East Bay Raceway Park
Cook outduels Francis, wins $7,000 at East Bay
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 15) — Entering the third round of the 36th annual Winternationals, Ray Cook hadn't won at East Bay Raceway Park in 12 years. And the 40-year-old Brasstown, N.C., driver wasn't about to let a comeback by Steve Francis extend that winless streak. | Complete Speedweeks coverage
Leading the last five laps after a stirring back-and-forth battle with Francis, Cook earned $7,000 for his 10th career victory on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
"Well, it just goes to prove, with the Lord, anything's possible. You know what I mean?" said Cook, who took the lead from Francis on the 14th lap before allowing Francis back by on lap 22. "I was trying to save tires and run hard, too. I got up high there when Steve got under me, and that was mainly what I was trying to do, not get too high again. I'm just so thankful to be here."
Cook's 35-lap midweek victory also ended the two-race win streak of fellow MasterSbilt house car driver Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who was trying to become the second driver in Winternationals history to reel off three straight victories.
O'Neal started outside the front row but dropped back to fifth on the first lap after polesitter Jonathan Davenport beat him to turn two. After the race's lone restart on lap five, O'Neal got hung up on the wall between turns one and two and dropped back to 10th and out of contention altogether.
Francis, the Ashland, Ky., driver entering his first races in the Barry Wright Race Cars house car, struggled with a deflating right-front tire in the final laps and slipped back to third behind Davenport of Blairsville, Ga. Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., was fourth for his third top-five finish of the week and 14th-starting Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was fifth.
Going for his third victory of the season in his Clint Bowyer Racing No. 15, Davenport led four laps at the third-mile oval before Francis made the week's first high-side pass exiting turn four to take command just before the 35-lapper's lone caution for a stopped Austin Hubbard on the frontstretch.
The fourth-starting Cook dropped Davenport to third on the ninth lap, then made an inside move in turn four five laps later to take the lead from Francis. Cook stayed in control through the middle of the race, but when he got too high in turn one, Francis went back ahead on lap 22.
But Cook never let Francis get too far away, eventually nosing under the leader heading down the frontstretch on lap 30. A lap later, Cook beat Francis into turn three and pulled away to win by six seconds.
"I have so many people to thank, I'm going to tell you," Cook said in victory lane. "MasterSbilt, O'Neal's been running good the first two nights. The whole team's been working really good, and Gary Winger with Integra (Shocks), and all the American Racer guys are here. It's just pretty special for all of us. There's a lot of people involved that's been working for a lot of years here. It's been 12 years since we won here, so it's good to be back."
Francis, whose team discovered a pinhole in right-front tire, said he simply couldn't steer his car late in the race. "I felt it start dragging the cross member, and I said, 'Uh-oh, we're in trouble here now,' " he said.
"Ray kind of snookered me there and got me (on lap 14), and I thought, 'I'll follow him a few laps and just see where he's making time and where his car was good at. ... I looked up and I think the board was like (lap 20), and I was thinking it was 30 laps and was thinking I had 10 to go. I kind of got up after it then and the car responded, and we were able to get back by him on the outside there, and kinda go on there."
Cook's spoils included a flat of strawberries that made the victory all the much sweeter.
"It's huge. And to be here at East Bay makes it all that much more special," he said. "I just wish all our family could be here with us to enjoy it, but we're going to take a lot of the strawberries back to North Carolina, and that'll be good, too."
Feature notes: Cook's D&R Motorsports MasterSbilt is sponsored by Hicks & Ingle, A+ Moving & Storage, American Race Tires, Integra and Port City Racing. ... Fifteen of 26 starters completed 35 laps. ... Nineteen cars were running at the finish, including Don O'Neal who was off the pace on the final lap. ... Winternationals action continues Thursday at East Bay with the fourth of six rounds of racing. Thursday's feature pays $7,000-to-win while Friday and Saturday events, the season's first points races for the Lucas Oil Series, pay $10,000-to-win.
