World of Outlaws Notebook
Notes: Clanton anxious to restart WoO schedule
By Joshua JoinerWorld of Outlaws Late Model Series
After his stellar performance during February's World of Outlaws Late Model Series action in Georgia and Florida, the last thing Shane Clanton wanted was for the national tour to take an extended break.
Unfortunately for Clanton, harsh winter weather that lingered into early spring forced March 20-21 WoO events at Kentucky Lake Motor Speedway in Calvert City, Ky., and I-30 Speedway in Little Rock, Ark., to be cancelled and the March 27-28 Douglas Dodge Ram Truck Illini 100 weekend at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway to be postponed, resulting in a seven-week layoff in the schedule following Georgia-Florida Speedweeks.
"When you're running as good as we were you want the next race to be the next night so you can keep it going," said Clanton, the 39-year-old Zebulon, Ga., driver who won four of seven WoO events contested during February's swing through Georgia and Florida, including a sweep of the three WoO events during the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. "It kind of gets frustrating when you're ready to get back going, but that's all part of it."
The good news for Clanton is when the WoO gets back rolling later this month, the tour will make three consecutive stops at tracks where he's typically run well and won races in the past.
Confident the extended time off hasn't cooled his early-season hot streak, Clanton will look to keep up the momentum when the tour returns to action with a April 10-11 Volunteer State doubleheader at Duck River Raceway Park in Wheel, Tenn., and Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway. He's even more excited to return to Farmer City April 17-18 for the rescheduled Illini 100, an event in which he claimed a $20,000 victory in 2009.
"Hopefully we can come out just as strong," said Clanton, who leads the Woo standings by 90 points over three-time and defending WoO champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky. "We've won at all three places we've got coming up. I like all three tracks and especially look forward to Farmer City each year. Hopefully we can keep our hot streak going and pick up right where we left off in Florida."
Clanton and his Weldbank Energy-sponsored race team have done their best to use the downtime to their advantage. With his sights aimed at claiming his first WoO championship, Clanton and crew have worked hard to be as prepared as possible for the season-long points battle.
"We've just been trying to make everything go as planned and getting everything in order," said Clanton, whose previous best points finish was second in 2006. "We've tested some, trying to stay on top of things and make some improvements to all of our cars where they're all the same.
"We're just trying to improve on everything we've got. At the same time, we're going over everything and making sure we're as prepared as possible for the busy stretches we've got coming up. We want to do everything we can to avoid parts failures because our goal is to complete every lap this year. If we can do that, we should definitely be in the hunt."
With top-five finishes in all seven races this season, Clanton has firmly established himself as the early championship favorite. Considering no driver has ever came from more than 64 points down to win a WoO LMS championship, the veteran Clanton is in prime position to claim the title.
But as amazing as Clanton's 2015 performance has been thus far, it could also be the setup for a comeback that would likely be just as amazing. With a pair of three-time champions in Lanigan and Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., behind him in the standings, Clanton knows that claiming his long-awaited first WoO title is far from a sure thing.
"They're top caliber teams and top caliber drivers," Clanton said of Lanigan and Richards. "Their records show for itself what they can accomplish. We can't slack off because those guys are coming. We're off to a good start, but now we've gotta keep it going."
Lanigan primed for historic comeback
If Clanton does stumble, he'll likely have a pack of drivers on his heels. While Clanton has separated himself from the other championship hopefuls, a group of drivers behind him are much tighter with just 32 points separating second-place Lanigan and fifth-place Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa.
Lanigan, 45, has so far struggled to match the performance level that carried him to a record 17 WoO LMS victories in 2014, but he was still steady through most of the Georgia and Florida trip, especially considering he was recovering from a broken thumb suffered less than a month earlier during the Wild West Shootout in Tucson, Ariz. The good news for Lanigan is that even though his 2015 performance has been well off of his torching 2014 pace, he's not by any means out of the points battle.
The same stat that seems to make Clanton's championship coronation a near certainty could also point to another championship for Lanigan depending on how deep one reads into it. Although the largest deficit ever overcame to win a WoO LMS title is 64 points, that comeback was accomplished in 2008 by Lanigan, who went on to top Richards by a whopping 160 points that season.
