GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 8) — Ryan Gustin thought he threw his well-managed race away in one slip-up off the preferred bottom groove with 19 laps remaining in Wednesday’s feature at East Bay Raceway Park.
“I was like, s---, man, I just gave this thing away,” said Gustin, who from the onset had the bottom secured until the aforementioned mistake. “But I kind of got up on the wheel there, was able to get to the middle and roll back by (Kyle Bronson). I knew it was time to get back down there and make it happen.”
Indeed, the Marshalltown, Iowa, driver who’s keen on establishing himself as a nightly contender among touring fields this year rose to the occasion when he needed it most.
Powering back around Bronson on lap 23 to save his race, Gustin never panicked as he kept his nearest challengers behind him the rest of the way for his first-ever Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win in the third round of the Wieland Winternationals. Gustin’s $7,000 victory also made him the seventh different winner in nine Lucas Oil Series races this season.
“It’s awesome, man. Once Kyle got underneath me, I was like, 'Man, I just messed this up here,' ” Gustin said. “Luckily I had a good enough car so I could roll through that black and got back by him. Got to the lapped cars and I felt like it started to clean up, then those lapped cars down there dirtied it back up, so I had to get back to the bottom.
"I wanted to win this so bad. They’ve been working their asses off. … the only reason we’re here is because of them.”
The ever-changing East Bay Raceway Park raced much like Tuesday’s 30-lap feature, where the bottom was dominant with the upper grooves being serviceable. Gustin demonstrated just that in leading 39 of the 40 laps, and showed just how strong his Taylor Center-prepared machine operated amidst that lap-21 scare.
After snatching the bottom from the pole-starting Gustin, Bronson appeared ready to shake free from the race-long leader as he nosed ahead to lead lap 22. But Gustin dug in around Bronson’s outside and generated the head of steam to comfortably reclaim the top spot the following circuit.
“Our car is really, really good when we can roll that black, just like that B-main the other night where everyone is circling around the bottom,” Gustin said. “We’re just able to move out and run through there better it feels like. That’s all to our crew chief (Taylor Center). He has this thing on rails, and I’m the lucky one that gets to drive it.”
Gustin’s win, which came by 1.330 seconds over Monday’s winner Tyler Erb, was never in question once he regained control. A green-white-checkered restart following a caution period for Tyler Bruening did give Erb one final shot. Even then, the New Waverley, Texas, driver didn’t have anything in his back pocket for Gustin.
“No, not much. He was pretty good,” Erb said. “He got me on the start, and I just stayed out there in the top of three and four trying to make something happen. I mean, it was fun. We qualified good, and everybody’s working hard. Just needed to be a little better to beat Ryan there. Maybe if we stayed in traffic I might have had a better chance, but I don’t know. It was awesome. Another good run for us, and we’re ready for tomorrow.”
After a rear-end failure foiled Bronson’s top-five run Tuesday night, the Brandon, Fla., had something to show for on Wednesday in his third-place finish.
“I feel like our car here has been really good here,” Bronson said. “The first day we kind of missed it in the feature setup. I felt like last night we had a winning car. Today, we passed for the lead and it kind of rubbered up there. As I said, our guys have been working our tails off.”
Brandon Sheppard, meanwhile, made the most out of his fourth-place run. The New Berlin, Ill., driver that started ninth was one of a few drivers who tried the top for a good portion of Wednesday’s feature. It worked well enough to dispatch Brandon Overton and Jonathan Davenport to finish a spot off the podium, but it didn’t come without some bumps in the road.
“It was rough up there (around the top) and we’re definitely going to have to do some extra maintenance tomorrow for sure because I was bouncing around,” Sheppard said. “Might have a tooth knocked loose; not sure.”
Sheppard felt the lap-15 caution for Ross Bailes stunted the point in the race where he had the most momentum around the top. But the caution also prevented him from losing ground to fourth-running Overton and fifth-running Davenport as he saved his car from nearly plugging the wall exiting turn four.
