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East Bay Raceway Park

Francis tops Hubbard in thrilling East Bay finish

February 16, 2012, 5:20 pm
By Joshua Joiner
DirtonDirt.com staff writer
Steve Francis (15) moves around Austin Hubbard in the final corner at East Bay. (neilmiller.com)
Steve Francis (15) moves around Austin Hubbard in the final corner at East Bay. (neilmiller.com)

GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 16) – Making the most of a late restart, Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., swept to the high side of Austin Hubbard through the final corner of Thursday night’s Dart Winternationals feature at East Bay Raceway Park and edge ahead at the finish line for thrilling victory at the third-mile oval. | Complete Speedweeks coverage

Francis, who earned $7,000 in the fourth of six rounds for the Florida Speedweeks miniseries, appeared to be settling for a runner-up finish after trailing Hubbard for the second half of the 35-lap Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series non-points race, but a caution for Duke Whiseant's flat tire coming to the white flag gave him one final shot to challenge for the lead.

Taking his chances with a line that had been slower for most of the race, Francis moved up top immediately following the green-white-checkered restart and made his strong charge into the final-corner stick as he pulled ahead by .099 seconds at the flag stand for the ninth Winternationals victory of his career and first since 2006.

“I’d been kinda trying to ease out there, but the racetrack seemed like the bottom was better. We had two to go and I thought we were either gonna win the thing or run third or fourth again,” said Francis, who was third in Wednesday night’s event at East Bay. “I had a line up there and he didn’t try to pinch up the front straightaway. He gave me my line and I gave him his down there.”

The victory – Francis’ first on the Lucas Oil Series since 2008 – eases the frustration following a winless season in 2011 when he followed the entire national tour for the first time after many years chasing the rival World of Outlaws Late Model Series. It also gives Barry Wright, the legendary South Carolina chassis builder Francis teamed up with over the offseason, his first Winternationals victory.

It was Wright's son Lance who used hand signals under the final caution to persuade Francis to give the top groove a try during the final dash to the finish.

“I’ve got to give a lot of the credit to Lance," Francis said. "I kept trying that outside, but I wasn’t really committing hard enough to it because I didn’t know what kinda lead we was getting on Dennis and them and I didn’t want to give up second. Under that last caution he pointed to the top and it worked out for us.”

Hubbard, the Seaford, Del., driver who took the lead from third-place finisher Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., on lap 13, thought he was headed for his first Winternationals victory until Francis pulled off a move he never expected.

“I didn’t really think he would be up there because Francis is much for going on the outside,” said Hubbard, another former World of Outlaws regular who plans on contending for the Lucas Oil tour's Rookie of the Year Award this season. “I thought I was safe covering the bottom there. If I’d just stayed a little wider into three he’d never been able to get out there. But I was just worried about someone passing me on the bottom and let him drive right around me on the top.”

Erb, who moved to the lead over polesitter Donnie Moran on the start of the race, held off a hard-charging Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., for the third-place finish, while Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., rounded out the top five after starting 11th. Moran, who was looking for his first Winternationals victory since 2004, was never a factor in fading to an eighth-place finish.

The race was slowed by just two cautions. Along with Whiseant's late flat, Scott James of Lawerenceburg, Ind., slowed to bring out the caution with 29 laps complete.

Winternationals action continues Friday at East Bay with the first of two $10,000-to-win points races for the Lucas Oil Series that will round out the week.

Notes: The winner’s Barry Wright Race Car is powered by a Clements Racing Engine with sponsorship from Valvoline, Mathis Farms, AES Racing and ASI Racewear. ... Francis is third on the Winternationals all-time win list. His most recent Winternationals victory came in 2006, when he won a pair of Winternationals races. ... Francis’ most recent Lucas Oil Series victory came July 23, 2008 at Bedford (Pa.) Speedway.

Dart Winternationals: (1) Steve Francis, (2) Austin Hubbard, (3) Dennis Erb Jr., (4) Don O'Neal, (5) Jared Landers, (6) Ray Cook, (7) Terry Casey, (8) Donnie Moran, (9) John Blankenship, (10) Shannon Babb, (11) Shelby Miles, (12) Tyler Reddick, (13) Eric Wells, (14) Randy Korte, (15) Earl Pearson Jr., (16) Dillan White, (17) Eric Jacobsen, (18) Josh McGuire, (19) Scott Bloomquist, (20) Jonathan Davenport, (21) Victor Lee, (22) Chad Hollenbeck, (23) Duke Whiseant, (24) Scott James, (25) Bobby Pierce, (26) Jason Riggs. Fast qualifier (among 44 cars): Babb, 14.561 seconds. Heat race winners: Moran, Erb, Francis, Hubbard. Consolation race winners: Pierce, Jacobsen. Dash winner: Pearson. Provisional starter: Davenport.

Strawberry Dash and provisional

Earl Pearson Jr. won the Strawberry Dash, topping Jimmy Owens and Chris Brown in a three-lap, three-car race for the final main event starting spot. ... Jonathan Davenport will make the main event as the fast time provisional.

