LAS VEGAS, Nev. — While leading late in Saturday's 77-lap Duel in the Desert at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Bobby Pierce couldn't help thinking about his potential $100,000 payday.
"Just don't get nervous," the Oakwood, Ill., driver told himself. "Don't think about that. Just run the race."
Dialing back the pressure, the 24-year-old standout Super Late Model racer pulled away in the final stages to grab a $50,000 winner's purse along with a $50,000 bonus from the Karl Chevrolet Double Down Triple Crown program, which doubled Las Vegas earnings for four drivers who had also competed in XR-promoted events at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
The victory continued the 13th-starting Pierce's impressive season that included his fourth DIRTcar Summer Nationals championship and his first World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series victories, among other successes.
"This weekend I felt like were the fastest car. Whenever you have a really good car, the wins are going to come, and this year they definitely have," Pierce said. "This is my 21st win of the year. It's a crazy year. With those first two World of Outlaws victories and now this, this is awesome."
Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who piloted the second car of fellow Rocket Chassis driver Boom Briggs, rallied after changing tires to finish 2.337 seconds back in second place while Ricky Thornton Jr., who pitted for a lap-10 flat tire and lost a duel with Pierce for the lead after a lap-55 restart, settled for third.
Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., was fourth and Johnny Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., was fifth in a race where two favorites — Friday's $25,000 winner Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., and Friday's runner-up Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga. — weren't around at the finish.
Davenport led laps 2-54 but, after white smoke appeared from behind his car several laps earlier, he jumped the turn-three cushion and his No. 49 was towed off the track, robbing him the chance to complete a weekend sweep.
Overton's chances for a $100,000 payday — he was also eligible to double his earnings — were dealt a serious blow before the green flag fell. His left-front wheel came off during pace laps and he was required to give up his outside front-row spot and start on the tail. He reached the 11th spot but pitted with a flat right-front tire during a lap-26 caution and retired on lap 39.
While Thornton led the first lap, Davenport slipped past on the second lap and was fully in command for the next 53 laps, but signs of trouble wafted behind his Double L Motorsports car in the form of white smoke. Davenport's inglorious exit put Thornton out front for the lap-55 restart, but Pierce dove under Thornton in turns three and four and outdueled Thornton over the next several laps and was in control after another restart four laps later.
"Thornton really made me get up on the wheel. He was fast," Pierce said. "When I saw J.D. smoking, I kind of figured it was a matter of time. I was like, 'Man, if I can just pretend I'm in the lead right here and not worry about him and run my own race ...' And then I had a bad restart. Thornton got around me and from then on, it was a race."
Richards, who normally pilots a Clint Bowyer Racing entry, ended up wresting the second spot from Thornton on the 66th lap and earned $20,000 for his runner-up finish as he survived the tricky high groove.
"It was pretty treacherous up there. That was the only shot we had. I was trying to be conservative early and run a little bit, and I just felt like I had a left-rear tire going down, so we came in and put tires on and made a couple of adjustments there," Richards said. "The only shot I had was to get up on that top — and you saw (Davenport), it was so, so treacherous up there — but Bobby did a great job and we'll absolutely take it.
"I can't thank Boom Briggs enough for this opportunity. He's a good friend of mine and the guy doesn't get enough credit for as cool as he his and the good man that he is."
Thornton's car suffered minor right-rear damage when he made contact with Davenport's car after he'd jumped the cushion, causing "a little bit" of issue with his car's handling.
"I started getting a little (loose) there into (turn) one. But, you know, Bobby ran a good race. He slid me clean, so I wasn't doing to dirty-slide him," Thornton said. "So I left him a lane. He was a little better there at the end. I got that flat early, and I really had to charge hard to get back to the front. It didn't work out for us. We ran third and we'll take it and keep going.
"It kinda sucks J.D. got over the cushion there and that all happened. I was really hoping to get to race with him."
Pierce, among a handful of drivers who didn't pit, enjoyed his Las Vegas journey.
"Huge thanks for XR for letting us race out here and putting these events on. I can't say enough about this racetrack," he said. "I said it last night, the track was great, and it just provided such good racing for how big this track is. That's really hard to find for, you know, a half-mile to have this good of racing.
"So just hat's off to everybody at the speedway working the track and making the calls on souping up the track early. It made for a helluva feature."
The race was slowed by 11 cautions, first for a bad start and then on the seventh lap for a slowing Scott Bloomquist.
