O'Neal leads final 16 laps to capture North-South
By Todd TurnerDirtonDirt.com managing editor
UNION, Ky. (Aug. 11) — Three years ago, the Sunoco Race Fuels North-South 100 was stolen from Don O’Neal. It was O’Neal who stole the $50,000 payday this time at Florence Speedway.
Darting underneath race-long leader Jimmy Owens in turn three on lap 85, the 48-year-old driver from Martinsville, Ind., led the rest of the way for his 11th Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory of the season and his first in Florence’s richest race.
Owens, who for 84 laps looked like he’d become the first four-time North-South 100 winner, couldn’t keep up with his fellow front-row starter in the final laps and the Newport, Tenn., driver and Lucas Oil Series points leader settled for second at the half-mile northern Kentucky oval.
Eighth-starting Steve Casebolt of Richmond, Ind., ran a solid third with Rick Eckert of York, Pa., fourth, the only other drivers who managed to keep pace with the frontrunners. Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., who started 10th, was a distant fifth.
The 100-lapper was slowed by six cautions, all for single-car incidents.
In 2009, O'Neal lead from lap 24-98 before a charging Jimmy Mars blew by him just before the white flag, stunning the driver who dominated most of the race. This time around, it was O'Neal doing the chasing as Owens appeared content to run behind slower cars in the second half of the race when the groove filtered down to one lane.
The strategy worked for Owens when he was behind a single car, but when a couple of slower cars on the backstretch forced Owens to briefly check up, O'Neal pounced. He tucked his No. 71 as low as it would go entering turn three, scooting past Owens to take the lead off turn four. The surprised Owens quickly tried to reverse his mistake, but a caution a lap later reset the field and O'Neal led the rest of the way.
30th annual Sunoco Race Fuels North-South 100
Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, earnings
1. Don O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., MasterSbilt, $50,000
2. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., Bloomquist, $10,000
3. Steve Casebolt (c9), Richmond, Ind., MasterSbilt, $7,000
4. Rick Eckert (24), York, Pa., Bloomquist, $5,000
5. Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., Barry Wright, $4,000
6. Mike Jewell (9), Scottsburg, Ind., MasterSbilt, $3,800
7. Jonathan Davenport (15), Blairsville, Ga., Barry Wright, $3,600
8. Tyler Reddick (11), Corning, Calif., Bloomquist, $3,400
9. Ray Cook (53), Brasstown, N.C., MasterSbilt, $3,200
10. Randy Weaver (116), Crossville, Tenn., GRT, $3,000
11. Dustin Linville (D8), Bryantsville, Ky., Swartz, $2,750
12. Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., Longhorn, $2,700
13. Eric Wells (18), Hazard, Ky., Bloomquist, $2,650
14. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., Bloomquist, $2,625
15. Jared Landers (5), Batesville, Ark., Barry Wright, $2,600
16. R.J. Conley (71c), Wheelersburg, Ohio, Rocket, $2,575
17. Brad Neat (41), Dunnville, Ky., B&B, $2,550
18. Robby Hensley (21), Walton, Ky., Rocket, $2,525
19. John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., Rocket, $2,500
20. Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., Rocket, $2,500
21. Jason Jameson (12), Lawrenceburg, Ind., Rocket, $2,500
22. Michael Asberry (360), Crossville, Tenn., Rocket, $2,500
23. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., Victory Circle, $2,500
24. Steve Shaver (6), Vienna, W.Va., Rocket, $2,500
25. Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, MB Customs, $2,500
26. Josh Williams (JJ2), West Harrison, Ind., Rocket, $2,500
Fast qualifier (among 64 cars): O’Neal, 16.501 seconds
Heat race winners: O’Neal, Eckert, Cook, Owens, Jewell, Conley
Consolation winners: Carrier, Moyer
Provisional starters: Blankenship, Pearson, Williams, Wells.
