BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Hudson O’Neal’s last-lap Hail Mary was perfect. Unfortunately, someone called timeout.
Completing a charge from 15th all the way to the front of the field, O’Neal, of Martinsville, Ind., slung his Club 29 Race Car alongside Josh Richards down the Golden Isles Speedway backstretch. Diving low into turn three, O’Neal used a go-for-broke slider to steal the lead away from Richards. But his perfect pass was all for naught.
Scott Bloomquist’s spinning car in turn four resulted in a caution on the final circuit, reseting the field on lap 49 and negating O’Neal’s last-lap pass. The brief reprieve is all the veteran Richards, of Shinnston, W.Va. needed. With O’Neal’s playbook revealed, Richards made sure to stay a tad lower on the restart.
Thwarting O’Neal’s second attempt at a pass, Richards scooted away with a season-opening Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series victory in the Rhino Ag Super Bowl of Racing worth $10,000. Polesitter Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., finished third in his return to the tour after a two-year hiatus, and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., was fourth. Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., finished fifth after starting 12th.
O’Neal, the 2017 Lucas Oil Series Rookie of the Year, knew he’d just missed a chance to record his first series victory, while knocking off the defending champ on a huge national stage in the process.
“It sucks, but running second is still a huge accomplishment,” he said. “Hat’s off to Josh. I feel like if I hadn’t started so far back and wasted so much time … whenever I got to him I had to be desperate with it and (was unable) to try and dial it and make a good pass.
“I had to be aggressive and throw a desperate pass on him there. If it would’ve stayed green I think we would have had him, but it just wasn’t our night. The man above didn’t want to give it to us tonight, but I’m sure he has one lined up for us and as long as we stay this good I think (a win is) coming.”
Richards, who started on the outside of the front row, led the final 46 laps after getting by Davenport on lap five. With each green-flag run, he built a commanding advantage, a lead that once ballooned to more than three seconds over second-running Owens during a 24-lap caution-free stretch in the middle of the 50-lap affair.
“The track actually raced pretty well there,” said Richards about the 3/8-mile oval that got 100 new loads of red clay during the offseason. “There was enough crumbs (scattered) across the top that you could actually get out there and make some time and I felt pretty comfortable once we got by some lapped cars early. I think I (used) my right rear up a little bit then I couldn’t drive or get bent (the way) I wanted to in (turns) one and two to get turned.”
While O’Neal quietly worked through the field in the early stages, his charge couldn’t go unnoticed over the final 15 laps. He moved into fifth following a restart on lap 34 and took fourth four laps later. When he moved by Owens and Davenport in a three-lap span, the once-comfortable lead Richards enjoyed was down to just .358 seconds.
“Really I was just a sitting duck out there,” Richards said. “I didn’t look at the scoreboard. I thought Jonathan (Davenport) was out there and that’s why I was trying to block the top off of (turns) one and two. I was too tight to steer down off of (turn) two and once I saw who it was I was like, ‘Oh man, he’s coming up through there.’ By that time we’d lost the back end. Luckily we had that restart there to try to hold (O’Neal) off one more time. Had we gone green for a long time, he definitely would have got us at the end.”
O’Neal’s only consolation was knowing that he was capable of winning and that he’d have another shot on Saturday.
“We were really, really good tonight, arguably the fastest car, so as long as we keep working at it … and we’ve been getting better all weekend … this was a huge step in the right way,” O’Neal said. “I’m really excited to get unloaded tomorrow and see if we can advance one more spot.”
Both Richards and Davenport said they still have some fine-tuning to do. Richards said “we’ll tweak on it,” while Davenport said the things his newly-formed Lance Landers-owned team picked up on Friday “we’ll know for tomorrow.” It was a solid outing for the 2015 champion who’s back chasing the Lucas Oil Series full time.
“This is a whole new engine package I’ve never ran before,” Davenport said. “The car I’ve ran before, but everything is a little bit (different). It’s a great start for us. With these guys here, a third place, you can’t hang your head over that.”
Davenport led the first four laps before giving way to Richards. He then found himself in a lengthy battle with Owens, with each taking lenghty turns chasing the leader. After giving up the second spot to Owens, he relentlessly worked the top of the track in an effort to regain the position, finally getting it back on lap 38. Davenport said there are a few things he could’ve done differently.