Second consolation race

Polesitter Eric Jacobsen led every lap of the second consolation race to win by a slight advantage over third-starting Scott Bloomquist. Scott Riggs topped Duke Whiseant in a photo finish for third. They'll both make the main event lineup.

Finish: Eric Jacobsen, Scott Bloomquist, Scott Riggs, Duke Whiseant, Morgan Bagley, Chris Brown, Travis Varnadore, Jim O'Hara, Jimmy Owens.

First consolation race

Second-starting Bobby Pierce overtook polesitter Josh McGuire with just a few laps remaining in the 10-lapper on his way to the victory. McGuire settled for second with Victor Lee and Chad Hollenbeck finishing third and fourth to also transfer to the main event. The race was slowed by multiple cautions, the worst coming on the first lap when Scott Creel spun in turn three, collecting Shane Cottle and Leon Henderson. Creel was involved in a second caution when he spun on lap four and again collected Cottle. Jonathan Davenport avoided a major wreck by squeezing between Creel and the wall.

Finish: Bobby Pierce, Josh McGuire, Victor Lee, Chad Hollenbeck,Mark Andersen, Jonathan Davenport, Todd Frank, Doug, Blashe, Earl Pearson Jr.

Consolation race lineups

10 laps; top two transfer

First consolation
Row 1: Josh McGuire, Bobby Pierce
Row 2: Chad Hollenbeck, Victor Lee
Row 3: Todd Frank, Scott Creel
Row 4: Shane Cottle, Mark Andersen
Row 5: Jonathan Davenport, Leon Henderson
Row 6: Doug Blashe, Pat Ehlert
Row 7: Earl Pearson Jr., Terry Naugle

Second consolation
Row 1: Eric Jacobsen, Kevin Cole
Row 2: Scott Bloomquist, Morgan Bagley
Row 3: Duke Whiseant, Jason Riggs
Row 4: Chris Brown, Danny Mitchell
Row 5: Travis Varnadore, Justin Rattliff
Row 6: Jim O’Hara, Jack Nosbisch Jr.
Row 7: Chad Stapleton, Jimmy Owens

Fourth heat

Becoming the third outside front row starter to win a heat race, Austin Hubbard led every lap of the final heat to take the win over polesitter Shelby Miles in the caution-free prelim. Eric Wells held off Tyler Reddick in a close battle for the third position. They'll both join Hubbard and Miles in the main event. Morgan Bagley nearly spun while running fifth on the final lap, allowing Kevin Cole to slip by for the position.

Finish: Austin Hubbard, Shelby Miles, Eric Wells, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Cole, Morgan Bagley, Jason Riggs, Danny Mitchell, Justin Rattliff.

Third heat

Second-starting Dennis Erb Jr. took the lead on the start and held off polesitter Shannon Babb in a race-long battle to score the victory. Babb finished second while Terry Casey and Scott James were finished third and fourth to make the main event. Scott Bloomquist nearly spun while running third on lap three of the caution-free race and fell back in the pack. Jack Nosbisch Jr.'s car briefly caught on fire, forcing him to the infield late in the race.

Finish: Dennis Erb Jr., Shannon Babb, Terry Casey, Scott James, Eric Jacobson, Scott Bloomquist, Duke Whiseant, Chris Brown, Travis Varnadore, Jim O'Hara, Jack Nosbisch Jr.

Second heat

Winning a battle of front-row starters, polesitter Steve Francis led every lap in topping Don O'Neal in the caution-free eight lapper. O'Neal pulled alongside Francis a number of times, but could never complete the pass and settled for second. Jared Landers was third, not far behind the top two while Dillan White outdueled Bobby Pierce in a race-long battle for the fourth and final transfer position. Pierce nearly spun while looking underneath White in the final turn, but held on to finish fifth.

Finish: Steve Francis, Don O'Neal, Jared Landers, Dillan White, Bobby Pierce, Victory Lee, Scott Creel, Mark Andersen, Leon Henderson.

First heat

Second-starting Donnie Moran jumped to the lead over polesitter Ray Cook on the start and held Cook at bay to win the caution-free prelim. Cook pressured Moran for the majority of the race, but bobbled with a few laps remaining to give Moran breathing room in the closing laps. Cook settled for second with John Blanenship third and Randy Korte taking third and fourth to also earn feature starting positions. Jonathan Davenport and Earl Pearson Jr. tangled on the final lap while battling mid-pack.

Finish: Donnie Moran, Ray Cook, John Blankenship, Randy Korte, Josh McGuire, Chad Hollenbeck, Todd Frank, Shane Cottle, Jonathan Davenport, Doug Blashe Earl Pearson Jr.

Time trials

Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., topped 44 qualifiers Thursday during time trials for the fourth round of the 36th annual Dart Winternationals at East Bay Raceway Park.

Babb, who was the runner-up in Monday’s opening round feature, turned a lap of 14.561 seconds to earn the pole of the third of four Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series heat races coming up at the third-mile oval. Other heat race polesitters: Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., who won Wednesday’s Winternationals feature, Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., and rookie Late Model driver Shelby Miles of Bloomington, Ind.

