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Knoxville Raceway

T-Mac takes Knoxville with last-lap redemption

September 28, 2008, 4:10 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com chief writer
McCreadie (39) battles Stewart (20). (Jeff Bylsma)
McCreadie (39) battles Stewart (20). (Jeff Bylsma)

KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 27) — Tim McCreadie entered the 2008 season without a single Dirt Late Model crown jewel to his credit. Now the mop-topped graduate of big-block modifieds from Watertown, N.Y., is suddenly snatching major victory after major victory, none with more dramatic flair than his last-lap heroics at the fifth annual Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals at Knoxville Raceway. | Complete Knoxville coverage | Saturday slideshow | Saturday blog

Surviving a mid-race battle royal with NASCAR star Tony Stewart and a thrilling white-flag charge by Josh Richards, McCreadie swept back ahead of Richards exiting turn four on the final lap at the sprint-car stronghold to grab a career-high $40,000 victory. Another victory lane visit, another roof-pounding celebration as McCreadie added Knoxville's prestigious 100-lap Late Model event to wins at Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway's Topless 100 ($25,000) and Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway's Jackson 100 ($20,000), all in the last six weeks.

"Right now it's my turn. We've all been through this. ... it's just my turn right now," said the 34-year-old McCreadie, who has seven victories overall in 2008 in returning to Dirt Late Models after a short-circuited attempt at NASCAR's big time. "Hopefully we'll just stay on top for a little while and ride it as long as we can."

Knoxville's crowd of more than 10,000 certainly enjoyed McCreadie's ride that was spiced by his contact-filled battle with Stewart and the who's-going-to-win-it finish after a caution appeared on the 99th lap.

With Stewart knocked from contention by a lap-67 flat tire, McCreadie appeared to be on his way to Knoxville glory, especially after second-running Billy Moyer's engine began going up in smoke with 10 laps remaining. But it was Moyer's eventual demise as he rolled to an oily stop in turn four that forced McCreadie to pull out all the stops in holding off Richards and third-finishing Shannon Babb over the final two laps.

On the final restart, the field rolled through the oily streak heading for the green flag and McCreadie was in position to close out the victory. But when McCreadie botched his turn-four exit heading for the white flag, Richards used the edge of the oily strip to get extra traction and rocket into the lead by three lengths with one lap left. McCreadie was still nearly that far behind on the backstretch, but he gave it all he could through turns three and four to sweep back around Richards and take the checkered flag by three lengths, denying the 20-year-old Richards his biggest win.

It was a finish that had to leave even Knoxville's most enthusiastic sprint car fans with a grudging respect for the full-fendered cars.

McCreadie's reaction to the final charge by Richards? "My jaw dropped. I thought, 'Oh no, not at this place.' ... He tried to stay a little wide and kill my entry (in turn three on the final lap), but I just threw it in there. I think we turned 9,600, 9,400 (RPMs) all the way through three and four just trying not to catch the rut. A little bit of luck. I'll take it."

Richards said he followed his great 99th lap with a sub-par 100th lap. "Right above the oil, the car just latched to the ground and I was able to get by Timmy. Just the last lap, I got a little bit too low and got in it. And that was it," said the Shinnston, W.Va., driver, the son of Rocket Chassis co-founder Mark Richards. "I was going down the back straightaway and I was like, 'Should I go to the top?' But if I do that he might slide up in front of me and I might push. There's so many things you coulda, shoulda done, but I just chose wrong one I guess. He just drove up there and made it stick. He was going for all of it to. He could've crashed or whatnot, but he went for the win and it worked out."

Babb nearly got in the mix himself as McCreadie struggled toward the white flag. "I probably had the best seat in the house for that last couple of laps," the Moweaqua, Ill, driver said. "I felt sorry for Timmy when the caution came out. ... He had her in the bag until that happened. Man, Josh got by him, and I was sitting there and didn't know what was going to unfold: Timmy was going to put it in the fence or (pull) a Hail Mary. (McCreadie) is the best guy in a driver's seat to do one of those Hail Mary's, and he pulled it off. It was a great race."

McCreadie, who stood atop his car in victory lane and applauded the cheering crowd, said that Hail Mary was an apt description. "It's all luck. We can sit up here and call it skill all we want," he said. "I just stabbed and sticked and it just happened to work out this time. The lap before, I was up in the fence."

McCreadie's season that began with him in limbo with his relationship with Richard Childress Racing has suddenly turned into his best Dirt Late Model season as he retooled his Sweeteners Plus team back to the glory days of his 2006 World of Outlaws Late Model Series championship.

"When somebody's on a roll, they're on a roll," said fourth-place finisher Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., who never got close enough to challenge the winner. "McCreadie's been good, and it just goes in that cycle. When it's somebody's turn, it's their turn. It's weird how that works, but that's how it works."

