Defending champ off to good start

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 10, 2012 at 10:35 PM

KINGSPORT — Nate Monteith picked up where he left off last season.

The defending track champion of Kingsport Speedway made a daring three-wide pass to get by leader Zeke Shell with two laps to go and win Saturday’s season opener at the 3⁄8-mile concrete track.

Shell, the Johnson City driver, had dominated most of the Late Model Stock feature, door-slamming his way past leader Lee Tissot on lap 11 and leading until Monteith dove to the inside of Wayne Hale’s lapped car for the winning pass. Monteith’s No. 44 Chevrolet and Shell’s No. 97 Ford ran sid e-by-side for another lap until Monteith moved in front on the final lap.

“I was waiting for a lap count and the right time to pull the trigger,” Monteith said. “Once I was told it was six (laps) to go, it was all bets off then. No matter if there were lapped cars or whatever, I was going to do what I had to do. Whatever it took to get there, three-wide or four-wide, I didn’t care.”

Monteith posted a qualifying lap of 15.196 seconds (89 mph) to capture his first pole of the season, but it was Shell who led a strong contingent of 22 cars to the green flag after the top five qualifiers were inverted.

It took a while for Monteith to work his way up through the pack. The Blountville driver passed Michael Looney on lap 26, and then took the runner-up spot from Tissot on lap 34.

“We just had to sit back and let everything play out,” Monteith said. “It all fell out about halfway through the race, the air pressures (in the tires) started picking up and I started picking them off one-by-one. I didn’t really have that gameplan, but it unfolded that way. I think this is a good sign of things to come.”

Monteith has plans for running the NASCAR All-American Series National Championship with Saturday’s race the first of 45 races scheduled this season between Kingsport and Greenville-Pickens (S.C.) Speedway.

It was an exceptionally strong showing for Shell, after his car was plagued by brake and transmission trouble at the speedway’s open test one week ago.

Still, he was disappointed to run second after leading the majority of the race.

“We just missed it on tires a little bit and I had to overdrive it,” Shell said. “They went away halfway through the race and it gave Nate the opportunity to catch me. He drove a smart race and conserved his equipment. That’s the reason he’s in the winners circle. He uses his head and knows how far to push the envelope. We did good, but it would be better if we were in Nate’s position.”

In a rough finish, Daniel Pope of Nashville took a battered race car past the spinning car of Michael Looney to third-place, as Tissot and Ryan Stiltner rounded out the top five.

“It was a little wild,” Pope said. “I was racing the 47 car (of Looney) hard at the end and had no intentions of getting into him at all. A lapped car spun and the last lap, you’re wide open and I ran all over him.”

Highly-touted teenagers, Blake Jones of Sevierville and Hayden Woods of Piney Flats, stayed out of the trouble to finish sixth and seventh, respectively. It was a solid debut for Woods, the defending Legends division champion from last season.

Up front, Shell and Tissot raced side-by-side each over the first four laps with Tissot edging Shell at the finish line each time. Shell kept working on Tissot until taking the lead seven laps later. However, it did come with contact, which Shell lamented since the two sparred throughout all of last season.

“I wish it was a lot cleaner,” Shell said. “I got into Lee Tissot quite a few times and I did everything I could to keep off of him. It’s just his brake point is different than my brake point. I really hate that it happened.”

Tyler Goodwin, a teenage student from Daniel Boone High School, dominated action in the Legends race, taking the lead from lap 3 from Greg Turner in a battle of No. 64 cars. Goodwin led the rest of the way in the 20-lap race.

Dakota Slagle of Asheville, N.C., won easily in the Pure 4 division, Casey Head of Coeburn, Va., took the Rookie Pure 4 feature and Roger Neece of St. Paul, Va., was victorious in Street Stock.

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