“Yeah, I definitely hated to see that. All in all, it was a good night,” Sheppard said. “Started the night and should have won the heat race. Kyle (Bronson) got me on the start there and beat me there in the heat, and that started us ninth. In order to be up front on this podium, you have to win that heat race and start up front there. It definitely makes life a lot easier on a guy.
“It’s really hard to pass; really tricky to pass anybody here. So, luckily, we had a little bit of a top in one and two to make a few moves on. Then it started to streak up and I had to get in line. We were able to get one more on that last restart just basically out of luck, making that corner one last time.
“No, it was a good night and we’ll take it,” Sheppard added. “We’re working really hard on these things, trying trying to get them rolling at East Bay. I think we’re close. I think we’ll get one by the end of the week.”
As for Davenport, last year’s top-ranked driver returned to action after electing to sit out the first two non-points races of the week. He was never in reach of a would-be fifth win of the season, and that doesn’t seem to bother him because of what awaits Thursday.
“Now, points start tomorrow (and that’s) where it get serious,” Davenport said. “Top-five, there’s a lot of good cars in the pit area that didn’t get to come out here and fun with us. We learned a lot. It’s crazy what you can dream up sitting at the house with what we tried on this thing tonight. It was good up until the feature. We wanted to stick with it and go to the feature to see how it was. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to get us to a top-five.”
The weather conditions at East Bay remain glorious on Wednesday: another sunny day with an afternoon high around 80 degrees. … East Bay officials hope they have repaired the faulty underground wire that caused the Musco light pole in turn two to go dark on Tuesday, causing a delay of over 1 hour between attempts to fix the problem and the hasty placement of temporary lights on the inside of turns one and two so racing could continue. The temporary lights remain on the inside of the first and second corners in case issues again arise. … The entry list for Wednesday’s third round of Wieland Winternationals action sits at 65, up five from Tuesday’s turnout. … Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., is set for his first start of the week after flying home to spend a couple days with his family and doing some work on his ranch. … Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., is back in his Wells Motorsports Longhorn No. 76 on Wednesday after starting the week driving sponsor John Henderson’s Warrior Race Car to back-to-back fourth-place finishes. … Aiken, S.C.’s Henderson will hop back into No. 2x to make his first Winternationals start. … Stormy Scott of Las Cruces, N.M., arrived this afternoon in the East Bay pit area with his Rancho Milagro Racing operation and will make his first start of Speedweeks 2023. His twin brother, Johnny, also has his hauler in the pits but doesn’t plan to race this week because he’s saving his only race-ready car for next week’s World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series and DIRTcar action at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. … A surprise Wednesday entrant is Steve Sheppard Jr. of New Berlin, Ill., the father of Tuesday’s third-place finisher Brandon Sheppard. Making his first East Bay start in 15 years, the elder Sheppard will swell the Sheppard Riggs Racing effort to four cars with brothers Jason and Jack Riggs also competing. … Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., unloaded his Skyline Motorsports Capital car on Wednesday but won’t race for the third straight night. … Clanton’s teammate, Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa, will run tonight in a car that needed significant right-front and rearend repairs after he slapped the turn-three wall hard during a Tuesday B-main. … Max Blair of Centerville, Pa., also had to make repairs after hitting the wall between turns one and two during Tuesday heat action; he had to replace the right-front suspension and push over the rear clip of his Briggs Transport Rocket car. … Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., will return to his Koehler Motorsports Longhorn car after failing to qualify for Tuesday’s feature driving the Rocket mount of Kentucky’s Kenneth Howell. … Chase Junghans of Manhattan, Kan., is back on the entry list after sitting out Tuesday’s program to fix his Longhorn machine. … G.R. Smith of Cornelius, N.C., has ended his 2023 Speedweeks competition after making the feature cut in five of the six events he entered at Golden Isles, Ocala and East Bay. He said he was very satisfied with his performance but wants to focus his team’s efforts on Payton Freeman of Commerce, Ga., for the remainder of Speedweeks at East Bay and Volusia.
