VADO, N.M. – Kaden Honeycutt, long known as a short-track standout on the pavement in late models and in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, has shown over the past two nights that he’s well on his way to finding his footing in dirt late models as well.
The 20-year-old from Willow Park, Texas, had a breakthrough weekend at FK Rod Ends Vado Speedway Park during the opening two rounds of the 18th annual Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts.
After starting fifth Saturday for the kickoff, Honeycutt raced among the best and was as high as third in the 40-lapper before his right-rear tire “gave up about halfway through,” forcing him to conserve and fade back to 10th late in the race.
“That was all about me choosing the wrong [tire] compound,” Honeycutt later explained. “This is all about our learning process, but I couldn’t have been happier than to start off our Wild West Shootout the way that we did … except if we’d somehow been able to win!”
Honeycutt was even able to chuckle about a bit of disappointment from Saturday, after admitting that he was “bummed out” about not getting an even better finish.
“That was me being a short run hero,” Honeycutt noted of the early laps in that feature.
Honeycutt followed up his top-five starting spot and 10th-place finish during Saturday’s opener with perhaps an even more eye-opening effort during Sunday’s program.
A fast time effort in his qualifying group led to a pole starting spot for his heat race, and while Honeycutt didn’t make the heat transfer and later had to race his way into the feature through a B-main, he qualified for the main event for the second time in as many days.
Mired in 19th on the grid, Honeycutt wasn’t able to match his finishing position from Saturday, but he did still advance to 15th at the finish and felt he “showed a lot of speed” despite the mid-pack result.
The cumulative effort of the two days was what truly stood out to the young racer, however, considering the weekend in New Mexico was his first time ever in a dirt super late model.
“After surprising ourselves in the first race, I think we came in with a little more confidence the second day,” Honeycutt admitted afterward. “Night two had some good and some bad. [We] started off the night great, setting quick time in Group A [qualifying] to put us on the pole of a heat race. Then, the driver missed the setup in the heat, and we went backward, unfortunately. Transferring through the B-main was a relief but we knew starting 19th in the feature was going to be tough.
“We got up as far as 11th but fell back to 15th in the end,” Honeycutt continued. “Luckily, now we’re off for the next couple of days so that we can figure out what we need in the slick [track conditions] to run up front in the last three races. But still … what we’ve done the past two nights I didn’t expect at all.”
If Honeycutt wasn’t prepared for the effort he put onto the racetrack, it stood to reason that many of his competitors took notice as well.
Among those who tipped their caps to Honeycutt was reigning World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Bobby Pierce, who took to X (formerly Twitter) late Saturday after the Wild West Shootout opener.
“Good run tonight,” Pierce wrote to Honeycutt. “I didn’t even know who you were before now if I’m being honest. That’s a compliment [and] not a negative, by the way! Good luck the rest of the week.”
An appreciative Honeycutt later noted that he “wanted his right-side wrap back” after Pierce blew past him en route to a runner-up effort Saturday and then the win during Sunday night’s feature.
For Honeycutt, a surprise showing like the weekend he put together was made more special due to the fact that his team is largely a family effort with a smaller crew than most of the discipline’s power teams.
“Regardless of what goes on from here, I’ll be forever proud of what we’ve already done,” Honeycutt noted. “Thank you to my Dad, [crew member] Demetrius, and Shelby Walles for all their hard work the past three days. We plan to come back, regroup, and get after it again next Friday night.”
The Wild West Shootout continues with round three, a Wednesday midweek special on Jan. 10, before rounds four through six take place Friday to Sunday, Jan. 12-14.
Of note, Honeycutt’s pavement season wrapped up in November, after he helped lead McGowan Motorsports to the ARCA Menards Series West owner’s championship. He won two of his four starts in team owner Steve McGowan’s No. 17 Chevrolet.
Honeycutt added a late model stock and a pro late model win with the zMAX CARS Tour on the short tracks, with six top-five and nine top-10 finishes in the late model stock ranks with the CARS Tour.
In 11 Truck Series starts last year, Honeycutt tallied three top-10 finishes, including a career-best of eighth in the season finale at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway.
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