11:45 p.m.: Lap-90 caution
R.J. Conley slowed with a flat tire to draw a lap-90 yellow. ... Scott Bloomquist, running sixth, ducked into the pits to take advantage of the courtesy laps Conley will receive to change tires. ... Don O'Neal still leads Owens, Eckert, Casebolt and Francis. ... Those are the only drivers keeping pace. ... Another quck yellow appeared on lap 91 for Brad Neat.
11:40 p.m.: O'Neal darts into lead
With Owens held up by slower cars, Don O'Neal darted underneath Owens and into the lead in turn three on lap 85. ... The caution appeared a lap later for a slowing Jason Jameson. ... The lap-86 rundown: O'Neal, Owens, Casebolt, Eckert, Francis, Jewell, Bloomquist, Cook, Davenport, Conley, Reddick, Weaver, Neat, Linville, Pearson and Wells. ... Everyone else is at least one lap down. ... Owens was clearly surprised by O'Neal's move on the low side in turn three and tried to fight back. Could be an interesting final 14 laps.
11:39 p.m.: Lap 80 and Owens in command
The top four continue running nose-to-tail with Owens willing to ride behind slower traffic on lap 80. O'Neal still holds second followed by Casebolt and Eckert. ... Fifth-running Steve Francis is alone on his own straightaway. ... Further back Mike Jewell runs sixth ahead of Bloomquist, Jameson, Cook and Davenport.
11:33 p.m.: Top-four breakaway
Owens is out front after 60 laps chased by O'Neal, Casebolt and Eckert ... Steve Francis is further back in fifth with Mike Jewell even further back in sixth, fighting off Scott Bloomquist. ... Although the slower car of Jared Landers restarted just in front of the leaders after the previous caution, fresh rubber allowed him to pull away a bit, but not other lapped cars are in the mix.
11:27 p.m.: Flat tire for Hensley
The third caution appeared on lap 50 when Robby Hensley slowed with a flat tire. ... The top 10 remains the same with Owens firmly in command. ... Jared Landers and Eric Wells are ducking into the pits. ... Blankenship and Carrier are the only two drivers a lap down. ... Landers returned from the pits just in front of the leaders, so Owens will have to deal with a slower car immediately.
11:25 p.m.: Pearson slows lap 47
Earl Pearson slowed with a flat left-front tire in turn two. ... Owens had built a half-straightaway lead. ... Eckert nearly slipped by Casebolt for third on lap 46, but Casebolt held on. ... The lap-43 restart was double-file, but the next one will be single-file. ... Lap-47 rundown: Owens, O'Neal, Casebolt, Eckert, Franics, Jewell, Bloomquist, Jameson, Cook, Davenport, Conley, Reddick, Weaver, Asberry, Neat, Linville, Landers, Pearson, Wells, Hensley, Blankenship and Carrier.
11:21 p.m.: Lap-43 caution for debris
A lap-43 caution for debris slows the race for the first time. ... Here's the rundown: Owens, O'Neal, Casebolt, Eckert, Jewell, Francis, Cook, Bloomquist, Conley, Davenport, Jameson, Reddick, Asberry, Weaver, Neat, Linville, Hensley, Pearson, Landers (last car on lead lap), Wells, Blankenship and Carrier. ... Moyer and Birkhofer have retired.
11:18 p.m.: Two through four tight
With Jimmy Owens still ahead by a half-straight, second-running Don O'Neal is getting pressure from Steve Casebolt and Rick Eckert.
11:16 p.m.: Owens comfortably ahead
Nearing 30 laps down, Jimmy Owens leads with a lapped car (Blankenship) between him and second-running Don O'Neal. Steve Casebolt is closing on O'Neal in third while Rick Eckert has slipped back a bit, but he's nearly a straightaway ahead of Mike Jewell, who has damaged to the rear corner of his spoiler.
11:14 p.m.: Lap-25 rundown
Owens, O;Neal, Eckert, Casebolt, Jewell, Conley, Francis, Cook, Jameson, Bloomquist, Reddick, Davenport, Asberry, Weaver, Neat, Moyer, Linville, Hensely, Pearson, Landers, Wells, Williams, Carrier, Birkhofer, Shaver, Blankenship. No cautions so far.
