COLUMBUS, Miss. — Typically in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series action, winning heat races leads to winning feature races. But 2017 series champion Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., has been mired in a remarkable drought, going winless in the previous 24 events he’d won heat races going back to February 2018.
That bizarre streak came to an end Thursday at Magnolia Motor Speedway.
Starting on the pole but allowing fourth-starting Tim McCreadie to grab the lead in the first turn, the 31-year-old Richards discovered the winning groove before the Watertown, N.Y., driver the 11th lap and led the rest of the 25-lap main event for his first series victory since the 2018 season finale. The opening night victory at the 11th annual Geico Clash at the Mag at Magnolia Motor Speedway paid $5,000 and gave Richards his first victory at the 3/8-mile oval.
“We’ve had a lot of speed lately, we just haven’t been able to put it together. It was a 25-lapper, but it feels good to get back to victory lane,” said Richards, who’ll run another 25-lapper Friday and is in the catbird’s seat for Saturday’s 100-lap finale by virtue of his victory. “Hopefully we can get a few more.”
With the frontrunners held up by slower cars, McCreadie took a couple of frontstretch bids at regaining the lead from Richards, but he settled for second — his best series finish of 2019 — in finishing 0.182 seconds behind in the caution-free race.
Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who started alongside his Clint Bowyer Racing teammate Richards on the front row, ran in the third spot every lap with his son Hudson O’Neal, also of Martinsville, Ind., and Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., rounded out the top five. Series points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., was 10th in the non-points event (Saturday’s finale is the weekend’s lone points race).
Richards didn’t get a good start, but when the low groove picked up a rubber strip that provide the surface’s best traction before halfway, he pounced on it.
“We fired off and I spun my tires, and Timmy got rolling there. I knew he was really good in the heat race,” Richards said. “ Well then, I just tried to pace myself and move to the middle of the track, and the car felt really good. Well then, all at one time, the track just (locked down on the bottom).
“We got there and were able to get back by ‘em, and I knew at the end, we just needed to keep the lapped cars far enough ahead that we didn’t get jammed up. I thought we were going to get tangled up with ‘em a couple of times.”
McCreadie took the blame for not realizing he needed to abandon his groove higher on the Johnny Stokes-promoted racetrack.
“It’s driver error. I didn’t know (the track) was rubbered,” McCreadie said. “Hopefully that doesn’t happen — I mean, this is such a great facility, they’ll make sure that doesn’t happen the rest of the week — but once it rubbered, I just didn’t know.
“My guy was pointing me down (on the racetrack), and I just didn’t move down. It’s kinda my fault, but we’ll take a second the way we’ve been running.”
He’s confident the Longhorn Chassis house car will be in the mix the rest of the weekend. “Tonight, we were focused and I think we’ll have a good piece. I’m excited for what’s to come,” he said.
The third-finishing O’Neal, the 2012 and ’14 Clash at the Mag winner, plotted his winning move, but it didn’t pan out.
“I thought, ‘All I’ve gotta do is get the jump on this thing and I’ll win this thing.’ Well, I did, but it lasted into turn one and it was over with,” O’Neal said. “But congratulations to Josh, he needed it just like we needed it. We’ll take the third. It’s a good points night (to qualify) for Saturday night’s deal.
“I sure didn’t see that rubber coming at all. You know, I thought it’d have been 25 laps (racing) all over it and not rubber up around that bottom. I think it surprised a lot of us. … I’m sure it ain’t going to be like that tomorrow night.”
Notes: Richards last won on the series with a $100,000 payday at the Dirt Track World Championship on Oct 21, 2018, at Portsmouth (Ohio) Raceway Park. … Richards won his 26th career Lucas Oil Series race, sixth on the all-time list and eighth behind four-time champion Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. … Twenty-one of 24 starters completed 25 laps with home-state drivers Chad Thrash, Rick Rickman and Michael Arnold the lone dropouts. … Driver performances in Thursday and Friday’s preliminary features help set the lineup for Saturday’s finale.
Row 1: Josh Richards, Don O’Neal
Row 2: Kyle Bronson, Tim McCreadie
Row 3: Devin Moran, Hudson O’Neal
Row 4: Stormy Scott, Mike Marlar
Row 5: Earl Pearson Jr., Tyler Erb
Row 6: Bobby Pierce, Michael Arnold
Row 7: Jonathan Davenport, Billy Moyer
Row 8: Eric Cooley, Cade Dillard
Row 9: Timothy Culp, Rick Rickman
Row 10: Jimmy Owens, Dane Dacus
Row 11: Neil Baggett, Brian Rickman
Row 12: Scott Dedwylder, Chad Thrash
First consolation (top four transfer): Timothy Culp, Jimmy Owens, Neil Baggett, Scott Dedwylder, Shay Knight, Billy Moyer Jr., Christian Hanger, Shanon Buckingham, Clay Fisher, Austin Arnold, Colton Horner.
