WHEATLAND, Mo. — Will Vaught remained on an absolute roll Saturday, pulling away from Chad Simpson over the final 10 laps to capture the Larry Phillips Memorial in Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association action at Lucas Oil Speedway.
The Crane, Mo., driver backed up his MLRA victory on Friday night at Lee County Speedway in Donnellson, Iowa, and made it four feature triumphs in the last five series events. He pocketed $5,075 in a race paying tribute the late Larry Phillips, the iconic Missouri short-track champion who died in 2004.
"The good Lord was watching after us tonight," said Vaught, who also won the Phillips Memorial in 2016. "We're all here and had a good show. I love Wheatland, Mo.”
Simpson, the series points leader from Mount Vernon, Iowa, and 17th-starting Jesse Stovall of Galena, Mo., nabbed the other podium spots. Payton Looney of Republic, Mo., ran as high as second before finishing fourth while Logan Martin of West Plains, Mo., rounded out the top five.
Vaught began the weekend just 38 points behind Simpson, the season-long championship leader. He kept the pressure on, continuing a surge that includes a second-place to go with the four wins over the last five MLRA races.
Vaught started on the pole and led the opening lap before outside front-row starter Dave Eckrich wrestled away the lead the next time around. They ran 1-2 until Vaught went back in front with an outside pass coming out of turn four to complete lap 10.
Vaught opened up a half-straightaway-margin lead over the next 10 laps. By then Simpson moved into second and Payton Looney advanced into third and Stovall, who started 17th, raced into fourth.
A caution on lap 35 set up a three-way battle for the lead after the race resumed. Vaught, Simpson and Looney were three wide on the backstretch when another caution flew, on lap 37, as Tony Jackson Jr. slowed and went to the pits.
Simpson took advantage and slid past Vaught for the lead on the restart with Stovall moving into third. But Vaught used a slider in turn four to regain the lead two laps later with the big crowd on its feet.
"Leading this race, it's the hardest place to be on the racetrack," Vaught said. "I knew my stuff was too tight to be on the bottom and Chad got by me there. I was like, 'I have to make something work here,' so we got the top working again.”
Vaught gradually pulled away from there and won by 1.97 seconds over Simpson with Stovall third, Looney fourth and Logan Martin fifth. It was Vaught's series-best fifth MLRA feature win of the season.
"Chad is a heck of a racer. We race each other hard and clean. It was fun," Vaught said. "We're battling for this points lead. With him running second, I'm never gonna gain on him. But we're here to win races and we have three more to go."
Simpson said finishing second was little consolation.
"I felt like we had a better race car, but we ended up second," Simpson said. "The top was decent, but it's such a long way around the top. Hats off to all these fans who came out here and all my sponsors and car owners for letting us come do this.
"We just have to keep going to the racetrack and try to win races. That's all we can do."
Stovall briefly made a bid for the lead on the lap-38 restart, nearly pulling off a remarkable 17th-to-first run. But the 2016 MLRA champion was philosophical about his night.
"It wasn't too bad," Stovall said. "We buried ourselves so deep there that we had to run a B (feature) and just did what we could do."