Watch the Turkey Derby Live on Racing America November 25-27
Nov 19, 2022
Mason Diaz parked it in Victory Lane.
Meanwhile, this was with 10 laps still remaining in the South Carolina 400, a race ultimately and actually won by Brenden Queen.
In other words, there was a lot to unpack from this one.
For the third year in a row, Chad Bryant Racing brought the car to beat but it was Diaz behind the wheel this November and looking to defend the undefeated streak established by Ty Majeski. Diaz first took the lead on the restart with 17 laps to go but found himself on the wrong side of a dominant Sam Yarbrough with an exchange that cost both of them the win.
On the restart with 11 to go, Yarbrough was run up the track with both right sides dipping off the pavement. Florence does not have outside retaining walls. Yarbrough blended back onto the track in seventh but was given second back for reasons that are still up for debate.
Yarbrough then drove into the back of Diaz, the contact sending them both to the rear, as one spun and the other was deemed to have caused it.
Diaz parked his car in Victory Lane and got a bear hug from team owner Chad Bryant -- completing a mini celebration of sorts.
It caused a red flag.
Meanwhile, that resulted in Queen taking the lead for the first time, and eventually holding on against Carson Kvapil to win in his inaugural start with Lee Pulliam Performance.
"No better way to start a relationship with a new team than with a win," Queen said after the race. "These guys work so hard and I knew going to Lee Pulliam Performance, the pressure was on me to perform because these guys have great stuff and brought me a great car, and it drove well when it mattered for sure."
Back to the Diaz and Yarbrough sequence that set all of this up: Yarbrough was adamant that Diaz all but wrecked him anyway, and while the return contact wasn't intentional, it was earned in his mind.
"Just because there isn’t a wall, that doesn’t mean you can body slam them off the track," Yarbrough said. "Mason had a car good enough to win the race. He just drove like a dick.
For his part, Diaz didn't immediately want to comment and said he would talk about it on Sunday.
The crux of the argument from Chad Bryant Racing was that the flagger at Florence was too trigger happy and the caution shouldn't have flown for the contact on the backstretch because Yarbrough saved it.
And, if Yarbrough was the reason for the caution, they argue he shouldn't have restarted second and in a position to take them out.
Yarbrough doesn't entirely disagree with how it was officiated regardless of how he felt about Diaz in that moment.
"I don’t know why they put me back in the front; we both should have gone to the back," Yarbrough said. "But then under the pace laps, he’s door slamming me. Technically, I was the leader because I was on the outside and had choice of position under caution and it just got out of hand.
"He just continued to drive me disrespectfully. If he’s going to drive me like that, and I can’t win the race, he’s not going to win the race either.
Lost in all of this was that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in contention to win at various points of the final stage but was sent to the rear twice for contact that caused a caution -- once with Matt Cox and another for Landon Pembelton -- both inside the top-five.
Earnhardt finished ninth and had the most stereotypical short track night ever between the two penalties and having to go off-road twice to miss crashes.
"I checked a lot of boxes for that race," Earnhardt said. "I thought I gave Matt Cox the room he needed. Maybe not, and maybe I just drove into his left rear. Got into Turn 1 and spun (Pembelton) out. That was my fault. I was in over my head. It was late in the race and I was just not using my brain very well, but fun race, fast cars, saved my tires did all those things right."
It was an eventful chaotic night and the exact race day experience Earnhardt wanted in racing a Late Model Stock a couple of times a year.
"I was just so nervous about qualifying and even making the race," Earnhardt said. "Never had that problem before in Cup, Xfinity, always had a guaranteed spot really.
"So really, I was just happy to be in the show. I was joking with Steve (Zacharias, promoter) that I might screw it up and not make the race. 'What are we going to do if I don't?' So I called him after qualifying from the infield and was like 'hey man, we're good, I made it!
"But qualifying was such a miserable experience because I was so nervous, it was so nail biting so to just make this race and have this experience is why I was so happy."
Earnhardt even traded paint with Queen on his way to the front, something they laughed about after the race, and something else that made the South Carolina 400 the biggest win of Butterbean's career.
Even more than the 2020 Hampton Heat or his 2021 CARS Tour win -- both at Langley Speedway where he's the three-time and reigning track champion.
"It’s the biggest I think because we won away from Langley," Queen said. "We’ve won at East Carolina and then Langley but the talk was, we’ve got to win somewhere else. So to come out here, and win a big one against this crowd, it sets us up for a lot of good things in the future."
Third Annual South Carolina 400
Florence Motor Speedway
November 19 2022
-Photo: Jaylynn Nash/NASCAR