The four eight-lap heat races will each transfer four drivers to tonight’s 35-lap main event, while two 10-lap consolation races, a six-lap Strawberry Dash and will determine the remainder of the lineup for the $7,000-to-win event.

Defending Lucas Oil Series champion Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and two-time champion Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., were among drivers to have trouble navigating the track during their qualifying runs. Owens, who is making his 2012 debut Thursday, hit the wall in turn three on his first lap and didn't post a time, while Bloomquist tagged the wall in turn two on his second lap. Neither car appeared to suffer significant damage.

Pre-race notes

Scott Bloomquist tagged the wall in the middle of turns one and two on his second lap and pulled to the infield. ... Jimmy Owens hit the wall in turn three on his first lap and didn't record and qualifying time. ... Chad Stapleton tagged the wall in turn three on his second lap. ... Terry Naugle went hard into the turn one wall on his first qualifying lap. He was uninjured. ... Thursday’s event is the fourth of six slated for the week at East Bay. ... Defending Lucas Oil Series champion Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., and Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., are among drivers entering their first event of the week. ... Both drivers are aware that the first three nights of racing have produced a track surface unlike the East Bay of recent years. “I hear it’s been nothing like what it’s been the past four years down here,” said Pearson, a two-time Winternationals winner. “I think that’s a good thing for us, so I’m looking forward to it.” In his only race so far this season, Pearson wasn’t happy with the handling of his Longhorn Chassis so he and the Trinity, N.C.-based Bobby Labonte Racing team took the car to his father’s shop in Jacksonville to make changes before heading to East Bay. ... Owens isn’t so sure he’ll like the track surface if it’s similar to what it has been the first three races. “We adjusted to it pretty good the way it was last year,” Owens said. “Now it’s done went and changed up on us. I think we’ll be OK with it thought.”... Terry Casey of New London, Wis., will hot lap his MasterSbilt Race Car, today, but he plans to go back to his Rayburn Chassis for the night’s racing. He’s only shaking the MasterSbilt down in preparation to run it next week at Volusia Speedway Park. However, he said he may race it tonight if he likes the way it performs in hot laps.

Qualifying results (unofficial)

First group

  1. Ray Cook (53), Brasstown, N.C., 14.615
  2. Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 14.674
  3. Donnie Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 14.683
  4. Don O'Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 14.69
  5. Randy Korte (81), Highland, Ill., 14.697
  6. Jared Landers (5), Batesville, Ark., 14.793
  7. John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 14.797
  8. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.837
  9. Jonathan Davenport (15), Blairsville, Ga., 14.903
  10. Dillan White (54), Crofton, Ky., 14.942
  11. Josh McGuire (41), Grayson, Ky., 15.061
  12. Chad Hollenbeck (4DS), Kingsley, Pa., 15.064
  13. Mark Andersen (85) Blanchard, Mich., 15.064
  14. Scott Creel (31), Franklinton, La., 15.074
  15. Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.169
  16. Victor Lee (4) Stanford, Ky., 15.309
  17. Shane Cottle (11c), Kokomo, Ind., 15.411
  18. Leon Henderson (10), Laurel, Miss., 15.573
  19. Todd Frank (21), Green Bay, Wis., 15.692
  20. Doug Blashe (1), Marion, Wis., 15.785
  21. Pat Ehlert (71), Ovid, Mich., 16.717
  22. Terry Naugle (71n), Port Royal, Pa., no time

Second group

  1. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 14.561
  2. Shelby Miles (76), Bloomington, Ind., 14.655
  3. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 14.696
  4. Austin Hubbard, (11), Seaford, Del., 14.77
  5. Terry Casey (42), New London, Wis., 14.787
  6. Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., 14.791
  7. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 14.842
  8. Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., 14.87
  9. Scott James (81), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 14.997
  10. Kevin Cole (81c), Christopher, Ill., 14.999
  11. Jack Nosbisch Jr. (01), Riverview, Fla., 15.002
  12. Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 15.022
  13. Eric Jacobsen (5) Seacliff Beach, Calif., 15.03
  14. Jason Riggs (81), Harrisburg, Ill. , 15.106
  15. Travis Varnadore (51), Dover, Fla., 15.164
  16. Chad Stapleton (32), Edinburgh, Ind., 15.172
  17. Duke Whiseant (A1), Texarkana, Ark., 15.261
  18. Chris Brown (21), Spring, Texas, 15.387
  19. Justin Ratliff (16), Campbellsville, Ky., 15.424
  20. Danny Mitchell (18D), Clarksburg, W.Va., 15.473
  21. Jim O'Hara (44), Daleville, Pa., 15.514
  22. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., no time

Feature lineup

Row 1: Moran, Erb
Row 2: Francis, Hubbard
Row 3: Cook, Babb
Row 4: O'Neal, Miles
Row 5: Blankenship, Casey
Row 6: Landers, Wells
Row 7: Korte, James
Row 8: White, Reddick
Row 9: Pierce, Jacobsen
Row 10: McGuire, Bloomquist
Row 11: Lee, Riggs
Row 12: Hollenbeck, Whiseant
Row 13: Davenport, Pearson

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