Row 1: Ryan Gustin, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Kyle Bronson, Garrett Smith
Row 3: Jonathan Davenport, Brandon Overton
Row 4: Ross Bailes, Tanner English
Row 5: Brandon Sheppard, Brian Shirley
Row 6: Devin Moran, Logan Roberson
Row 7: Earl Pearson Jr., Blair Nothdurft
Row 8: Jimmy Owens, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 9: Spencer Hughes, Kyle Beard
Row 10: Wil Herrington, Ashton Winger
Row 11: Tyler Bruening, Garrett Alberson
Row 12: Tim McCreadie, Benji Hicks
Row 13: Mike Spatola, Ross Robinson
Consolation race results
(10 laps, top two transfer)
First consolation: Wil Herrington, Garrett Alberson, Jason Riggs, Kenny Collins, Tyler Millwood, Seth Daniels, Mike Spatola, Dustin Walker, Brenden Smith, Chase Junghans, Doug Drown, Todd Brennan, Jensen Ford, Freddie Carpenter, Tyler Riggs. Scratched: John Henderson.
Second consolation: Ashton Winger, Tim McCreadie, Boom Briggs, Max Blair, Daulton Wilson, Billy Moyer Jr., Steve Sheppard Jr., Larry Grube, Eddie Carrier Jr., Kenneth Howell, Dennis Erb Jr., Dustin Mitchell, Billy Boyd, Mason Zeigler. Scratched: Payton Freeman, Logan Zarin.
Third consolation: Tyler Bruening, Benji Hicks, Mark Whitener, Stormy Scott, Rusty Schlenk, Ross Robinson, David McCoy, Daniel Adam, Blake Spencer, Danny Snyder, Mike Benedum, Josh Putnam, Jack Riggs. Scratched: Hudson O'Neal, John Tweed.
Heat race recap
Doug Drown spun on lap one of the first heat race and pulled off after five laps, finishing 11th. He will need to transfer through a consolation race. … Kyle Bronson battled Brandon Sheppard to earn his third heat race win in as many nights as Jimmy Owens gained on both of them in the closing laps, with all three transferring out of heat two. … Jonathan Davenport outdueled Devin Moran to win the third heat race in his 2023 Winternations debut at East Bay. … Hudson O’Neal jumped the cushion at the entrance of turn three on the second lap and made heavy contact with the wall, finishing 10th. O’Neal will need to transfer through a consolation race. Brian Shirley narrowly finished second over Ricky Thornton Jr. by 0.047 of a second, with both transferring out of heat race five along with Garrett Smith. … Brandon Overton returned to his familiar Wells Motorsports Longhorn Chassis after starting the week in John Henderson’s Warrior, winning the sixth and final heat race.
Heat race results
(Eight laps, top three transfer)
First heat: Ryan Gustin, Ross Bailes, Earl Pearson Jr., Garrett Alberson, Jensen Ford, Chase Junghans, Kenny Collins, Jason Riggs, Todd Brennan, Brenden Smith, Doug Drown.
Second heat: Kyle Bronson, Brandon Sheppard, Jimmy Owens, Wil Herrington, Freddie Carpenter, Tyler Millwood, Mike Spatola, Seth Daniels, Tyler Riggs, John Henderson, Dustin Walker.
Third heat: Jonathan Davenport, Devin Moran, Spencer Hughes, Ashton Winger, Tim McCreadie, Daulton Wilson, Billy Moyer Jr., Steve Sheppard Jr., Larry Grube, Billy Boyd. Scratched: Payton Freeman.
Fourth heat: Tyler Erb, Tanner English, Blair Nothdurft, Boom Briggs, Max Blair, Dennis Erb Jr., Mason Zeigler, Kenneth Howell, Dustin Mitchell, Eddie Carrier Jr. Scratched: Logan Zarin.
Fifth heat: Garrett Smith, Brian Shirley, Ricky Thornton Jr., Tyler Bruening, Stormy Scott, Benji Hicks, Ross Robinson, David McCoy, Daniel Adam, Hudson O'Neal. Scratched: John Tweed.
