BRISTOL, Tenn. — For a brief moment during the initial start of Friday’s third round of the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals, it appeared Mike Marlar and Chris Madden would put forth a kind of battle for the lead that many onlookers have wished for these previous two weeks.
Then, Madden, of Gray Court, S.C., unleashed the status quo of his race operation. Exactly one week after smothering the field for his first colossal payday of the new season, Madden turned around and dominated again in Thunder Valley, winning his second $50,000 prize in as many weekends.
Madden led all 50 laps from the outside pole and topped Chris Ferguson, last Saturday’s Bristol winner, by 2.670 seconds for his fourth victory of the year, all in the last six races.
For good measure, Madden also set a track record of 14.950 seconds in qualifying that bettered Kyle Strickler’s previous mark of 15.073 seconds set last season.
“We’ve been good ever since late last year,” Madden said in light of instant success this season. “We’ve found a few things that fit me with Mark (Richards) and those Rocket Chassis. We’ve been working really, extremely hard to get it to fit me. We’ve found a spot where I really like it. We’ve run good kind of everywhere we’ve been.
“Very pleased right now with the position right now with the balance of our car. We just have to make the right decisions at the right time. Right now, we’ve been able to do that."
Through 150 feature laps between the three series races at Bristol, Madden has led all but 50 of them in which there's been two passes for the lead. Madden made the event's second pass for the top spot when he cleared Marlar going into turn three on the opening lap and never looked back.
Additionally, Madden’s fastest lap of the feature (15.596 seconds) ended up almost a half second faster than any finisher inside the top-10 on Friday (Brandon Sheppard, who finished ninth, clocked a fastest lap of 16.061 seconds.)
Madden led by as much as four seconds on Friday and, in spite of two caution periods midway through the running, operated much of the event with a sizable advantage.
There was, however, a 10-lap lull in which Madden had to buckle down and find a way forward in traffic.
During the first green flag run, Madden only logged four laps navigating the tailend of the field due to a caution for Marlar, who fell out of second when he slammed into the turns three and four wall on lap 12.
From laps 20 to 30, Madden had raced to a three-second lead only to stall out behind Garrett Smith, whose wake momentarily stunted Madden’s surge. Ricky Weiss closed to within three cars of Madden by lap 30.
If there was any moment that could have compromised Madden’s sweep of the night, it was that one.
“It was a little sketchy there, a little bit right there with Garrett,” Madden said. “He was kind of in the middle instead of one lane, but he finally got a run on (Joseph Joiner) and they both slid up in turns one and two, and I was able to take advantage of that, get both of them in one corner.”
Weiss couldn’t keep up with Madden for long, however, as he quickly fell 2.3 seconds behind with 15 laps remaining. While Madden raced into the night, Ferguson and Devin Moran leapfrogged the fading prospects of Weiss and Sheppard.
Ferguson rode around in fifth with 10 laps to go, but it was then that the upper groove started to clean off and generate more momentum for whomever took chances moving off the preferred bottom lane.
Two laps later, Ferguson blew past Moran for fourth and then Sheppard for third. A lap after that, he passed Weiss for second.
“When I first got to second, I couldn’t of even seen Chris,” Ferguson said. “He was probably half a track (ahead). Then, there at the end, I could see him. He was probably riding. It’s Chris Madden, he’s the best there is when conserving while he’s leading. I would have loved to see (a caution), but we’ll never know.”
Moran also came to life as the top line took shape, moving up the leaderboard for a third-place finish from the 10th-starting position. Madden certainly left no doubt on Friday, but considering the late speed of Ferguson and Moran, perhaps a caution would have sparked another result.
“Yeah, you know, his crew guys are pretty good, so they probably would have told him what we were doing under caution,” Moran said. “He might not have not went full send on that restart. I’m sure (Ferguson) would have picked the top and tried to rail on the outside of him, and at that point Chris probably would have slid up and I would have tried to get underneath of them. I might've made it a little dicey, but we’ll never know.”
Notes: Garrett Smith went to a backup car Friday after a flat right front tire messed up his primary machine by causing a hard hit in turn one. ... Kyle Larson returned to Dirt Late Model action and finished fourth from the ninth-starting position. ... Seventeen of 24 cars finished on the lead lap. ... Smith, Marlar, Mark Whitener, Shane Clanton and Ross Bailes failed to finish.
