Chad Finchum's rookie season in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model division at Kingsport Speedway is certainly proving to be a tough act to follow.
Finchum burst onto the scene last season and came away with both the track championship and the Tennessee state championship, exceeding his wildest expectations in the process.
Now the Knoxville native is busy trying to one-up himself, and he's found just the challenge he was looking for. A partnership was forged between Kingsport Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway during the offseason, and drivers now have the chance to race for track titles in Kingsport and Coeburn while pursuing a combined points title between both tracks.
As far as encores go, Finchum sees the opportunity to expand his kingdom into Southwest Virginia as a tantalizing proposition.
"We set the benchmark pretty high," Finchum said of his 2013 season. "It's gonna be hard to get that again, and anyone that would say otherwise doesn't know how hard it is to win a championship."
Indeed, the quest has been anything but easy thanks to a fast start by Kres VanDyke. VanDyke has been tough to top in Kingsport, and while Finchum holds a healthy points lead at LPR, he still trails VanDyke in the Kingsport points standings as well as the combined standings heading into this weekend's doubleheader.
Finchum's title defense in Kingsport got off to a rocky start when he was involved in a wreck with Blake Jones on lap 3 of the season-opener, relegating him to a 17th-place finish on a day that VanDyke visited Victory Lane.
"When you're points racing, you literally can't have a bad night," Finchum said.
What happened next was something Finchum said was unfortunate, but ultimately necessary. Finchum took his badly damaged Ford back out onto the track under caution and ran into Jones' machine, retaliating for what Finchum deemed to be an overaggressive move so early in the race.
"We went and retaliated, and we had to sit out the rest of the race," Finchum said. "It was a DNF, and that's tough to overcome in a points battle, but if you're going to let somebody constantly push you around, everybody is going to see it. If they know you can get pushed around and you'll take it, then everybody's going to push you around.
"I wish I could take it back so I could have finished the race and gotten points, but at the same time, it proves to everybody that you're not going to take any crap."
In the weeks since the season-opener, Finchum has worked hard trying to close the gap in Kingsport while learning the subtleties of racing on the short track in Coeburn. Most weeks, Finchum races in Kingsport on Friday night before making the trip up to Coeburn for another Late Model feature on Saturday.
He credits racing at the two tracks for making him a better driver, both physically and mentally.
"It's been great because you're not running at the same track all the time," Finchum said. "When you go to different tracks, you've got to change your style a little bit. You're also getting more seat time. It's harder on your body physically, but it keeps you in shape."
At first blush, the two short tracks don't look all that different, but from the driver's seat, each track presents a unique set of challenges. First and foremost, the track surfaces in Kingsport and Coeburn are as different as night and day.
"The major difference is that Kingsport is concrete and Lonesome Pine is asphalt," Finchum said. "With concrete, you have a whole lot more grip so the track doesn't change drastically from night to day. It's not very hard on tires, so you can drive aggressively all race.
"At Lonesome Pine, if you set your car up for daytime, when night comes around, you're going to be chasing it," he continued. "The asphalt is old and wore out. You're constantly slipping and sliding. After the first 10 laps of the race, if you're not careful your tires can really be shot so you really have to baby your stuff until it's go time."
For what it's worth, Finchum has managed to master the layout at LPR very quickly, winning five of the first seven races this season to build an 18-point lead over defending track champ Ryan Stiltner.
Now Finchum is rolling up his sleeves in an effort to defend his track title in Kingsport, and he knows it will take everything he's got. While finesse is the key to winning in Coeburn, every race in Kingsport is an all-out sprint.
"Sixty laps in Kingsport is like running 150 at another track," Finchum said. "Where it's concrete, you have to run it so aggressively every lap."
Finchum will get another crack at both tracks this weekend, starting with a 60-lap feature at Kingsport Speedway on Friday night. Then comes 100 more laps at LPR on Saturday night.comments powered by Disqus