11:12 p.m.: Eckert to third
With Jimmy Owens lapping his first car on lap 14 (John Blankenship), Don O'Neal is 12 legnths back. Rick Eckert took third from Mike Jewell on lap 14 and Steve Casebolt dropped Jewell to fifth two laps later.
11:07 p.m.: Owens leads early
Jimmy Owens leads after 10 laps with Don O'Neal, Mike Jewell, Rick Eckert and Steve Casebolt in pursuit .... they're evening spread out by about 10 lengths. .... it's further back to sixth-running R.J. Conley. ... All 26 starters are still rolling.
10:59 p.m.: Driver intros wrapping up
After track prep and driver introductions, action is about to get started for the 100-lapper. ... The North-South officials, as usual, are decked out in tuxedos. ... With the standing-room only crowd cheering for "North" and "South," there was a decided advantage for the South. ... The 26-car starting grid rolled just after 11 p.m.
10:07 p.m.: Provisional starters
Provisional starters for the main event are Earl Pearson Jr. and John Blankenship for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. Eric Wells took an emergency provisional and Josh Williams took the track provisional.
10:05 p.m.: Moyer wins second consy
Second consolation finish: Billy Moyer, Steve Shaver, Eric Wells, Scott James, Josh Williams, Mike Marlar, Jesse Lay, Nick Latham, Freddy Smith, Tim McCreadie, D.J. Wells, David Spille, Stephen Breeding, Billy Gullion, Jim Price, Tommy Carlton, Mike Unger (complete finish unavailable).
9:45 p.m.: Carrier wins first consy
First consolation finish: Eddie Carrier Jr., Brian Birkhofer, John Blankenship, Joe Janowski, Earl Pearson Jr., Greg Johnson, Chad Stapleton, Jimmy Mars, Morgan Bagley, Chad Smith, Justin Rattliff, James Rice, Josh McGuire, John Gill, John Mason, Danny Hatcher, Josh Scott, Brian Gray, Mick Sansom, Mason Combs, Chris Combs, Dustin Neat.
9:36 p.m.: First consy under way
After Ted Nobbe won the modified feature, the first consolation is under way with all 23 starters making the call.
9:19 p.m.: Consolation race lineups
(12 laps; two drivers transfer)
Row 1: Eddie Carrier Jr., Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 2: Greg Johnson, Chad Stapleton
Row 3: John Blankenship, Brian Birkhofer
Row 4: Morgan Bagley, Chad Smith
Row 5: Jimmy Mars, Joe Janowski
Row 6: Chris Combs, Justin Rattliff
Row 7: John Mason, Tim Rivers
Row 8: John Gill, Josh McGuire
Row 9: Danny Hatcher, James Rice
Row 10: Brian Gray, Josh Scott
Row 11: Mick Sanson, Dustin Neat
Row 12: Mason Combs
Row 1: Josh Williams, Billy Moyer
Row 2: Steve Shaver, Stephen Breeding
Row 3: Mike Marlar, Eric Wells
Row 4: D.J. Wells, Jason Barrett
Row 5: Scott James, Tommy Carlton
Row 6: Terry Lanigan, Tim Prince
Row 7: Jese Lay, Nick Latham
Row 8: David Spille, Jim Price
Row 9: Mike Unger, Vern LeFevers
Row 10: Freddy Smith, Kenny Hyde Jr.
Row 11: Billy Gullion, Tim McCreadie
Row 12: Walker Arthur
9:11 p.m.: Conley wins sixth heat
Polesitter R.J. Conley led Randy Weaver on a two-car breakaway in the sixth and final heat as they transferred to the main event. A half-straight behind them, Robby Hensley and Steve Shaver battled side-by-side for the third and final transfer spot for nine laps
Sixth heat finish: R.J. Conley, Randy Weaver, Robby Hensley, Steve Shaver, Eric Wells, Scott James, Tim Prince, David Spille, Vern LeFevers, Billy Gullion.
