ROME, Ga. (Oct. 1) — Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., stole the show Sunday night at Rome Speedway, dominating the 50-lap Rome Showdown from flag-to-flag to register his second Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory of 2017.
Taking advantage of his outside pole starting spot, the 47-year-old Lanigan outgunned front-row mate Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., for the lead at the initial green flag and never looked back. He handled four restarts between laps 20 and 44 with little trouble to defeat his Clint Bowyer Racing teammate Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., by a healthy margin of 2.278 seconds.
The $10,000 triumph was Lanigan’s first on the Lucas Oil Series since April 20 at Atomic Speedway in Alma, Ohio, and the fourth of his career. He has three other victories off the national tour this season — all at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, in crown jewel preliminary features.
“The car was awesome here tonight right off the truck,” said Lanigan, who piloted his Club 29 Race Car away from O’Neal over the race’s final six-lap stretch. “To rebound from last night (he finished 24th in Saturday’s Lucas Oil event at Dixie Speedway in Woodstock, Ga.) and come back and set fast time, win the heat race and win the feature … it’s unbelievable.”
Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., advanced from the seventh starting spot to finish third, vaulting him from third to first in the hotly-contested Lucas Oil Series championship battle. He left the half-mile oval leading the circuit’s standings by 15 points over Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who worked forward from the 14th starting spot to finish sixth, and 60 points on Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who entered the night atop the points standings but finished 18th after slowing with a flat tire on lap 44 while running a quiet 14th.
Just two events remain on the 2017 Lucas Oil Series schedule: the Oct. 6-7 Pittsburgher 100 at Pittsburgh's Pennsylvania Motor Speedway in Imperial, Pa., and the Oct. 20-21 Dirt Track World Championship at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park.
Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., who started 10th, cracked the top five following a lap-38 restart and finished fourth while 18th-starter Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., reached fifth place on lap 41 and finished in the position.
The closest competition during the A-main’s late stages was between O’Neal and McCreadie, who ran second and third, respectively, for the final 12 laps. McCreadie challenged O’Neal but couldn’t steer his Sweeteners Plus machine past his fellow Lucas Oil Series traveler.
Neither driver had anything for Lanigan, but both still had reasons to smile.
“It was definitely a great night for Clint Bowyer Racing, (finishing) one and two,” the 53-year-old O’Neal said. “Hat’s off to Darrell, congratulations to him. Darrell was just better than we were tonight.
“I was just too tight to run around that bottom so I had to move up there sort of in that momentum (lane) so I could keep it turning. I got better up there but I wasn’t near enough to run with Darrell.”
McCreadie, 43, was feeling good about ascending to the points lead with a hard-nosed run to a podium finish.
“That’s the hardest I’ve probably raced for a third in my life,” McCreadie said. “I kind of roughed a few guys up, but they’re not going on restarts and they’re leaving lanes. I feel like last night (at Dixie) we left some points out there by probably being a little too nice.
“We’re close. We’re there,” he added when asked about becoming the points leader. “We’ve just got to finish it off. No matter what, if we don’t hang onto it we got there for a little while.”
The first of the race’s four caution flags flew on lap 20 when Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., slowed with a cut right-front tire while about 1 second behind Lanigan in the runner-up position. He surged from the sixth starting spot to second in just two laps and was able to briefly challenge Lanigan in lapped traffic before misfortune short-circuited his hopes.
Other caution flags were caused by T.J. Reaid of Acworth, Ga., who cut a right-rear on lap 23 while running in the top 10; Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., who relinquished fourth place to a flat tire on lap 38; and Richards, who was never a factor — he started 12th but didn’t crack the top 10 — before losing precious points when a flat tire forced him to pit on lap 44.
After winning his first-ever Lucas Oil Series feature on Saturday night at Dixie, Michael Page of Douglasville, Ga., moved forward from the 16th starting spot to finish 10th.