“I don’t think I cut my right rear tire enough,” he said. “I think I pretty much spun it off instead of it gripping a little bit. I never could get enough people to help me clean that second lane off. We got going pretty good through there.
"I just wasn’t too good through the holes on the very bottom. (The track) started out a whole lot drier and we all hurt our tires. I thought it was gonna be more of a tire game, maybe having flats at the end, so I didn’t push it too hard and then I didn’t cut my tire up enough.
Notes: The victory was No. 23 for Richards on the Lucas Oil tour and his 27th overall in Georgia-Florida Speedweeks action. … The race was slowed by five cautions: Casey Roberts slowed in turn four on lap eight; Jason Jameson slowed for a flat on lap 34; Bobby Pierce spun before a lap could be completed on the lap-34 restart; Jameson slowed and pitted again on lap 38; Bloomquist spun on lap 49. … Richards finished .911 seconds in front of O’Neal. … Eighteen cars finished the race with 17 still on the lead lap. … O’Neal wasn’t the only driver on the move. Mason Zeigler rallied from 18th to ninth and Brandon Sheppard moved from 12th to fifth. … Bobby Pierce struggled to an 18th-place finish after pitting multiple times to change tires.
Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was forced to start on the tail of his heat race after he was light at the scales following time trials. Mike Benedum of Salem, W.Va., was also light at the scales after his qualifying laps. … Debuting a new Swartz Race Car, Jason Jameson of Lawrenceburg, Ind., was scheduled to start on the front row of the first heat race. He was forced to retire before the green flag waved after an oil line came lose during pace laps. … Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., and Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., scratched from heat race action. McIntosh suffered engine problems early in the night, while Shirley fought mechanical issues, deciding it was better to call it a night and get his car ready for Saturday’s action. … Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., spun while challenging Josh Richards for the lead in the third heat race. “I just got in too hot,” Zeigler said. “I didn’t anticipate Josh turning down so aggressively. It’s my fault. He was just running his line. I’ve got to get back in the swing, back used to racing again. I think we were a lot faster than they were. I think we’re going to have a good piece the rest of the week.” … Steven Roberts of Sylvester, Ga., drew a caution during the night’s final heat race as his No. 111 slowed to a stop on the fronstretch. Unable to fix the water pump issues, he was forced to go to a backup car for his consolation. … Friday’s provisionals went to Boom Briggs of Bear Lake, Pa. (series) and Jameson (fast time).
After a couple cautions reset the field, Mason Zeigler pulled ahead of Dennis Erb Jr., and raced to a comfortable win. Zeigler built nearly a straightaway lead before winning by 1.117 seconds. Erb Jr., finished second, with Timothy Culp finished third to transfer to the main event. Second-starting Tyler Erb got crossed up in turns one and two and slipped back to fourth, one spot short of transferring. Brian Connor finished fifth.
Finish (top three transfer): Mason Zeigler, Dennis Erb Jr., Timothy Culp, Tyler Erb, Brian Connor, Jeff Mathews, Craig Wolford, Ryan King, Coleby Frye. Scratched: Donald McIntosh.
Tim McCreadie emerged from a two-lap, side-by-side battle with Casey Roberts to win the first consolation race. McCreadie pulled away after using the bottom groove to fend off Roberts, who settled for second. Shanon Buckingham finished third to pick up the final transfer spot. Jason Jameson, who started 12th after mechanical trouble kept him from competing in his heat, rallied from the sixth row to finish fifth, two spots out of a transfer spot.
Finish (top three transfer): Tim McCreadie, Casey Roberts, Shanon Buckingham, Billy Moyer Jr., Chase Junghans, Jason Jameson, Boom Briggs, Jonathan Rowan, Mike Benedum, Black Spencer, Carder Miller, Shane Tankersley. Scratched: Brian Shirley.