9:06 p.m.: First-lap yellow in sixth heat
The first-lap yellow came out on the first lap of the sixth heat with Billy Gullion and Vern LeFevers spinning in separate incidents. R.J. Conley jumped into the early lead over Randy Weaver and Steve Shaver, who struggled a bit on the first lap in the high groove.
9:04 p.m.: Jewell wins fifth heat
Mike Jewell won an early duel with Steve Francis and grabbed a victory in the fifth heat. Francis, who got a reprieve on an early spin (see below), got second with Brad Neat in third. Billy Moyer was fourth but never contended for a transer spot.
Fifth heat finish: Mike Jewell, Steve Francis, Brad Neat, Billy Moyer, Mike Marlar, Jason Barrett, Terry Lanigan, Nick Latham, Mike Unger, Kenny Hyde Jr.
9 p.m.: Francis saved after spin
Steve Francis spun in turn two on the second lap of the fifth heat after contact from Brad Neat, but he never stopped. Officials ruled the flagman threw a premature caution and gave him his spot back for the restart over Mike Jewell and Brad Neat.
8:56 p.m.: Owens wins fourth heat
Making an outside move on Steve Casebolt bolt on the 10th lap, Lucas Oil Series points leader and three-time race winner Jimmy Owens won the fourth heat. Casebolt ran a solid race but couldn't withstand Owens in finishing second. Seventh-starting Tyler Reddick was a comfortable third as the mid-pack shuffled spots early in the race. Josh Williams recovered from an early spin to finish fourth for a good consolation race starting spot.
Fourth heat finish: Jimmy Owens, Steve Casebolt, Tyler Reddick, Josh Williams, Stephen Breeding, D.J. Wells, Tommy Carlton, Jesse Lay, Jim Price, Freddy Smith, Tim McCreadie.
8:48 p.m.: Early caution in fourth heat
With Steve Casebolt leading Jimmy Owens and Freddy Smith early in the fourth heat, Tim McCreadie got into Josh Williams exiting turn four, sending Williams for a spin on the second lap. His car ended up in the mud at the inside of the track. Further back, Stephen Breeding and Jesse Lay also got together in an unrelated incident. The lap-one restart will be: Casebolt, Smith (getting his spot back because lap two wasn't complete), Owens, Tyler Reddick, Jim Price, D.J. Wells, Tommy Carlton, Breeding, Lay and Williams. McCreadie heading to the pits with apparent problems to his rear suspension.
8:44 p.m.: Cook wins third heat
Ray Cook held off Scott Bloomquist to win the third heat while sixth-starting Jared Landers came alive for the third transfer spot. Greg Johnson ended up fourth while Justin Rattliff, who started fourth but ran as high as second, slipped back to seventh at the finish.
Third heat finish: Ray Cook, Scott Bloomquist, Jared Landers, Greg Johnson, Brian Birkhofer, Jimmy Mars, Justin Rattliff, John Gill, James Rice, Mick Sansom.
8:38 p.m.: Sansom spins in heat two
Just as Scott Bloomquist was trying to work around Ray Cook for the lead in the second heat, tail-running Mick Sansom spun in turn two. Cook led from the outset with fourth-starting Justin Rattliff slipping around Bloomquist early, but Bloomquist edged back ahead and then jumped into the outside groove himself to challenge Cook before the lap-five yellow. Sansom spun again in turn four for a lap-seven yellow; he was sent off the track.
8:35 p.m.: Eckert wins second heat
Outside front-row starter Rick Eckert cruised in the second heat, building a straightaway edge by halfway. Polesitter Tim Rivers slipped back to fifth on the third lap and wasn't a factor thereafter. Fifth-starting Jason Jameson made a key early move to get up to second, then repelled challenges from Jonathan Davenport, who was third for the final transfer spot just ahead of Earl Pearson Jr.
Second heat finish: Rick Eckert, Jason Jameson, Jonathan Davenport, Earl Pearson Jr., John Blankenship, Chad Smith, Chris Combs, Tim Rivers, Danny Hatcher, Josh Scott, Mason Combs.