Following Mars in fifth was 15th-starting Rick Eckert of York, Pa., in a race where half the 30 starters were running at the checkered flag. Stewart, who led two stretches midway through the race, ended up ninth. Darren Miller of Milledgeville, Ill., was running third when he broke a driveshaft on the 70th lap. The race didn't end well for either of the front-row starters, polesitter and Friday's semifeature winner Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn.

Lanigan headed pitside before the green flag flew because of power steering failure, then dropped out after just seven laps with engine problems. Owens led the first 32 laps before giving up the lead to McCreadie, but he dropped out of the top five by the 40th lap and ended up a disappointing 10th.

Owens jumped into the early lead while McCreadie quickly worked his way into second, dueling with fellow third-row starter Miller after 20 laps and committing to the tricky but fast high groove, using the thin cushion ringing the half-mile track.

"When Darren went by me, I thought, 'Man, I can't let him go by.' ... you can't just let good guys go by," McCreadie said. "If they're going to run hard, you've gotta run hard and let the chips fall where they may. I think after that, I tried to take a few laps easy, then when you do, somebody else comes along and starts racing with you."

With Owens beginning to falter, McCreadie took the lead on lap 33 as action heated up among the top five with Richards, Miller, Stewart and Owens duking it out. The eighth-starting Stewart's charge continued as he powered into the lead on the backstretch on lap 48 with McCreadie and Richards giving chase.

McCreadie clawed back and slid under Stewart to regain the lead on lap 55, then split two lapped cars to extend his margin. When McCreadie jumped the cushion exiting turn two on the 64th lap, Stewart quickly made up ground and two laps later the two banged together repeatedly through turn two as Stewart squeezed past. On lap 67, Stewart's right rear tire went flat to draw a caution, putting McCreadie in control as the race entered the late stages. The 10th-starting Moyer, an Iowa native looking for his first Lucas Oil Nationals victory, moved up to second and showed signs of challenging Owens. But following a lap-82 caution for the fifth-running Eddie Carrier Jr., who got into the wall exiting turn two, engine problems cropped up for Moyer, although he ran more than 10 laps showing tell-tale smoke of engine damage.

"We don't know now, but I think I had him where I wanted him, it seemed like," a disappointed Moyer said. "It felt like I was going to be able to get by him. Before that last yellow came out especially, I gained up there on him."

McCreadie was looking for the white flag when Moyer, his sputtering engine finally dead, slowed and came to a stop inside the turn-four exit, setting up the late-race drama.

The race was slowed by eight cautions, including a flip by Steve Francis on the fourth lap after his right rear tire blew. The No. 19 landed on its wheels and Francis wasn't injured. Other cautions including wall-banging wrecks by Dan Schlieper (lap 72) and John Blankenship (lap 74), both after contact with Stewart.

Lucas Oil Late Model Nationals

Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings
1. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., Rocket, $40,000
2. Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., Rocket, $20,000
3. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., Rocket, $10,000
4. Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., Mars, $8,750
5. Rick Eckert (24), York, Pa., GRT, $7,500
6. Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., MasterSbilt, $7,000
7. Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, Mars, $6,500
8. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., Bloomquist, $6,000
9. Tony Stewart (20), Columbus, Ind., Rocket, $5,500
10. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., Bloomquist, $5,000
11. Boone McLaughlin (14), Mediapolis, Iowa, Rocket, $4,500
12. Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., Rocket, $4,000
13. Donnie Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, MasterSbilt, $3,500
14. John Duty (5), Portland, Ore., Rocket, $3,400
15. Ken Schrader (9), Fenton, Mo., Rocket, $3,300
16. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark. Victory Circle, $3,200
17. Brady Smith (2), Solon Springs, Wis., Bloomquist, $3,100
18. John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., Bloomquist, $3,000
19. Dan Schlieper (9), Sullivan, Wis., Wild, $2,900
20. Darren Miller (32D), Milledgeville, Ill., Victory Circle, $2,800
21. Justin Fegers (F15), Mound, Minn., MasterSbilt, $2,700
22. Matt Miller (7), Waterville, Ohio, MasterSbilt, $2,600
23. Eric Jacobsen (5), Santa Cruz, Calif., Bloomquist, $2,500
24. Jeep Van Wormer (55), Pinconning, Mich., MasterSbilt, $2,500
25. Denny Eckrich (50), Oxford, Iowa, Barry Wright, $2,500
26. Terry Casey (42), New London, Wis., Rayburn, $2,500
27. Chris Simpson (32), Marion, Iowa, Barry Wright, $2,500
28. Scott James (83), Lawrenceburg, Ind., Rocket, $2,500
29. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., Rocket, $2,500
30. Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., Rocket, $2,500

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