(12 laps; top three transfer)
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Casey Roberts
Row 2: Shanon Buckingham, Casey Roberts
Row 3: Billy Moyer Jr., Boom Briggs
Row 4: Jonathan Rowan, Blake Spencer
Row 5: Carder Miller, Shane Tankersley
Row 6: Mike Benedum, Jason Jameson
Row 7: Brian Shirley
Row 1: Mason Zeigler, Tyler Erb
Row 2: Timothy Culp, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 3: Ryan King, Jeff Mathews
Row 4: Jason Fitzgerald, Coleby Frye
Row 5: Brian Connor, Craig Wolford
Row 6: Steven Roberts, Donald McIntosh
Brent Larson of Lake Elmo, Minn., survived a pair of two-lap shootouts to win the fourth heat. Leading all 10 laps, Larson topped Scott Bloomquist and Brandon Sheppard. Bobby Pierce inherited the last transfer spot when fourth-running Steven Roberts slowed on the white-flag lap. Larson had a two car length advantage when Roberts slowed on the final lap to bring out a caution just as Larson took the white flag. A second yellow waved on the next lap when Coleby Frye and Craig Wolford tangled in turn three as Larson took the white flag again. Larson pulled back ahead on the restart and held Bloomquist at bay by .414 seconds.
Finish (top four transfer): Brent Larson, Scott Bloomquist, Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce, Tyler Erb, Dennis Erb Jr., Jeff Mathews, Coleby Frye, Craig Wolford, Steven Roberts.
Defending series champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., blasted into the lead from the pole and rolled to a 2.786-second win ahead of Earl Pearson Jr. Darrell Lanigan finished third and seventh-starting Morgan Bagley moved forward to grab the fourth spot. Second-starting Mason Zeigler spun on the second lap while trying to pass Richards. The two slightly touched leaving Zeigler spinning in turn four, bringing out the only caution. Zeigler rallied from the rear to finish fifth.
Finish (top four transfer): Josh Richards, Earl Pearson Jr., Darrell Lanigan, Morgan Bagley, Timothy Culp, Mason Zeigler, Ryan King, Jason Fitzgerald, Brian Connor. Scratched: Donald McIntosh.
Using momentum on the high side, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., powered by polesitter Kyle Bronson exiting turn two on the opening lap and led all 10 circuits to win the second heat race. Bronson ran second the entire distance, while Brandon Overton finished third. Hudson O’Neal used a slider in turn four on the final lap to steal the fourth and final transfer spot from Casey Roberts.
Finish (top four transfer): Jimmy Owens, Kyle Bronson, Brandon Overton, Hudson O’Neal, Casey Roberts, Chase Junghans, Boom Briggs, Blake Spencer, Shane Tankersley. Scratched: Brian Shirley.
Getting the jump on Shane Clanton on the opening lap, 2015 Lucas Oil champion Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., cruised unchallenged to win the first heat. Clanton finished 10 lengths back in second, with Don O’Neal third and Gregg Satterlee grabbing the final transfer spot in fourth. Jason Jameson was scheduled to start on the outside front row, but scratched when his car began to bellow smoke on the warm-up laps.
Finish (top four transfer): Jonathan Davenport, Shane Clanton, Don O’Neal, Gregg Satterlee, Tim McCreadie, Shanon Buckingham, Billy Moyer Jr., Jonathan Rowan, Carder Miller, Mike Benedum. Scratched: Jason Jameson.
Heat race lineups
(10 laps; top four transfer)
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Jason Jameson
Row 2: Don O’Neal, Shane Clanton
Row 3: Tim McCreadie, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 4: Jason Rowan, Gregg Saterlee
Row 5: Shanon Buckingham, Carder Miller
Row 6: Mike Benedum
Row 1: Kyle Bronson, Jimmy Owens
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Brandon Overton
Row 3: Casey Roberts, Hudson O’Neal
Row 4: Chase Junghans, Boom Briggs
Row 5: Shane Tankersley, Blake Spencer
Row 1: Josh Richards, Mason Zeigler
Row 2: Earl Pearson Jr., Darrell Lanigan
Row 3: Timothy Culp, Jason Fitzgerald
Row 4: Morgan Bagley, Ryan King
Row 5: Brian Connor, Donald McIntosh
Row 1: Scott Bloomquist, Brent Larson
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Bobby Pierce
Row 3: Steven Roberts, Coleby Frye
Row 4: Tyler Erb, Jeff Mathews
Row 5: Craig Wolford, Dennis Erb Jr.