8:31 p.m.: Second heat on the track
The track surface appeared to be a little slippery in the first heat, but that should be blowing off soon, although the sun is off the racetrack. Tim Rivers is starting on the pole trying to make his first North-South 100 alongside Rick Eckert, making his first start at Florence in four years.
8:28 p.m.: O'Neal wins first heat
While third-starting Don O'Neal cruised in leading all 12 laps, Michael Asberry came alive on a lap-seven restart to nab the second spot. He transfers to the main event along with polesitter Dustin Linville. Eddie Carrier Jr. will be on the pole of a consolation race.
First heat finish: Don O'Neal, Michael Asberry, Dustin Linville, Eddie Carrier Jr., Chad Stapleton, Morgan Bagley, Joe Janowski, John Mason, Josh McGuire, Brian Gray, Dustin Neat.
8:25 p.m.: Neat's despair continues
Dustin Neat banged wheels with John Mason in turn four and spun to drawn another yellow on the seventh lap. He headed pitside. Don O'Neal is in control on the first heat with Dustin Linville second and Chad Stapleton third. Joe Janowski, who had to restart on the tail after an early spin, is back up to fourth and appears capable of nabbing a transfer spot. Michael Asberry is fifth and Josh McGuire, who appears to be struggling with his No. 41, is sixth ahead of Eddie Carrier Jr. and Morgan Bagley.
8:22 p.m.: More trouble for Neat in first heat
Dustin Neat slowed on the third lap to draw another yellow. Don O'Neal had already built a huge lead.
8:18 p.m.: O'Neal out front early in first heat
Fast qualifier Don O'Neal dispensed with the three-car inversion — in one lap. He went from third to first on the very first lap of the first heat, and he was in control when a lap-two yellow blew for Joe Janowski's turn-two spin, a scramble that also include Michael Asberry and other drivers trying to squeeze past without stopping. O'Neal will lead the early restart over Chad Stapleton, Dustin Linville, Josh McGuire and Asberry. Fourth-starting Dustin Neat nearly lost control in turn two on the first lap and slipped back, losing a few positions. He'll have to fight back into contention for one of three transfer spots. Morgan Bagley had to duck into the pits, but he returned for the restart.
8:13 p.m.: First heat takes green
The first of six heat races is off with 12 laps to go in the first heat. The start was called back when seventh-starting Josh McGuire spun in turn two and Eddie Carrier Jr. had to duck into the hot pit outside turn three with a flat right-front tire. He'll get a couple of laps to change it.
8:11 p.m.: Interesting storylines
Someone just asked me: Do you think the crowd would go wild if Freddy Smith won tonight? Go wild? I told them I'd get out of the press box at lap 90 because I figure the whole grandstand might collapse. The 65-year-old Hall of Famer, making just his third starting in two seasons, is one of the interesting storylines. Among the others, Jimmy Owens is trying to become the race's first four-time winner. ... We're racing without the hottest driver in the country, hometown driver Darrell Lanigan, who opted for a Miami Beach, Fla., vacation after a long stretch of six straight World of Outlaws Late Model Series victories. ... Among never-before North-South 100 starters on the front rows of heat races are Dustin Linville, Chad Stapleton and Tim Rivers.
8:02 p.m.: Heats coming up soon
It's a perfect evening at Florence with a standing-room only crowd. Heat races are scheduled for 8 p.m. followed by the modified feature, Late Model consolations, track prep, and then the 100-lap main event. The first heat pulled onto' the track about 8:06 p.m. but they'll have to burn some greasiness off the surface.
8:01 p.m.: Scouting the sixth heat
Row 1: R.J. Conley, Steve Shaver
Row 2: Randy Weaver, Eric Wells
Row 3: Robby Hensley, Scott James
Row 4: David Spille, Tim Prince
Row 5: Billy Gullion, Vern LeFevers
Shaver’s a two-time winner at Florence but still might be a bit of an underdog here when stacked up against Lucas Oil’s best. He’ll run off with this one with Weaver a good candidate to get second.
