WEST PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (July 4) — Mike Marlar was supposed to cut back on his racing in 2019. Now that he’s thrown that plan away and reunited with car owner Ronnie Delk to run quite regularly, competitors on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series are beginning to rue his decision to pick up the pace.
The 41-year-old standout from Winfield, Tenn., continued his month-long assault on the Lucas Oil circuit Thursday night, rolling to a flag-to-flag victory in the Independence 50 at Portsmouth Raceway Park that gave him three wins in his last seven starts on the national tour.
Marlar has finished outside the top five just once in his seven overall appearances on the series this season — and that blemish was a 22nd-place outing June 15 at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn., in a race that he led for the first 30 laps before experiencing bad luck.
“All the Lucas Oil guys are really tough competitors,” said Marlar, whose $12,000 triumph followed his checkered flags on June 1 Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss., and June 14 at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, S.C. “This is the highest stage, Lucas or the World of Outlaws, national traveling series, so it’s an honor to get a win on this series.”
The 2018 World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series champion, Marlar announced last fall that Delk was retiring from fielding a national-level Dirt Late Model team and earlier this year indicated that he would run a greatly reduced schedule of select special events. But after his abbreviated stint driving the K&L Rumley Enterprises No. 6 ended following February’s Georgia-Florida Speedweeks, he soon began racing more with Delk and he’s only gained more and more momentum since then.
There was no stopping Marlar and his Marathon Oil-sponsored XR1 Rocket machine at Portsmouth, a track that he said “has traditionally kicked my butt a little bit.” He powered off the outside pole to grab the lead from front-row mate Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, at the initial green flag, repelled early pressure from Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., and beat the 31-year-old pilot of the Clint Bowyer Racing XR1 Rocket to the finish line by 1.780 seconds.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., who started sixth, slipped his Rodriguez Motorsports XR1 Rocket into third place on lap 35 and finished there, tallying his second consecutive podium performance on the Lucas Oil Series. Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., advanced from the 10th starting spot to finish fourth in his SSI Motorsports Longhorn after ceding third to Owens and Lucas Oil points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., placed a steady fifth in the Double L Racing Longhorn after starting seventh.
For Marlar, the key to his latest Lucas Oil Series success came early in the night when he outdueled Owens to capture the third heat race. The triumph put Marlar on the front row for the feature, boosting him toward his victory.
“I gotta give my buddy Jimmy there a big pat on the back,” Marlar said of Owens. “He treated me with the most respect you could ever give somebody in a race. If he would’ve edged me there (to win the heat) he probably could’ve won this race, so I gotta really thank Jimmy for that. He really treated right in that heat race.
“It was awesome,” he continued, gushing about his side-by-side battle with Owens in the prelim. “As soon as I’d think I was getting ahead I’d hear him, and then I’d look and was like, ‘Oh, there he is again.’ He could’ve crowded me going into (turn) one any lap and took the position, and in (turns) three and four, in return, I needed to shut the door on him (to gain control) and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not doing that to him. He’s been so good to me here,’ so it ended up making an awesome race.”
Marlar faced no similar challenge during the 50-lap A-main. Richards stayed close early in the race, but Marlar ultimately pulled away and controlled the action throughout the second half of the event.
“I heard him on my right-rear I think through (turns) one and two there,” Marlar said of Richards’s early threat. “That was my cue to move out a lane down there. And I thought down here in three and four I was pretty good.”
Richards, who entered the program having won three of the last five Lucas Oil Series features at Portsmouth — including the last two $100,000 Dirt Track World Championships — couldn’t match Marlar’s race-long strength but was satisfied with his runner-up finish nonetheless.
“We’ve had a lot of speed here lately, we just haven’t been able to get up here where the team deserves,” said Richards, who noted that he still “felt terrible” on Thursday as he battled a cold. “We tried a lot of different things and the car felt pretty good out there early. I felt like if we could’ve got by Mikey (for the lead) it might’ve been a different story … he had clean track and clean air, and he did a really good job and stayed out front and pulled away there at the end. I think I wore my right-rear out just a tick.”
Owens, 47, praised Marlar following his third-place outing.
“It was definitely a fun little heat race there,” Owens said of his prelim tussle with Marlar. “You know, Mikey’s been on kill this year — the last couple of years actually — so to be able to keep up with him right now is pretty good. It says a lot for our team.”
Four caution flags slowed the feature. Jason Jameson of Lawrenceburg, Ind., slowed on lap 13; Chris Ferguson of Mt. Holly, N.C., slowed with a flat right-rear tire on lap 17 and tossed a left-rear wheel on lap 46; and Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., was stricken with a flat tire on lap 45.
Notes: Marlar’s 12th career Lucas Oil Series victory had extra significance because it came in his wife Stacy’s native state. “She got to see her family — they’re from Zanesville and live in the Columbus area now,” he said. “Her Uncle Steve’s in from Washington, her dad and brother are here … it was a great day for us and our team.” … Marlar, who said he was glad to see the Portsmouth surface turn up harder and smoother for Thursday’s action, reported that he’s planning to run with the Lucas Oil Series to conclude the holiday-week stretch at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va., and Mansfield (Ohio) Motor Speedway as well as the July 11-14 swing to Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., and Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Ind. … The pole-starting Devin Moran fell out of the top five after 14 laps and ended up a lap down in 15th; he noted afterward that he simply “missed the setup” on his Dunn Benson Racing car for the feature. … Zack Dohm of Cross Lanes, W.Va., started ninth and ran as high as fourth before settling for sixth. … Making his third start in the Clint Bowyer Racing No. 5 as a fill-in for the injured Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., Michael Norris of Sarver, Pa., earned hard-charger honors in the feature by advancing from 22nd to finish 10th.