Row 1: Mike Marlar, Chris Madden
Row 2: Brandon Sheppard, Ricky Weiss
Row 3: Jonathan Davenport, Scott Bloomquist
Row 4: Chris Ferguson, Jimmy Owens
Row 5: Kyle Larson, Devin Moran
Row 6: Ross Bailes, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 7: Dale McDowell, Brandon Overton
Row 8: Earl Pearson Jr., Kyle Bronson
Row 9: Darrell Lanigan, Kyle Strickler
Row 10: Mark Whitener, Shane Clanton
Row 11: Dakotah Knuckles, Joseph Joiner
Row 12: Ashton Winger, Garrett Smith
(10 laps; top six transfer)
Finish: Darrell Lanigan, Kyle Strickler, Mark Whitener, Shane Clanton, Dakotah Knuckles, Joseph Joiner, Brenden Smith, Tim Vance, Cody Lowe, Brian Mullins, Ashton Winger, Jensen Ford, Christian Hanger, Garrett Smith.
Heat race results
(Eight laps; top four transfer)
First heat: Mike Marlar, Jonathan Davenport, Kyle Larson, Dale McDowell, Christian Hanger, Kyle Strickler, Garrett Smith, Joseph Joiner.
Second heat: Brandon Sheppard, Chris Ferguson, Ross Bailes, Earl Pearson Jr., Mark Whitener, Shane Clanton, Dakotah Knuckles.
Third heat: Chris Madden, Scott Bloomquist, Devin Moran, Brandon Overton, Darrell Lanigan, Tim Vance, Brian Mullins. Scratched: Jensen Ford.
Fourth heat: Ricky Weiss, Jimmy Owens, Ricky Thornton Jr., Kyle Bronson, Ashton Winger, Brenden Smith, Cody Lowe.
Driver (car no.), hometown, time (unofficial)
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 15.179
Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., 15.197
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 15.201
Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 15.295
Kyle Strickler (8), Mooresville, N.C., 15.326
Ross Bailes (79), Clover, S.C., 15.386
Kyle Larson (6), Elk Grove, Calif., 15.416
Earl Pearson Jr. (46), Jacksonville, Fla., 15.457
Christian Hanger (15), Winchester, Tenn., 15.493
Mark Whitener (58), Middleburg, Fla., 15.540
Garrett Smith (10), Eatonton, Ga., 15.653
Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., 15.701
Joseph Joiner (10), Milton, Fla., 15.810
Dakotah Knuckles (21k), Ewing, Va., 16.303
Dale McDowell (17m), Chickamauga, Ga., no time
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 14.950
Ricky Weiss (7W), Headingley, Manitoba, 15.027
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 15.244
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 15.299
Brandon Overton (76), Evans, Ga., 15.340
Ricky Thornton Jr. (20rt), Chandler, Ariz., 15.347
Devin Moran (9), Dresden, Ohio, 15.379
Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., 15.387
Darrell Lanigan (29v), Union, Ky., 15.441
Ashton Winger (89), Hampton, Ga., 15.607
Tim Vance (17T), Clover, S.C., 15.724
Brenden Smith (17ss), Dade City, Fla., 16.390
Brian Mullins (626), Cincinnati, Ohio, 16.801
Cody Lowe (37), Tazewell, Va., 17.755
Jensen Ford (83), Johnson City, Tenn., no time
(Updated schedule with amended times)
Noon - Pit ticket booth opens (dragway ticket booth)
Noon - Super Late Model pre-tech (hospitality tent)
4 p.m. - Spectator parking opens (south entrance)
4 p.m. - Driver registration open
4 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting (Super Late Models; white tent in hospitality area)
4:30 p.m. - Drivers’ meeting (all other classes; white tent in hospitality area)
5 p.m. - Competitor grandstand gates open (Gate 13 and pit gate)
5 p.m. - Spectator ticket booths open (Gates 6 and 9)
5 p.m. - Spectator grandstand gates open (Gates 6 and 8)
5 p.m. - Street stocks and factory stocks pre-staging
5:40 p.m. - Super Late Models pre-staging
6 p.m. - All cars enter
6:50 p.m. - Opening ceremonies
7 p.m. - Super Late Model hot laps and group qualifying
7:30 p.m. - Racing starts
- Street stock consolations (10 laps/10 minutes)
- Super Late Model heats (8 laps/10 minutes)
- Street stock feature (30 laps)
- Factory stock feature (30 laps)
- Super Late Model consolations (10 laps/10 minutes)
- Super Late Model feature (50 laps)