There were 36 cars on hand for Thursday’s open practice. … In the four years the Lucas Oil Series has sanctioned the Super Bowl of Racing, Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., and Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., are the winningst drivers with three victories each. … Partnering with the Lance Landers-owned team, Davenport returns to the Lucas Oil Series in 2018. Other drivers new to the tour this year include Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., Donald McIntosh of Dawsonville, Ga., Mason Zeigler of Chalk Hill, Pa., Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., and Ryan King of Seymour, Tenn., … McIntosh was not on hand for Thursday’s practice. His team made it to the track later than originally planned after suffering a blow out on the trip down. … Brandon Overton of Evans, Ga., winner of last year’s GIS opener. His Randy Weaver and Chip Stone-owned team had to work quickly to change engines before Friday’s program after experiencing problems during Thursday’s practice session. … While Late Model driver Garrett Alberson is assisting Ronnie Stuckey's Black Diamond team throughout Speedweeks, Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., will be down a crew member for the February action. Crewman J.C. Wright suffered an arm injury during Thursday’s practice at GIS. Wright underwent surgery and is doing well, but is not expected to be back to work before the end of Speedweeks. ... Teenager Carder Miller of Salem, Va., is making his first-ever Speedweeks appearance at GIS. His team is also planning to enter events at East Bay Raceway Park before heading back home. … Shanon Buckingham of Morristown, Tenn., is making his first Speedweeks start in nearly a decade. … Tyler Erb of New Waverly, Texas, returns to action in the U.S. after a strong performance in Australia’s USA Invasion, where he won three of four events. Jason Fitzgerald of Middleburg, Fla., will also enter GIS events after picking up a win Down Under. … Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., recently announced his partnership with Rhino Ag for the 2018 season. Rhino Ag is the title sponsor of the Super Bowl of Racing.
Time trial results (unofficial)
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 16.070
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 16.114
Jason Jameson (12), Lawrenceburg, Ind., 16.240
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 16.276
Don O’Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 16.289
Mike Benedum (25B), Salem, W.Va., 16.298
Brian Shirley (22*) Chatham, Ill., 16.300
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 16.380
Brandon Overton (116), Evans, Ga., 16.421
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 16.424
Casey Roberts (101), Toccoa, Ga., 16.535
Billy Moyer Jr. (21JR), Batesville, Ark., 16.556
Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 16.557
Jonathan Rowan (56), Jackson, Tenn., 16.612
Chase Junghans (18J), Manhattan, Kan., 16,655
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 16.692
Boom Briggs (99B), Bear Lake, Pa., 16.775
Shannon Buckingham (50), Morristown, Tenn., 16.803
Shane Tankersley (T31), Morganton, Ga., 16.974
Carder Miller (69), Salem, Va., 16.998
Blake Spencer (6), St. Augustine, Fla., 17.159
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 16.185
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 16.193
Mason Ziegler (25Z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 16.205
Brent Larson (B1), Lake Elmo, Minn., 16.215
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 16.224
Brandon Sheppard (1S), New Berlin, Ill., 16.232
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 16.281
Darrell Lanigan (14), Union, Ky., 16.435
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 16.545
Timothy Culp (C8), Prattville, Ark., 16.588
Steven Roberts (111), Sylvester, Ga., 16.596
Jason Fitzgerald (7F), Middleburg, Fla., 16.702
Coleby Frye (0F1), Dover. Pa., 16.739
Morgan Bagley (14M), Longview, Texas, 16.756
Tyler Erb (91), New Waverly, Texas, 16.759
Ryan King (30), Seymour, Tenn., 16.766
Jeff Mathews (33), Apollo Beach, Fla., 16.973
Brian Connor (77), Augusta, Ga., 17.034
Craig Wolford (36), St. Louisville, Ohio, 17.266
Donald McIntosh (7), Dawsonville, Ga., 17.355
Noon: Pit gates open
3 p.m.: Grandstands open
4:30 p.m.: Drivers’ meeting
5 p.m.: Hot laps
- Lucas Oil Late Models
- GIS Late Models
- Street stocks
- Lucas Oil Late Models
- GIS Thunder Late Models
- Lucas Oil Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Street stock heats (6 laps)
- GIS Late Model consolations (10 laps)
- Lucas Oil Late Model consolations (12 laps)
- E-mod heats (6 laps)
- Lucas Oil Late Models (50 laps)
- Street stocks (15 laps)
- GIS Late Models (35 laps)
- E-mods (20 laps)