ROSSBURG, Ohio (April 18) — Mike Marlar thought he was on his way to experiencing more misery at Eldora Speedway when a hard-charging Hudson O’Neal sailed by him to grab the lead on the 44th circuit of Tuesday night’s 50-lap Castrol FloRacing Night in America season opener.
But this time the 45-year-old driver from Winfield, Tenn., had good fortune on his side. After O’Neal flirted with disaster one time too many and cut his car’s right-front tire against the wall on lap 47, Marlar regained command and held on following the final restart to earn a $23,023 victory that marked his first-ever on the third-year tour and at Tony Stewart’s famed half-mile oval.
“I’ve had so many heartbreaks up here at this track,” Marlar said, “and now I feel like I finally had one go my way there.”
Marlar drove his Ronnie Delk-owned machine across the finish line 1.034 seconds ahead of Watertown, N.Y.’s Tim McCreadie, who couldn’t offer a serious challenge over the deciding laps.
Tanner English of Benton, Ky., finished third, picking up three positions after the final restart to complete a strong advance forward from the 17th starting spot in his Viper Motorsports mount. Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., slipped to fourth in the finishing order after running second for laps 5-34 and 10th-starter Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., completed the top five.
O’Neal, 22, of Martinsville, Ind., settled for a 12th-place finish in the Rocket Chassis house car — one of just two Rocket machines in a 22-car field that saw Longhorn dominate with 18 starters and the top-seven finishers — after his furious bid fell short. He tossed his No. 1 around the extreme top of the high-banked track after slipping from fifth to eighth in the race’s early stages and rampaged to the front, cracking the top five on lap 17, grabbing second from Davenport on lap 35 and then erasing Marlar’s straightaway-plus edge to take the lead on lap 44.
But O’Neal grazed the outside wall exiting turn four heading to the start-finish line at lap 47, allowing Marlar to close in. DirtonDirt.com’s No. 1-ranked driver then slapped the backstretch concrete moments later, causing him to slow with a right-front flat tire, draw a caution flag and hand the lead back to Marlar.
Marlar started from the pole and led all but laps 44-47 — often by a commanding margin — but he felt his car give up slightly in the closing circuits as O’Neal was on a roll.
“I had a really good car, but I don’t know what’s wrong,” Marlar said. “I think I had some sort of problem. The car just died, or maybe the tire’s just torn up or something.
“But anyway, I almost was looking for (a challenge) because my car died so bad and I couldn’t get by the lapped cars. And I couldn’t run the cushion as good as (O’Neal) could. When I run the cushion here I’m just free all the time.”
O’Neal did soar past Marlar, but the eventual noted with a sigh of relief: “It came back my way.”
“Me and (O’Neal) just about wrecked on the back straightaway when he broke, so it was a wild race,” Marlar continued, before adding: “You gotta make all the laps, and I didn’t feel like I could drive that hard (on the cushion like O’Neal did) and not wreck and it ended up getting him.”
Marlar gave O’Neal credit for his attempt to snatch the race’s top prize in the closing laps.
“It’s just tough, but he’s trying to win, man,” Marlar remarked. “He’s got it in him and that team does so I applaud him. He gave it all he had and he about had it. Just one little slip up.”
McCreadie, who turned 49 on April 12, was a subdued runner-up. The race’s eighth starter reached third — which became second with O’Neal’s fall from contention — with a lap-44 pass of Davenport and spoke afterward about even bigger Eldora events ahead.
“This is a different engine combination from what I usually bring here,” McCreadie said of the powerplant under the hood of his Paylor Motorsports No. 39. “It’s good, but it’s a little erratic and I gotta learn how to tame it down.
“So brand new car, brand new motor, and hopefully we can figure out what to do to make it a little better.”
The 29-year-old English enjoyed one of the best Eldora outings of his career. He was still running 15th at the race’s halfway point but then caught fire to close with a rush.
“Everything kind of fell in my favor there about five laps in a row,” English said. “I felt like I passed about 10 cars. There one time I didn’t even know who I passed. I didn’t know if I was lapping them or what, I didn’t know where I was at.
“I don’t think I was as fast as Marlar was but I was gaining on everybody else.”
The race’s two caution flags were both displayed for slowing cars: Earl Pearson Jr. on lap four and O’Neal on lap 47.
Notes: Marlar, whose only previous triumph this season came on Jan. 14 at Vado (N.M.) Speedway Park, earned his first Castrol FloRacing Night in America checkered flag in his 17th career start on the tour. … NASCAR star Kyle Larson was a quiet 10th-place finisher one year after winning Eldora’s Castrol event, but he ended the evening by driving Justin Allgaier’s Elite Chassis machine to victory in the UMP modified feature. It was his first-ever start in an open-wheel modified and gave him wins in seven different divisions at Eldora. … The chassis breakdown of the 22 feature starters: Longhorn with 18, Rocket with and Sniper and AK with one each. … Non-qualifiers included Tyler Erb, Brian Shirley, Billy Moyer, Kyle Strickler, Garrett Alberson, Garrett Smith, Dakotah Knuckles, Jake Timm, Doug Drown, Logan Martin, Drake Troutman and Jason Jameson.