MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Saturday’s Performance Plus 150 at Myrtle Beach Speedway marked a day of firsts for both driver Jon McKennedy and team owner Tommy Baldwin.
McKennedy used a mammoth late-race effort to win his maiden NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at the South Carolina half-mile, taking one fresh tire during his final pit stop with 28 to go and then holding off a hard-charging Jimmy Blewett en route to the victory.
The day’s sixth and final caution waved with 30 laps left after Ken Heagy’s engine expired on the frontstretch. Pit road became a feeding ground as all the leaders dove down for service and strategies dovetailed in the process.
While McKennedy got off pit road quickly with one fresh tire, many of his closest competitors took two stickers for the final run, including Blewett, Justin Bonsignore, Doug Coby and Timmy Solomito.
Meanwhile, young gun Craig Lutz stayed out to assume the top spot and led the field back to green for a 24-lap dash, with Andy Seuss starting alongside him and McKennedy in third as the green flag waved.
Chase Dowling was the man on the move during the restart, flying from fourth to pressure Lutz for the lead, but behind them Blewett was on a mission as he soared from outside the top 10 up to eighth in just two laps with his fresh rubber.
Dowling finally dispatched Lutz for the lead going down the backstretch with 21 to go, but McKennedy knew he had to stay with Dowling in order to make his move and followed the No. 15 into second.
From there, McKennedy bided his time and waited for the right opening, holding polesitter Matt Hirschman at bay all the while before finally moving inside of Dowling and taking command for good with 12 to go.
At that point, Blewett was third, but passed Dowling as well to move into the runner-up spot and quickly gave chase to McKennedy over the closing moments.
Even the strength of the Ed Partridge-owned No. 6 wasn’t enough for Blewett to run down McKennedy, who held on to win by .711 of a second in a thrilling finish.
The win was an emotional one for the Chelmsford, Massachusetts native, who had crossed everything off his bucket list entering the day “except for a win on the NASCAR Modified Tour.”
“Man, this is really special,” McKennedy said in victory lane. “I feel like (the win) was way overdue. This was a great run and a great way to kick off my partnership with Tommy. He gave me a great opportunity to run this car and I’m glad I was able to make the most of it.”
“We started off well and were able to grab a win together during Speedweeks down at New Smyrna, and this just continues it. It’s a team sport and I’m proud to have all these great people surrounding me.”