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Knoxville Raceway

Richards wins Knoxville opener, earns $7,000

September 27, 2013, 1:09 am
By Todd Turner
DirtonDirt.com managing editor
Josh Richards waves to the Knoxville crowd. (thesportswire.net)
Josh Richards waves to the Knoxville crowd. (thesportswire.net)

KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 26) — Back at Knoxville Raceway for the first time in three years, Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., made a triumphant return Thursday on the opening night of the 10th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals. | Complete Knoxville coverage

The 25-year-old Richards overtook Brandon Sheppard on a lap-eight restart, then turned back a few challenges from Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., en route to a 25-lap victory worth $7,000 on the first of three nights of racing at the half-mile oval better known for its sprint-car action.

“I feel like we have a really good car for maybe Saturday night, but we’ll definitely take the win tonight,” Richards said after his sprint to the checkers. “It was tricky getting through (turns) one and two. I’d push sometimes and I’d get loose sometimes and kill a lot of momentum, but it was a lot of fun.

“I could hear (Lanigan) down there. I knew if I slipped up a little bit, I knew he’d probably be there. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do, but our guys did a great job.”

Using the extreme low groove in turns one and two, the sixth-starting Lanigan nearly pulled alongside the fourth-starting Richards on more than one occasion, but the Union, Ky., driver ended up settling for second. Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill., advanced six positions to finish third, drawing close to the frontrunners in the final laps.

Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., started on the fourth row with Feger and finished fourth, accruing the most points in the track’s unique system that sets the line up for Saturday’s $40,000-to-win finale.

Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competitors run another $7,000-to-win program on Friday with drivers getting a chance to better McDowell’s point total and earn the pole position for the 100-lapper.

Lanigan, his car sometimes tilted when he climbed the inner berm between turns one and two, couldn’t quite overtake Richards, and one of his best chances as erased by a caution flag.

“We had a pretty good ride there; just came up a little short,” the 43-year-old Lanigan said. “Track position means a lot. It’s hard to pass those good cars once you get 'em in front of you. But the car was good. I’ll be glad to see 100 laps here.”

Richard and Lanigan made it a two-car battle most of the race, but Feger drew closer in the final laps, finishing just five lengths behind Lanigan in third.

“That’s definitely the best we’ve ever qualified here, heat-raced or ran a feature, so definitely we’ll sleep better knowing we’ve made (Saturday’s finale) and should have a decent starting spot no matter what happens,” Feger said. “The track was pretty demanding tonight. It was really fast up there.”

Sheppard started on the pole and rode the high groove to a comfortable lead early, stretching it out to nearly a full straightaway by the fifth lap. But after a lap-eight red flag and cleanup, Richards dove underneath Sheppard in turn one to take over.

Trying to answer on the high side, Sheppard got too high exiting turn two and had to check up to avoid getting into a tricky spot in the backstretch fence. He slipped back to fifth while Richards, Lanigan, Jared Landers and Feger slipped by.

Landers was next to fall victim to the tall guardrail fencing, getting too high between turns one and two and getting brushed by Frank Heckenast Jr. before he got rolling again, far out of contention.

From then on, it was a Richards-Lanigan battle with the World of Outlaws Late Model Series regulars taking the spotlight on the rival Lucas Oil Series.

“It feels good. ... we’ve finished second twice in the big race,” Richards said. “Hopefully it’s our weekend, but there’s  a lot of good cars here, and I’m sure they’re going to step it up, too.”

Thursday’s first slowdown came on the seventh lap for a lengthy red flag after Eddie Carrier Jr. and Joel Callahan tangled back in the pack with Jimmy Owens and Dennis Erb Jr. getting caught up in the turn-three mess. Erb’s car was towed off the track while Owens drove away but had significant damage. Callahan also retired.

Two more yellows appeared for single-car incidents. Scott Bloomquist slowed on the frontstretch with apparent rear suspension problems on the 14th lap and Frank Heckenast Jr., who ran as high as fifth, got into the turn-two fence on the 17th lap. Heckenast was towed off the track.