Second consolation (top four transfer): Rick Rickman, Dane Dacus, Brian Rickman, Chad Thrash, Gavin Landers, Robbie Stuart, Joey Moriarty, B.J. Robinson, David Payne, Shelby Sheedy, Nick Curole.
(12 laps, top four transfer)
Row 1: Timothy Culp, Scott Dedwylder
Row 2: Shanon Buckingham, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 3: Neil Baggett, Christian Hanger
Row 4: Jimmy Owens, Morgan Bagley
Row 5: Clay Fisher, Colton Horner,
Row 6: Shay Knight, Austin Arnold
Row 1: Brian Rickman, Rick Rickman
Row 2: Dane Dacus, Joey Moriarty
Row 3: Chad Thrash, B.J. Robinson
Row 4: Gavin Landers, Robbie Stuart
Row 5: David Payne, Shelby Sheedy
Row 6: Nick Curole
Heat race results
First heat (top four transfer): Josh Richards, Devin Moran, Earl Pearson Jr., Jonathan Davenport, Timothy Culp, Shanon Buckingham, Neil Baggett, Jimmy Owens, Clay Fisher, Shay Knight.
Second heat (top four transfer): Kyle Bronson, Stormy Scott, Bobby Pierce, Eric Cooley, Scott Dedwylder Billy Moyer Jr., Christian Hanger, Morgan Bagley, Colton Horner, Austin Arnold.
Third heat (top four transfer): Don O’Neal, Hudson O’Neal, Tyler Erb, Billy Moyer, Brian Rickman, Dane Dacus, Chad Thrash, Gavin Landers, David Payne, Nick Curole.
Fourth heat (top four transfer): Tim McCreadie, Mike Marlar, Michael Arnold, Cade Dillard, Rick Rickman, Joey Moriarty, B.J. Robinson, Robbie Stuart, Shelby Sheedy,
Heat race lineups
(10 laps, top four transfer)
Row 1: Josh Richards, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 2: Devin Moran, Neil Baggett
Row 3: Jonathan Davenport, Jimmy Owens
Row 4: Shanon Buckingham, Timothy Culp
Row 5: Derek Fisher, Shay Knight
Row 1: Billy Moyer Jr., Kyle Bronson
Row 2: Austin Arnold, Eric Cooley
Row 3: Stormy Scott, Bobby Pierce
Row 4: Christian Hanger, Morgan Bagley
Row 5: Scott Dedwylder, Colton Horner
Row 1: Don O’Neal, Jared Landers
Row 2: Tyler Erb, Hudson O’Neal
Row 3: Brian Rickman, Billy Moyer
Row 4: Dane Dacus, Chad Thrash
Row 5: David Payne, Nick Curole
Row 1: Tim McCreadie, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Michael Arnold, Rick Rickman
Row 3: Joey Moriarty, Cade Dillard
Row 4: B.J. Robinson, Robbie Stuart
Row 5: Shelby Sheedy
Driver (car no.), hometown, time
Josh Richards (14), Shinnston, W.Va., 13.999
Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., 14.413
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 14.500
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 14.512
Devin Moran (1), Dresden, Ohio, 14.585
Austin Arnold (A8), Kosciusko, Miss., 14.634
Neil Baggett (21xxx), Columbus, Miss., 14.641
Eric Cooley (33c), Fulton, Miss., 14.663
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 14.718
Stormy Scott (2), Las Cruces, N.M., 14.748
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 14.772
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 14.809
Shanon Buckingham (50), Morristown, Tenn., 14.906
Christian Hanger (29), Winchester, Tenn., 14.966
Timothy Culp (C8), Prattsville, Ark., 15.010
Morgan Bagley (14m), Longview, Texas, 15.041
Clay Fisher (99), Dewitt, Ark.,15.053
Scott Dedwylder (33), Vossbur g, Miss., 15.094
Shay Knight (3), Columbus, Miss., 15.285
Colton Horner (56jr), Katy, Texas, 15.511
Don O’Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 14.579
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 14.644
Gavin Landers (77), Batesville, Ark., 14.651
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 14.673
Tyler Erb (1), New Waverly, Texas, 14.693
Michael Arnold (4), Hattiesburg, Miss., 14.721
Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., 14.758
Rick Rickman (86), Columbus, Miss., 14.839
Brian Rickman (90), Columbus, Miss., 14.842
Joey Moriarty (51), Phoenix, Ariz., 14.870
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 14.882
Cade Dillard (97), Robeline, La., 14.900
Dane Dacus (54), Lakeland, Tenn., 14.907
B.J. Robinson (1), Haughton, La., 15.009
Chad Thrash (1C), Meridian, Miss., 15.043
Robbie Stuart (6R), DeRidder, La., 15.421
David Payne (7P), Cabot, Ark., 15.637
Shelby Sheedy (G4), French Camp, La., 15.732
Nick Curole (114), Metairie, La., 16.173