Winternationals (Feb. 15): (1) Ray Cook, (2) Jonathan Davenport, (3) Steve Francis, (4) Scott Bloomquist, (5) Dennis Erb Jr., (6) Eric Jacobsen, (7) John Blankenship, (8) Terry Casey, (9) Donnie Moran, (10) Randy Korte, (11) Mark Andersen, (12) Jared Landers, (13) Jack Nosbisch Jr., (14) Dillan White, (15) Eric Wells, (16) Bobby Pierce, (17) Chris Brown, (18) Brandon Sheppard, (19) Don O'Neal, (20) Dan Stone, (21) Kevin Weaver, (22) Tyler Reddick, (23) Josh McGuire, (24) Duke Whiseant, (25) Jason Riggs, (26) Austin Hubbard. Fast qualifier (among 46 cars): O'Neal, 14.694 seconds. Heat race winners: Davenport, Francis, O'Neal, Cook. Consolation winners: Whiseant, Brown. Strawberry Dash winner: McGuire. Provisional starter: Sheppard.
The 35-lap main event is set to roll about 9:10 p.m. ... The final row will be made up of fast-qualifier provisional Brandon Sheppard and Strawberry Dash winner Josh McGuire. ... McGuire had dropped out of his heat race when his air cleaner fell off. ... A pair of Barry Wright Race Cars (Jonathan Davenport and Steve Francis) and a pair of MasterSbilt Race Cars (Don O'Neal and Ray Cook) were heat winners and start in the first two rows of the feature. ... Drivers starting their first feature of the week: Jack Nosbisch Jr., Mark Andersen and Kevin Weaver. ... Terry Casey is driving East Bay's two-seat car during intermission.
Chris Brown won a battle of 21s on the front row, outrunning Dan Stone in the early laps and racing to victory. Eric Wells took the second spot midway through the race and held onto it while Stone had his hands full in the second half of the race. Stone held onto third while Tyler Reddick made a last-lap pass of Brandon Sheppard for the fourth and final transfer spot. The first start was scrapped when Terry Naugle got sideway on the backstretch; Shane Cottle and Leon Henderson spun to avoid contact and a bigger mess than it initially appeared. Naugle later retired with left-side damage during a lap-three caution for debris.
Finish: Chris Brown, Eric Wells, Dan Stone, Tyler Reddick, Brandon Sheppard, Scott Creel, Victor Lee, Leon Henderson, Josh McGuire, Shane Cottle, Tim Lance, Chad Stapleton. Scratched: Shelby Miles, Morgan Bagley.
Outside front-row starter Duke Whiseant cruised to victory in the 10-lapper, outrunning polesitter Dillan White. Bobby Pierce and Jared Landers for the other two transfer spots while Scott James ran fifth most of the way before slowing on the final lap. Danny Mitchell spun in turn four on the first lap for the race's lone caution. Travis Varnadore, Pat Ehlert and Mitchell all dropped out.
Finish: Duke Whiseant, Dillan White, Bobby Pierce, Jared Landers, Chad Hollenback, Jim O'Hara, Doug Blashe, Todd Frank, Scott James, Travis Varnadore, Pat Ehlert, Danny Mitchell.
Row 1: Dillan White, Duke Whiseant
Row 2: Bobby Pierce, Chad Hollenbeck
Row 3: Scott James, Jared Landers
Row 4: Doug Blashe, Travis Varnadore
Row 5: Danny Mitchell, Jim O'Hara
Row 6: Todd Frank, Pat Ehlert
Row 7: Shelby Miles, Josh McGuire
Ray Cook swung around the outside of polesitter John Blankenship in turn one on the first lap and raced to an easy victory. Blankenship was a solid second while Jason Riggs was third in fighting off Josh McGuire most of the race. McGuire pulled to the infield during lap-six caution, giving the final transfer spot to Brandon Sheppard started fourth in his new Rocket, but he had a terrible first lap. The first of two cautions appeared on the fourth lap for Terry Naugle's turn-two spin; Chad Stapleton spun in turn three on the sixth lap.
