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Cardwell’s Runnerup Sweetheart Finish Provides Incentive

Cardwell’s Runnerup Sweetheart Finish Provides Incentive

SEYMOUR, Tenn. (Feb. 18) — After participating in most of the Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout Series campaign during the early months of the ’23 racing season, Knoxville, Tenn., driver Hayden Cardwell arrived for the final round of the eighth edition of the miniseries at his home track, and posted a solid runnerup finish in a 24-car field during the annual Sweetheart held Saturday afternoon on a racy track surface at 411 Motor Speedway.

It was the first-year anniversary of an appointment as the driver for a Rusty Webb Racing-fielded entry, a matchup that turned successful straight out of the gate when Cardwell drove the team’s car to victory in the ’22 version of the Sweetheart at the Mitch and Tanya McCarter-owned facility. Cardwell came close the second time around to starring again at his own anniversary party, leading 30 of 40 circuits in the $3,023-to-win event before yielding the win to local favorite Cory Hedgecock, who swiped the point in lapped traffic on the 31st circuit.

“Winning the race last year was a pretty big deal for us, and after Rusty [Webb] asked me to drive the car in that race, it all just kinda stuck after that,” Cardwell said. “That first outing was actually my first start in a 604 Late Model, and I was basically just wanting to get my name out there.”

Mission accomplished, and done with pretty explosive quickness for a young man who just recently celebrated his 20th birthday. Cardwell’s biggest claim to national fame prior to winning last year’s championship title on the American Crate All-Star Series might have been his success in iRacing-type events on computer screens, where he’d won a $10,000 World of Outlaws title a couple of years ago.

Perhaps less known to the virtual racing crowd, Cardwell had also given hints of his potential with victories in the Sportsman division near home in a family-owned machine. It’s where his career actually started in full-bodied race cars.

“I’ve raced cars for about two and a half years now,” Cardwell said. “We got a car in the latter part of the ’20 season, and started racing on a regular basis during the summer of ’21. We raced that Sportsman car for a year, and won 15 or 16 races in my home area.”

A career was launched. After last year’s success, Webb and Cardwell are potentially turning their attention to a new challenge and are considering a full-time commitment on the Adam Stewart-managed Newsome Raceway Parts Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series. Nothing has been decided, but for a career that has blossomed so fast, new challenges might lie ahead.

Cardwell works a full-time job at CDE Electric, which is based in Maryville, Tenn. His day-to-day boss is fellow driver Brandon Miller, who wheeled a No. 89 entry in the Sweetheart and drove the team’s second car during the Winter Shootout Series in the Sunshine State. Work schedules aside, it’s a huge commitment to run any touring series these days.

The Webb/Cardwell combo fields a CVR Race Cars entry that carries sponsorship from R&W Properties, Mark Tutor Racing, Fox Shocks, Crate Engine Technology, Harris Speed Shop, Swift Springs, Morgan-McClure Chevrolet, Tennessee Shine Company, Baker’s Wrecker Service, Bruce-Bilt Performance and C&C Steam Cleaning.

“We’re not 100 percent sure we’re going to run the Crate USA deal on a full-time basis, but we’re leaning towards it,” Cardwell said. “I’d say 80-85 percent sure at this point, but we know we’ll be at the first race [April 1 at Cochran Motor Speedway], and we’ll see how that goes for us and make a decision based on how we do in the early events.”

Cardwell credits the Joseph Rush-operated American All-Stars Series circuit with his early development, where he was able to race at different tracks in a slightly different region that was a bit further north than his normal home base. The team’s shop is only five minutes from 411, but Cardwell has visited a surprising number of tracks for a young driver. That number could expand even more based on the decision about competing with Crate Racin’ USA.

“That was good for us last year because I’d say 80 percent of the tracks we raced, I had never even heard of them before we got there,” Cardwell said. “It’s mostly a different region than Crate Racin’ USA, and the tracks and dirt at some of those places are way different, so it helps a driver learn. A lot of their racing is in Kentucky and Virginia, and it was a great experience for me and the crew that works on our race car to go to some of those places. We were able to win a couple races at tracks I’d never seen—Beckley (W.Va.) Speedway and Willard (Ky.) Speedway—and we felt that was a pretty big accomplishment for us.”

Having recently completed a tour to Florida with the Crate Racin’ USA Winter Shootout Series, Cardwell did his reputation for quick learning no harm in the Sunshine State. He was clearly competitive, and a factor in several events. Most notably, he could have possibly won races the last two nights at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.

“Overall we ran pretty well down there, but in a way it was kinda disappointing,” Cardwell said. “Especially at East Bay [Raceway Park] on the last two nights, I felt we had a decent shot to win one. We had gone to All-Tech [Raceway] last October and ran sixth in the Powell Family Memorial, so we had high hopes. East Bay is just one of those tricky places where you can’t make many mistakes, and I made enough to keep us from having a better shot at winning.”

He made another one in the recent Sweetheart at 411 that closed the season for the off-season miniseries, but that was only after leading perennial track favorite Cory Hedgecock for the first 30 circuits around the high-banked track. A slip in lapped traffic gave Hedgecock the opportunity he needed to steal the lead en route to the win.

“I went back and watched the video, and I felt like our car was flawless in lapped traffic,” Cardwell said. “We were maybe as good or even slightly better than Cory [Hedgecock] at times, but it only takes one little mistake when two cars are that close in performance. I committed the error down there in turn one, and he made up about six car lengths on me in one little surge. Then he was able to pass me in the lapped traffic to win the race, but I was glad we didn’t just let him drive away from us afterwards. To me that was a sign that we can run with him. He’s got a lot of laps around that place and he’s very tough to beat there. I felt like we held our own against him.”


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