The third spot? Could end up as a tight duel between Conley and James, who surely is disappointed in his qualifying effort. Let’s go with Shaver, Weaver and James.
8 p.m.: Scouting the fifth heat
Row 1: Mike Jewell, Brad Neat
Row 2: Steve Francis, Billy Moyer
Row 3: Walker Arthur, Mike Marlar
Row 4: Terry Lanigan, Nick Latham
Row 5: Mike Unger, Jason Barrett
Row 6: Kenny Hyde Jr.
This might be the toughest one to pick. Outside Arthur among the first three rows, any of the drivers are reasonable picks to transfer. Jewell would need a good start to get rolling, and Moyer’s going to have to convince himself he can run well at a track where he hasn’t won in 16 years.
Let’s go with Kentuckians Neat and Francis followed by Jewell in third. Marlar and Moyer will be right there.
7:59 p.m.: Scouting the fourth heat
Row 1: Freddy Smith, Steve Casebolt
Row 2: Jimmy Owens, Josh Williams
Row 3: Jesse Lay, Tim McCreadie
Row 4: Tyler Reddick, Stephen Breeding
Row 5: D.J. Wells, Jim Price
Row 6: Tommy Carlton
There’s not more of a fan favorite starting in the front row than the 65-year-old Smith, a Hall of Famer making just his third start in the past 12 months. He was solid in time trials, and fellow front-row starter Steve Casebolt looked speedy in time trials, although he lost some momentum exiting turn four on both laps.
Let’s go with Casebolt, Owens and Smith. McCreadie a dark horse but he’s hit another rough patch after seemingly finding his groove at mid-summer.
7:59 p.m.: Scouting the third heat
Row 1: Ray Cook, Scott Bloomquist
Row 2: Greg Johnson, Justin Rattliff
Row 3: Brian Birkhofer, Jared Landers
Row 4: Jimmy Mars, James Rice
Row 5: John Gill, Mick Sansom
Cook and Bloomquist will be tough to unseat at a track where they’re always fast. Greg Johnson was solid in qualifying, but among those chasing him will be Justin Rattliff, Brian Birkhofer and former winner Jimmy Mars.
I’ll take Cook, Bloomquist and Johnson. Just too far to come for Mars, who didn’t even make the USA Nationals lineup last weekend at Cedar Lake, one of his favorite tracks.
7:58 p.m.: Scouting the second heat
Row 1: Tim Rivers, Rick Eckert
Row 2: Jonathan Davenport, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 3: Jason Jameson, Chad Smith
Row 4: John Blankenship, Chris Combs
Row 5: Josh Scott, Danny Hatcher
Row 6: Mason Combs
Tim Rivers finds himself in some tall timber with Eckert, Davenport and Pearson surrounding him. It’s hard to see him fighting off that bunch, but throw former track champ Jason Jameson in the mix, it should be an exciting battle for the third transfer spot. I’ll take Eckert, Pearson and Jameson
7:51 p.m.: Scouting the first heat
While not a full-bore “scouting the heats,” here’s some predictions for the North-South heat races, which transfers three cars apiece to the main event:
Row 6: Brian Gray
Florence heats are predictable in that passing is often difficult when the track has a lot of moisture early in the night, but a the speeds dropped off quite a bit during Friday’s time trials, meaning some capable drivers ended up with mid-pack starting spots. So there are two big questions: Can some of the surprise front-row starters hang on, and can some of those mid-pack starters gain enough spots to transfer to the feature?
That’ll be tested right off the battle with Dustin Linville and Chad Stapleton both trying to earn their first North-South 100 starting spots. Fast qualifier Don O’Neal will surely survive the three-car inversion and advance, but can Eddie Carrier Jr? Joe Janowski? Or even seventh-starting Josh McGuire?
In each heat, the start of the race — and if they run caution-free — can make a big difference because a driver that gets a solid start, stays in clean air and runs in a transfer spot the whole way may be tough to catch for a driver who has to fight his way past a few competitors to get in contention to transfer.
All that said, I’ll take Linville, O’Neal and Neat to transfer from the first heat.