Finish: Ray Cook, John Blankenship, Jason Riggs, Donnie Moran, Chris Brown, Brandon Sheppard, Morgan Bagley, Leon Henderson, Terry Naugle, Chad Stapleton, Josh McGuire.
Polesitter and fast qualifier Don O'Neal cruised to victory to earn a front-row starting spot in the main event. O'Neal had a half-straightaway lead after three laps and was never challenged. Scott Bloomquist, who started third, ran second after sliding under front-row starter Randy Korte on the first lap, while Korte recovered with a nifty outside-in move to regain third from Dennis Erb Jr. Erb got the fourth and final transfer spot. Scott Creel had his worst heat race run of the week, finishing deep in the pack. Shelby Miles got into the first-turn wall on the first attempted start and was towed off the track. Tyler Reddick at first pulled off the track during initial parade laps, but rejoined the field after the departure of Miles; he finished eighth.
Finish: Don O'Neal, Scott Bloomquist, Randy Korte, Dennis Erb Jr., Dan Stone, Eric Wells, Victor Lee, Tyler Reddick, Shane Cottle, Scott Creel, Tim Lance, Shelby Miles.
Polesitter Steve Francis jumped to the lead and drew away to win by nearly a straightaway over fellow front-row starter Eric Jacobsen. Mark Andersen was third, making his third feature of the week and holding off Kevin Weaver, who was fourth. Meanwhile third-starting Shannon Babb can't catch a break in two-car duels. The victim of a collision with Don O'Neal in last night's feature, Babb dropped out on the third lap after Kevin Weaver made contact as he went by in turn four to take the fourth spot. There were no cautions.
Finish: Steve Francis, Eric Jacobsen, Mark Andersen, Kevin Weaver, Duke Whiseant, Chad Hollenbeck, Jared Landers, Travis Varnadore, Jim O'Hara. Scratched: Pat Ehlert.
Outside front-row starter Jonathan Davenport outjumped polesitter Terry Casey and held on for a victory that gives him the pole for the main event. Casey finished second while Austin Hubbard overtook Jack Nosbisch Jr. with a backstretch pass with a lap and a half remaining. All four transfer to the main event while fourth-starting Dillan White will be on the pole of a consolation race. Two cautions appeared for first-time East Bay starter Jay Morris, who stalled in turn four on the third lap, then briefly climbed the wall in turn one on the seventh lap.
Finish: Jonathan Davenport, Terry Casey, Austin Hubbard, Jack Nosbisch Jr., Dillan White, Bobby Pierce, Scott James, Doug Blashe, Danny Mitchell, Todd Frank, Jay Morris.
Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., gunning for his third straight victory at East Bay Raceway Park, topped 46 entries Wednesday in the third round of the 36th annual Dart Winternationals.
O'Neal, who for the third time in his career won the week's first two features, turned a lap of 14.694 seconds and will start on the pole of the third heat in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competition. Other heat race polesitters: Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., and John Blankenship of Williamson, W.Va.
The night's program includes time trials, four eight-lap heat races, two 10-lap consolation races, a six-lap Strawberry Dash and a 35-lap feature paying $7,000 to the winner.
O'Neal has 13 career Winternationals victories. ... He's trying to become just the second driver to win three straight Winternationals features; Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., pulled off the feat in 2009. ... O'Neal also won the first two features of the week in 2001 and 2002. ... Wednesday's event is the third of six scheduled. ... Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., is debuting a new Roush Yates-powered Rocket Chassis. ... Newcoming drivers for Wednesdays action at Kevin Weaver of Gibson City, Ill., and Jay Morris of Watseka, Ill., traveling together in a single hauler; late arrival Tim Lance of Brimfield, Ill.; and Pat Ehlert of Ovid, Mich., who practiced at East Bay on Sunday but sat out the first two events waiting for parts to repair his powerplant. ... Weaver, making his first Late Model appearance at East Bay since 2001, is piloting a Pierce Race Car. Weaver is a six-time winner in modified Winternationals action at East Bay. ... Morris is making his East Bay debut. ... Justin Rattliff's car pulled up lame in hot laps and he failed to appear for time trials. ... Bob Geiger, who has competed in all 36 Winternationals, scratched from tonight's action. ... Don't miss DirtonDirt.com's complete Speedweeks coverage.