Sixth heat: Brandon Overton, Logan Roberson, Kyle Beard, Rusty Schlenk, Josh Putnam, Mark Whitener, Blake Spencer, Jack Riggs, Mike Benedum, Danny Snyder.
1. Jensen Ford (83), Johnson City, Tenn., 15.001
2. Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 15.042
3. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 15.058
4. Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 15.141
5. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 15.163
6. Devin Moran (99), Dresden, Ohio, 15.204
7. Garrett Alberson (58), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.235
8. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.236
9. Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 15.257
10. Ross Bailes (79), Clover, S.C., 15.260
11. Mike Spatola (89), Manhattan, Ill., 15.266
12. Spencer Hughes (11H), Meridian, Miss., 15.272
13. Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.287
14. Wil Herrington (19M), Hawkinsville, Ga., 15.317
15. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 15.322
16. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 15.335
17. John Henderson (2x), North Augusta, S.C., 15.364
18. Billy Moyer Jr. (21M), Batesville, Ark., 15.408
19. Brenden Smith (17SS), Dade City, Fla., 15.446
20. Freddie Carpenter (C4), Parkersburg, W.Va., 15.460
21. Daulton Wilson (18D), Fayetteville, N.C., 15.465
22. Kenny Collins (1C), Colbert, Ga., 15.471
23. Seth Daniels (S21), Jackson, Ohio, 15.473
24. Payton Freeman (22*), Commerce, Ga., 15.494
25. Doug Drown (12d), Wooster, Ohio, 15.500
26. Tyler Millwood (31), Kingston, Ga., 15.651
27. Larry Grube (29), Maulten, S.C., 15.701
28. Jason Riggs (81), College Grove, Tenn., 15.762
29. Tyler Riggs (47W), New Matamoras, Ohio, 15.809
30. Steve Sheppard Jr. (5s), New Berlin, Ill., 15.851
31. Todd Brennan (20B), Zanesville, Ohio, 16.020
32. Dustin Walker (14W), Peculiar, Mo., 16.056
33. Billy Boyd Sr. (3B), Riverview, Fla., no time
1. Blair Nothdurft (76), Sioux Falls, S.D., 15.204
2. Garrett Smith (10), Eatonton, Ga., 15.206
3. Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 15.216
4. Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 15.224
5. Ross Robinson (7R), Georgetown, Del., 15.332
6. Logan Roberson (89), Waynesboro, Va., 15.366
7. Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 15.377
8. Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 15.388
9. Kyle Beard (86), Trumann, Ark., 15.419
10. Tanner English (96V), Benton, Ky., 15.420
11. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 15.426
12. Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 15.430
13. Max Blair (111B), Centerville, Pa., 15.436
14. Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., 15.450
15. Rusty Schlenk (91), McClure, Ohio, 15.461
16. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 15.487
17. Hudson O'Neal (1), Martinsville, Ind., 15.501
18. Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 15.519
19. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 15.561
20. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 15.574
21. Mark Whitener (89J), Middleburg, Fla., 15.604
22. Dustin Mitchell (D8), Pine Level, N.C., 15.609
23. Benji Hicks (55), Mount Airy, N.C., 15.621
24. Blake Spencer (6S), St. Augustine, Fla., 15.665
25. Eddie Carrier Jr. (66Jr), Salt Rock, W.Va., 15.716
26. Daniel Adam (75), Wade, N.C., 15.779
27. Danny Snyder (4S), Green Lane, Pa., 15.799
28. Kenneth Howell (21K), Inez, Ky., 15.848
29. David McCoy (187), Franklin, N.C., 15.874
30. Jack Riggs (81J), Nolensville, Tenn., 16.098
31. Logan Zarin (1z), Moon Township, Pa., 16.141
32. John Tweed (5T), Greeneville, Tenn., no time
(All times local)
2 p.m.: Pits and grandstands open
5 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
5:30 p.m.: Hot laps
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models
- Super Late Models (8 laps)
- Super Late Models (10 laps)
- Super Late Models (30 laps)