Notes: Richards drives the Rocket Chassis house car powered by a Roush Yates engine and sponsored by Valvoline, Seubert Calf Ranches, Ernie D Enterprises, Integra Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels and Hoosier Tire. ... The race was a non-points event for the Lucas Oil tour. ... Home-state driver Jason Utter of Columbus Junction started outside the front row but was never a factor, fading to finish 15th. ... Chad Simpson of Mount Vernon was Iowa’s top finisher in seventh after starting 10th. ... Fifth-place finisher Bub McCool of Vicksburg, Miss., the third World of Outlaws regular in the top five, piloted Chad Stapleton’s Barry Wright Race Car. ... Don O’Neal, fresh of a Lucas Oil victory last Saturday at Brownstown (Ind.) Speedway in his regular MasterSbilt house car, piloting the Illinois-based Moring Motorsports ride to an 11th-place finish at Knoxville after setting fast time.

Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals (Thursday preliminary): (1) Josh Richards, (2) Darrell Lanigan, (3) Jason Feger, (4) Dale McDowell, (5) Bub McCool, (6) Billy Moyer, (7) Chad Simpson, (8) John Blankenship, (9) Brandon Sheppard, (10) Earl Pearson Jr., (11) Don O’Neal, (12) Steve Francis, (13) Morgan Bagley, (14) Eddie Carrier Jr., (15) Jason Utter, (16) Jared Landers, (17) Tony Jackson Jr., (18) Ryan Unzicker, (19) Austin Hubbard, (20) Frank Heckenast Jr. (21) Scott Bloomquist, (22) Joel Callahan, (23) Dennis Erb Jr., (24) Jimmy Owens. Fast qualifier (among 72 cars): O’Neal, 17.363 seconds. Heat race winners: Moyer, McCool, Callahan, Jackson, Bagley, Francis. D-main winner: Ryan Gustin. C-main winner: Shannon Babb. B-main winner: Carrier.

Preliminary results

First heat: Billy Moyer, Jared Landers, Jason Feger, Don O'Neal, Jason Rauen, Charlie McKenna, Ricky Weiss, Ray Guss, Jr., Dustin Walker, Brian Harris, Curt Schroeder, Rodney Sanders.

Second heat: Bub McCool, Ryan Unzicker, Austin Hubbard, John Blankenship, Brian Birkhofer, Chase Junghans, Chris Simpson, Chris Spieker, Michael Smith, Stewart Hayward, Tim McCreadie, Ryan Gustin.

Third heat: Joel Callahan, Brandon Sheppard, Frank Heckenast, Jr., Kent Robinson, Scott Bloomquist, Dave Eckrich, Mike Marlar, A.J. Diemel, Tyler Bruening, Skip Frey, Dennis Vandermeersch, Greg Kimmons.

Fourth heat: Tony Jackson, Jr., Dale McDowell, Jason Utter, Eddie Carrier Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Denny Eckrich, Shannon Babb, Terry Phillips, Jonathan Brauns, Rich Bell, Matt Furman, Jason Jagger.

Fifth heat: Morgan Bagley, Josh Richards, Chad Simpson, Brady Smith, Jimmy Owens, Jason McBride, Tim Lance, Darrel DeFrance, Tim Isenberg, Steve Lance Jr., Jesse Stovall, Mike Fryer.

Sixth heat: Steve Francis, Darrell Lanigan, Spencer Diercks, Dennis Erb Jr., Jimmy Mars, Justin Kay, Billy Moyer Jr., Brian Shirley, Travis Dickes, Jay Johnson, Ray Sveeggen, Andy Eckrich.

D-main: Ryan Gustin, Rodney Sanders, Tim McCreadie, Matt Furman, Spencer Diercks, Rich Bell, Mike Fryer, Skip Frey, Dennis Vandermeersch, Ray Sveeggen, Curt Schroeder, Stewart Hayward, Greg Kimmons, Steve Lance Jr.

C-main: Shannon Babb, Mike Marlar, Brian Shirley, Terry Phillips, Ryan Gustin, Tim Lance, Tyler Bruening, Chris Spieker, Travis Dickes, Tim Isenberg, Jay Johnson, Rodney Sanders, Matt Furman, AJ Diemel, Michael Smith, Darrel DeFrance, Ricky Weiss, Ray Guss, Jr., Jonathan Brauns, Tim McCreadie, Chris Simpson.

B-main: Eddie Carrier Jr., Don O'Neal, Jimmy Owens, Scott Bloomquist, John Blankenship, Earl Pearson Jr., Denny Eckrich, Jimmy Mars, Chase Junghans, Jason McBride, Jason Rauen, Mike Marlar, Brady Smith, Billy Moyer Jr., Justin Kay, Kent Robinson, Shannon Babb, Brian Birkhofer, Dave Eckrich, Charlie McKenna, Brian Shirley, Terry Phillips.

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