HICKORY – Along the wall on the front stretch at Hickory Motor Speedway is the slogan “Birthplace of the NASCAR Stars.”

Since the first race was won by Gwyn Staley in 1951, from driver, crew chiefs, announcers and support personnel, the .363-mile track as produced its share of talent in NASCAR’s top divisions.

Just in 2017, two former track champions have been a part of a winning team in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and another finished eighth Sunday in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

St. Stephens graduate Matt Piercy, 23-years-old, is an engineer for Hendrick Motorsports and Kasey Kahne – winner of the Brickyard 400 – and Fred T. Foard graduate Matt DiBenedetto finished eighth.

It’s DiBenedetto’s third top-10 finish in 88 career Monster Energy Series Cup starts.

Piercy, who is a 2016 graduate of UNC Charlotte with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, won the track title in the Late Model Stock division in 2015.

DiBenedetto won the track title in the 4-Cylinders in 2005 and the Limited Late Model division in 2006.

Piercy wears many hats at Hendrick, but his main responsibility is to be the liaison between the lead engineer and the car chief as he communicates changes to the car chief.

Piercy said his days at HMS have been an asset to his role with Hendrick.

“My time running at Hickory has been invaluable in that as a former driver it helps me to understand what he (Kahne) is telling us he needs in his setup,” Piercy said. “I also get to help prep the cars for race day in terms of assembly and having worked on my own car in the past helps me in that area as well.”

Andy Houston, a 1994 winner in the Late Model division at HMS is a spotter for Austin Dillion, winner of the Coca Cola 600.

Matt McCall, 2004 Late Model Stock champion, is crew chief for Jamie McMurray and Shane Huffman, 1999 Late Model Stock champion & 1996 Limited Late Model champion, has worked as car chief for Rusty Wallace Racing and crew chief for two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series teams.

Michael Oxendine, who worked on late models at HMS in 2005, graduated from UNC Charlotte with a mechanical engineering, physics, and minored in mathematics is also an engineer and front-tire changer for Kahne

Watson claims points lead

For the first time this season, there is a new points leader in the Late Model Stock division.

On the heels of back-to-back wins Saturday in the twin 40-lap events, coupled with two fourth-place finishes by then-leader Ryan Millington, Charlie Watson has an eight-point lead over Millington.

On May 28, Millington led Watson by 12 points but in the last 10 races, Watson’s average finish is 2.8 compared to 3.8 by Millington and more glaring is the last six events in which Watson has an average finish of 2.1 while Millington’s is 4.5.

In the last 10 events, Watson has earned 370 points to 346 by Millington.

Watson has six wins on the season and has won two straight twice on the season.

Ty Gibbs is third in points, 448 back of Watson and 440 back of Millington.

On tap

The featured event Saturday is 100 laps for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Late Model Stock

In addition to the Late Models Stock, the Limited Late Models will run 50 laps, Super Trucks (35 laps), Street Stocks (30), 4-Cylinders (25) and 20 laps for the Renegades.

This is the fourth 100-lap event for the Late Models with Millington, Watson and Justin Carroll winning the previous three.

Gates open at 5 p.m. with racing starting at 7:30 p.m.

Qualifying is slated for 5:30 p.m. with all divisions running one lap and the Late Models two laps.

Admission is $12.50 for adults, $10.50 for seniors and 11-to-19 and 10-and-under are free.

There will be an autograph session on the track for all divisions at 6:30 p.m.

Super trucks run first followed by the 4-Cylinders, Limited Late Model, Street Stocks, Late Models and the Renegades.

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