Heat race lineups
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Terry Casey
Row 2: Austin Hubbard, Dillan White
Row 3: Bobby Pierce, Jack Nosbisch Jr.
Row 4: Jay Morris, Scott James
Row 5: Danny Mitchell, Doug Blashe
Row 6: Todd Frank, Justin Rattliff
Row 1: Steve Francis, Eric Jacobsen
Row 2: Shannon Babb, Mark Andersen
Row 3: Kevin Weaver, Duke Whiseant
Row 4: Jared Landers, Chad Hollenbeck
Row 5: Jim O'Hara, Travis Varnadore
Row 6: Pat Ehlert
Row 1: Don O'Neal, Randy Korte
Row 2: Scott Bloomquist, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 3: Eric Wells, Dan Stone
Row 4: Scott Creel, Shelby Miles
Row 5: Shane Cottle, Victor Lee
Row 6: Tim Lance, Tyler Reddick
Row 1: John Blankenship, Ray Cook
Row 2: Jason Riggs, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Donnie Moran, Josh McGuire
Row 4: Chris Brown, Morgan Bagley
Row 5: Leon Henderson, Terry Naugle
Row 6: Chad Stapleton
Time trials (unofficial)
- Jonathan Davenport (15), Blairsville, Ga., 14.820
- Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 14.826
- Terry Casey (42), New London, Wis., 14.975
- Eric Jacobsen (5), Seacliff Beach, Calif., 15.035
- Austin Hubbard (11), Seaford, Del., 15.158
- Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 15.176
- Dillan White (54), Crofton, Ky., 15.191
- Mark Andersen (85), Blanchard, Mich., 15.246
- Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 15.255
- Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., 15.262
- Jack Nosbisch Jr. (01), Riverview, Fla., 15.298
- Duke Whiseant (A1), Texarkana, Ark., 15.351
- Jay Morris (77m), Watseka, Ill., 15.355
- Jared Landers (5), Batesville, Ark., 15.361
- Scott James (81), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 15.407
- Chad Hollenbeck (4DS), Kingsley, Pa., 15.529
- Danny Mitchell (18D), Clarksburg, W.Va., 15.602
- Jim O’Hara (44), Daleville, Pa., 15.709
- Doug Blashe (1), Marion, Wis., 15.962
- Travis Varnadore (51), Dover, Fla., 16.293
- Todd Frank (21), Green Bay, Wis., 16.450
- Pat Ehlert (71), Ovid, Mich., 17.117
- Justin Rattliff (16), Campbellsville, Ky., no time
- Don O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 14.694
- John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 14.725
- Randy Korte (81), Highland, Ill., 14.746
- Ray Cook (53), Brasstown, N.C., 14.759
- Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 14.897
- Jason Riggs (81jr), Harrisburg, Ill., 14.903
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.908
- Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 14.925
- Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 15.001
- Donnie Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 15.068
- Dan Stone (21D), Thompson, Pa., 15.126
- Josh McGuire (41), Grayson, Ky., 15.154
- Scott Creel (31), Franklinton, La., 15.234
- Chris Brown (21), Spring, Texas, 15.382
- Shelby Miles (76), Bloomington, Ind., 15.601
- Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 15.733
- Shane Cottle (11), Kokomo, Ind., 15.747
- Leon Henderson (10), Laurel, Miss., 15.760
- Victor Lee (4), Stanford, Ky., 15.898
- Terry Naugle (71n), Port Royal, Pa., 15.951
- Tim Lance (48), Brimfield, Ill., 16.122
- Chad Stapleton (32), Edinburgh, Ind., 16.586
- Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., no time