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East Bay Raceway Park

Franklin earns $3,000 for repeat at East Bay

February 5, 2012, 6:51 am
By Roby Helm
NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series
Dennis Franklin (27c) pressures Doug Watson (07) for the lead. (neilericmiller.com)
Dennis Franklin (27c) pressures Doug Watson (07) for the lead. (neilericmiller.com)

GIBSONTON, Fla. (Feb. 4) — Dennis “Rambo” Franklin of Gaffney, S.C., drove the AES Racing Special to his second straight win on Saturday night in the 50-lap main event for the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series Tour at East Bay Raceway Park. After a race-long duel with Doug Watson of Plant City, Fla., Franklin took the lead on lap 47 and then cruised to a 2.401 second victory. | Video | Slideshow

The 36th annual Winternationals was a good season-opening weekend for Franklin, as he finished second on Thursday night and followed that up with victories Friday and Saturday.

“I kept working the inside on Watson and he finally made a bobble in turn two where we got by him at the end of the race,” Franklin said. “I’ve got to thank Steve Cooke and the AES Racing Team for letting drive this car here. It was a great race car all week.”

Watson held off a late-race charge from Doug Horton of Bruceton Mills, W.Va., to finish second in the Brandon Auto Services Rocket. Horton overcame fuel problems early in the night to take the third spot in the Mainland Transport Warrior. Horton won the first 15-lap consolation race, started 16th in the main event and earned the Hedman Husler of the Race Award.

Matthew Turner of Dawsonville, Ga., was fourth in the Hedman Husler Special and William Thomas of Phenix City, Ala., finished fifth in the Harrod Logging Special.

Franklin took the lead at the start of the race when Watson jumped the cushion in turn two. That enabled Hubbard to move up to second, but when the field got to turn four, several cars got tangled up midway in the pack, and Chris Cantrell of Chester, S.C., flipped the CANCO Rocket and collected several other cars to bring out the red flag.

Cantrell was uninjured, but his race car was done for the evening along with Mack McCarter and Todd Morrow. The field lined back up for a complete restart, and Watson took the lead followed by Franklin, Hubbard, Cooke, and Devin Dixon of Apollo Beach, Fla., in the Mathis Farms Special.

Horton was working through the field, and charged from 16th to 10th by lap four. Lap seven saw Franklin looking inside to challenge Watson for the lead. Dixon and Turner got by Cooke on lap nine to take over the fourth and fifth.

The second of seven caution flags came out on lap 10 when Shannon Lee of Lumberton, Miss., spun. Watson led the doubled-up field down for the restart followed by Franklin, Hubbard, Dixon, Turner, Cooke and Chase Edge of Lafayette, Ala.

Dixon spun on the restart in turn two and collected 10 other cars for the third caution flag. After the restart, Hubbard spun out of the third spot with a spin in turn two on lap 11 for the fourth caution flag. Watson led for the restart with Franklin, Turner, Cooke, Edge, Tice, Horton, Thomas, Arthur and Blount doubled up behind him.

Horton passed Tice for the sixth spot on the restart, and David Schmauss moved into the top 10 on lap 12. Horton closed in on Edge to battle for the fifth spot on lap 18, while up front, Franklin worked to the inside of Watson to challenge for the lead. For the next five laps, Watson and Franklin raced side-by-side for the lead while Edge and Horton raced side-by-side for fifth.

Lap 23 saw Horton made the pass on Edge for the fifth spot. Up front, Watson and Franklin continued their battle for the lead as they approached lapped traffic at the halfway point in the race. Edge slammed the backstretch wall on lap 27 to light up the caution bulb for the fifth time.

After the field went back to green flag racing, Franklin again camped out on the inside of Watson. Franklin could gain on Watson entering the corners, but Watson was faster getting off the turns to keep the lead. Thomas passed Tice for the sixth spot on lap 28.

Franklin got a good run on Watson in turn one on lap 36, and stayed alongside the leader down the backstretch. Watson used the sweet spot he found on the high side of turn four to keep Franklin behind him. The race was slowed by the sixth caution flag on lap 38 when Blount spun in turn two.

Two-time series champion David Earl Gentry of Murfreesboro, Tenn., stalled in turn four on lap 41 with an overheating problem for the seventh caution flag. Watson lined up for the single-file restart followed by Franklin, Horton, Turner and Thomas.

Franklin put the inside pressure on Watson for the next five laps, as the lead pair raced side-by-side. Watson slipped slightly on the high side of turn two on lap 47, which opened the door for Franklin, who made the best of his opportunity to take the lead going down the backstretch. Once he cleared Watson, Franklin opened up a 2.401 second lead at the checkered flag.

Notes: Franklin had a 2.4-second margin at the checkers. ... Seven cautions slowed the 52-minute feature. ... A dozen drivers finished on the lead lap. ... The next event for the NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series is a $5,000-to-win event on April 6-7 at Greenville (Miss.) Speedway.

Winternationals: (1) Dennis Franklin, (2) Doug Watson, (3) Doug Horton, (4) Matthew Turner, (5) William Thomas, (6) David Schmauss, (7) Mark Tice, (8) Walker Arthur, (9) Jack Nosbisch Jr., (10) Phillip Cobb, (11) Travis Varnadore, (12) Michael Blount, (13) Steve Cooke, (14) David Gentry, (15) Shane Hitt, (16) Austin Hubbard, (17) Shan Smith, (18) Chase Edge, (19) Devin Dixon, (20) Anthony White, (21) Shannon Lee, (22) Mavrick Varnadore, (23) Chris Cantrell, (24) Mack McCarter, (25) Todd Morrow. Fast qualifier (among 45 cars): Franklin, 15.708 seconds. Heat race winners: Franklin, Watson, Hubbard, Cooke. Consolation winners: Horton, Nosbisch. Provisional starters: Gentry, Lee.

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