But I would have kicked myself if we hadn’t pulled that one off. This car was so good yesterday in practice.
“I told my guys that this was the best car I’ve driven in a good while, and I don’t think I could’ve slept at night if I hadn’t been able to pull this one off,” Johnson continued. “My goal was to be just close enough to be a little aggressive, but I really didn’t know if it would be enough. I knew I would be able to move him and get back beside him, but I didn’t know who would win the race back to the line.
“Luckily it all worked out in our favor, but man … what a win. This team has worked hard for this.”
With CARS Tour officials removing the competition caution requirement after 40 green flag laps from the rule book this year, Saturday’s race was largely procedural and featured mass tire conservation efforts.
The first 92 laps were mostly single-file racing, with Riggs edging ahead on the opening lap before polesitter Timothy Peters paced laps two through five.
Once Riggs took command on the sixth round, however, he defended masterfully up front despite several efforts from Peters on the inside groove in turns three and four over the first three quarters.
A tire failure that sent Craig Moore into the turn two wall changed the complexion of the race, bringing out the lone yellow flag of the race with 33 to go and setting up a game-changing restart.
Riggs led the field back to green on the bottom, while Peters washed well out of the groove coming off turn two as he struggled with traction due to an oil leak that saturated the tires on his Nelson Motorsports No. 2. That dropped Peters back to fifth place as Johnson moved into the runner-up spot.
From there, Johnson lurked briefly before challenging Riggs for control. Johnson moved into the lead on lap 106 with a power move entering turn three, easily sweeping up in front of Riggs for a brief period.
Riggs came back at Johnson in a hurry, though. He reclaimed the point with 16 to go and appeared to be on his way to victory before encountering heavy lap traffic inside of five to go.
Coming to the white flag, Johnson was all over Riggs for the spot, and got to his inside in turn three before nudging Riggs out of the groove on corner exit to establish the lane.
There was little Riggs could do after that, forced to settle for second after dominating the day and leading three times for a race-high 116 laps.
“I didn’t know it was the last lap,” Riggs admitted. “My spotter said ‘five to go’ earlier and then was so focused on telling me about the lap cars and how everything was behind me that we lost track of the laps. I didn’t know it was the last lap until we were on the backstretch. It was a good race with Justin; we’ve been racing him a long time and it’s cool to see him get his first CARS (Tour) victory.
“Man, I wish it was us (celebrating), though. Our car was good all day. I didn’t expect to run that well.”
Teenager Sam Butler filled out the podium, followed by defending series champion Jared Fryar, who ran on the fringes of the top 10 all race long before making a late charge to fourth in the final laps.
Peters rebounded from his restart miscue to finish fifth, ahead of Sam Yarbrough, Mike Looney, Bobby McCarty, Deac McCaskill and Mason Diaz.
The CARS Late Model Stock Tour season continues March 20 at Hickory Motor Speedway.
1. 44-Justin Johnson, 2. 99-Layne Riggs, 3. 81b-Sam Butler, 4. 14-Jared Fryar, 5. 2n-Timothy Peters, 6. 95-Sam Yarbrough, 7. 87-Mike Looney, 8. 22-Bobby McCarty, 9. 08-Deac McCaskill, 10. 24-Mason Diaz, 11. 14j-Conner Jones, 12. 4h-Kaden Honeycutt, 13. 2-Brandon Pierce, 14. 88-Will Cox III, 15. 19-Jessica Cann, 16. 97-Daniel Silvestri, 17. 81-Mini Tyrrell, 18. 91-Jonathan Shafer, 19. 1-Craig Moore, 20. 4-Jonathan Findley, 21. 17-Joe Valento.