Cook tops Madden, gets first-ever Volunteer win
By James EssexLucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
BULLS GAP, Tenn. (March 6) — Fifth-starting Ray Cook of Brasstown, N.C., overtook race-long leader Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., on the 36th lap and led the rest of the Spring Thaw 60 at Volunteer Speedway for a $10,000 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory. | Slideshow
Cook held off Madden the rest of the way to secure his seventh career series victory and first of the season. Madden, who started outside the front row, finished second followed by polesitter Skip Arp of Georgetown, Tenn., Dan Schlieper of Sullivan, Wis., and Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind.
Cook's victory in the first Lucas Oil event since Florida Speedweeks moves him into a tie for the points lead with reigning series champion Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who finished sixth.
"As far as the points are concerned, we are taking them week to week," Cook said. "You never know what could happen tomorrow you might fall out of a race and drop back in points
"We've got an awesome race team, car, engine, tires, shocks, I mean the whole thing is just clicking right now. I'm just real fortunate just to be able to drive the car. It's fun when you are running this well, you just have to enjoy it while you can, cause it could change the next race."
The 38-year-old Cook's victory gives him his second straight checkered flag followed last Sunday's Southern Regional Racing Series-sanctioned Bama Bash victory at Green Valley Speedway in Glencoe, Ala.
Arp and Madden started on the front row, but Madden took command early with Arp and Casebolt giving chase. Madden entered lapped traffic at the 4/10-mile oval after 11 laps, and six laps later Cook took the third spot from Casebolt and began challenging Arp.
A slowing Mike Marlar brought out a lap-20 caution, but not before Cook took the second spot from Arp. Just two more laps clicked off before the second and final caution appeared for John Blankenship, and Cook stayed right with Madden on the restart.
Madden stayed in command at the halfway point with the top seven all running on the same straightaway, and Cook drove low in the corners, peeking under Madden. Cook made the pass stick on lap 36 but faced traffic that made life tough on the frontrunners.
Cook changed grooves several times in fighting off Madden's challenges, keeping Madden at bay the final 10 laps for the victory, his first-ever at Bulls Gap.
Notes: Cook's D&R Motorsports MasterSbilt Race Car has a Race Engine Design powerplant and sponsorship from Hicks & Ingle, PRC and A+ Moving and Storage. ... Don O'Neal's 23rd-to-15th run gave him the PBM-Erson Cams Hard Charger honors. ... Among drivers failing to make the feature: Justin Rattliff, Tim Isenberg, Jason Feger, Dennis Erb Jr., Shanon Buckingham, Steve Smith, Jordan Bland, Mark Vineyard, Vic Hill and Mike Collins. ... Lucas Oil competitors head to Gaffney, S.C., for Sunday afternoon's March Madness VIII at Cherokee Speedway, another $10,000-to-win event.
Spring Thaw 60: (1) Ray Cook, (2) Chris Madden, (3) Skip Arp, (4) Dan Schlieper, (5) Steve Casebolt, (6) Scott Bloomquist, (7) Jimmy Owens, (8) Stacy Boles, (9) Dale McDowell, (10) Eric Wells, (11) Randy Weaver, (12) Chris Wall, (13) Tommy Kerr, (14) Will Vaught, (15) Don O'Neal, (16) Rick Rogers, (17) Earl Pearson Jr., (18) Clint Smith, (19) Mike Marlar, (20) Brad Neat, (21) Eric Jacobsen, (22) Bub McCool, (23) Terry Jones, (24) John Blankenship, (25) Michael Walker. Fast qualifier (among 43 cars): Owens. Heat race winners: Arp, Madden, Casebolt, Boles. Consolation winners: Smith, Pearson. Provisional starters: O'Neal, Jacobsen, Walker.