A lap-10 caution appeared when the third-running Thornton had a flat right-rear tire and fourth-running Chris Ferguson's right-rear flat drew a lap-26 yellow.
On the 33rd lap, Billy Moyer Jr. slowed after contact with Rusty Schlenk and puled to the pits for service and tow laps later, Bricen James stopped outside turn two for another caution flag.
Bloomquist brought out another caution when he slowed on lap 42 and five laps later Justin Duty slowed.
The ninth caution appeared for Davenport's demise on lap 54 and yet another caution flag dropped on lap 59 when Jason Papich had a flat right-rear tire.
The final caution flew on lap 63 when sixth-running Tim McCreadie, who held the second spot from laps 7-25, ended up facing the wrong direction in turn two.
Notes: Pierce's previous richest winner's purse was $53,000 in 2019's Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb. ... His previous high this season was $30,000 in WoO action at Boone (Iowa) Speedway. ... Pierce's previous victory came Sept. 25 at Spoon River Speedway in Banner, Ill. on the MARS Racing Series. ... Ten drivers finished on the lead lap. ... Cody Laney, whose team had to swap transmissions before Saturday's action, retired just after halfway. ... Modified ace Bricen James was piloting Darren Coffell's No. 46 at Las Vegas; he retired after 33 laps. ... Next season's Duel in the Desert will cap the inaugural XR Super Series event, a new national tour with $25,000- and $50,000-to-win events.
Row 1: Ricky Thornton Jr., Brandon Overton
Row 2: Tim McCreadie, Jonathan Davenport
Row 3: Billy Moyer, Scott Bloomquist
Row 4: Billy Moyer Jr., Josh Richards
Row 5: Johnny Scott, Jeff Smith
Row 6: Chris Ferguson, Joe Godsey
Row 7: Bobby Pierce, Jason Papich
Row 8: Morgan Bagley, Boom Briggs
Row 9: Justin Duty, Rusty Schlenk
Row 10: Cody Laney, Bricen James
Row 11: Jason Miles, Steve Stultz
Row 12: Rob Mayea, Brody Montgomery
Consolation race results
(10 laps; top eight transfer)
Finish: Justin Duty, Rusty Schlenk, Cody Laney, Bricen James, Jason Miles, Steve Stultz, Rob Mayea, Brody Montgomery, Jeff Schildmeyer, Wyatt Howard.
Heat race results
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Ricky Thornton Jr., Billy Moyer, Johnny Scott, Bobby Pierce, Rusty Schlenk, McLain Beaudoin, Cody Laney. Scratched: Stormy Scott.
Second heat: Tim McCreadie, Billy Moyer Jr., Chris Ferguson, Morgan Bagley, Justin Duty, Steve Stultz, Brody Montgomery.
Third heat: Brandon Overton, Scott Bloomquist, Jeff Smith, Jason Papich, Jason Miles, Jeff Schildmeyer, Wyatt Howard. Scratched: Jeff Roth.
Fourth heat: Jonathan Davenport, Josh Richards, Joe Godsey, Boom Briggs, Bricen James, Rob Mayea. Scratched: Benjamin Cranford.
- Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 17.907
- Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.013
- Cody Laney (32B), Torrance, Calif., 18.019
- Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 18.096
- Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 18.158
- Chris Ferguson (01), Mount Holly, N.C., 18.200
- Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 18.221
- Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 18.517
- Johnny Scott (1ST), Las Cruces, N.M., 18.558
- Justin Duty (15), Mulino, Ore., 18.660
- Rusty Schlenk (13), McClure, Ohio, 18.741
- Brody Montgomery (74x), Bandon, Ore., 19.449
- McLain Beaudoin (17), Lebanon, Ore., 19.551
- Steve Stultz (78s), Peoria, Ariz., 20.238
- Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., no time
- Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 16.934
- Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 17.168
- Jeff Smith (70), Dallas, N.C., 17.454
- Joe Godsey (14G), Bentonville, Ark., 17.458
- Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 17.496
- Josh Richards (99R), Shinnston, W.Va., 17.820
- Jason Papich (91P), Nipomo, Calif., 17.872
- Rob Mayea (37), Bend, Ore., 18.260
- Jason Miles (503), Glenwood, Ark., 18.310
- Bricen James (46), Albany, Ore., 18.794
- Jeff Schildmeyer (19), Las Vegas, Nev., 19.251
- Jeff Roth (14R), Bentonville, Ark., 19.611
- Wyatt Howard (72W), Price, Utah, 20.095
- Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., no time
- Benjamin Cranford (93), Thomson, Ga., no time