From the 64-point deficit after the eighth race of 2008, to his 160-point lead at season's end, the '08 points battle swung 224 points in Lanigan's favor over a 35-race span for an average of six points gained per race. If all 41 races remaining on the 2015 schedule are run, Lanigan needs only to average a gain of slightly more than two points per race to overcome the current 90-point deficit. That's merely the difference in a single A-Main finishing position per race.
"We had a good car most of the trip down there," Lanigan said of his performance in Florida and Georgia. "It takes a little luck, especially when you get to Volusia, and we just never really got it on our side. I'm not too worried about it because I know we can get things going."
Bagley continues upward trend
Continuing his upward trajectory from last year's fourth-place points finish, third-year WoO regular Morgan Bagley of Tyler, Texas, is off to a solid start in 2015 with three top-10 performances and no finishes worse than 13th.
The cancellation of I-30 Speedway's WoO event means for the second straight year Bagley won't get to race at the track closest to his Texas home (last year's event at his home track of Lonestar Speedway in Kilgore, Texas, was also cancelled), but Bagley isn't letting that get him down. What was once a challenge for Bagley has become the norm as the 28-year-old racer continues to hone his ability to quickly adapt to tracks where he has little to no experience.
"My first two years on tour, we didn't know a lot of the tracks and we struggled some adjusting to those places," said Bagley, currently third in the WoO standings, 116 points behind Clanton. "Now we're getting to where we know some of these places and the ones we don't, we're able to go in there and adapt pretty quick."
The next few WoO races could go a long way in proving that Bagley is capable of remaining near the top of the series standings for the long haul. Bagley will look to continue a streak of top-10 finishes in both of his previous trips to Duck River and his lone visit to Tazewell.
"I think we've improved a lot since last year and we're starting to turn some of those places we weren't so good at into places we can go and complete," Bagley said. "We just gotta go out and try to stay consistent and keep putting ourselves in the hunt."
Richards still eyeing title run
An up-and-down Georgia-Florida trip has put Josh Richards in a sizeable hole early in his quest for a fourth WoO title, but there's been plenty of upside in his performance to suggest he's capable of climbing out of it.
Returning to the tour after sitting out 2014 due to medical issues, Richards scored three top-five finishes during the opening seven WoO LMS events, including his milestone 50th career WoO victory on Feb. 14 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla. But there was also a 15th-place finish at Screven (after getting caught in a late-race tangle) and finishes of 19th (flat tire) and 17th (mechanical issues) at Volusia.
Even though he's farther from the points lead than he's been in any of his full-time WoO seasons since claiming his first series title in 2009, Richards hasn't given up on his 2015 championship hopes.
"Our goal is just the same as it was before the season started: win races and win the championship," said Richards, who at 118 points behind Clanton is currently fourth in the WoO standings. "We had some setbacks that put us in a bit of a hole, but we're going to do our best to dig out of it and get back in the points battle. I don't see any reason why we can't."
Besides getting himself back in the title hunt, Richards will have some extra motivation when the tour gets back to action at Duck River. In his only previous visit to the tight quarter-mile oval, Richards led from the start of the 50-lapper until a lap-47 tangle with a lapped car sent him into the front straightaway wall and ended his run.
Chub thankful for extra downtime
The wet and cold spring was a boon for Chub Frank of Bear Lake, Pa., who underwent knee replacement surgery on his left knee on Feb. 23. The 53-year-old had intended not to miss any WoO events even though the March 20-21 doubleheader at Kentucky Lake and I-30 would've came just four weeks into a recovery process that typically requires at least six weeks of downtime.
Thanks to the extra time off due to Kentucky Lake and I-30 being cancelled and the Farmer City postponement, Frank has not only had extra time to recover but was also able to undergo an additional procedure to repair minor issues the original surgery didn't correct.
"I was ready for the other ones, but I'm glad we had the extra time off. It certainly helped," said Frank, who sits fifth in the WoO standings, 122 points out of the lead. "We had a little setback and the doctors had to go back in and do a little more work. But we did that and it made a big difference.
"It's still a little sore, but I can already tell it's better than it was. I'm glad we had the extra couple weeks off because it gave me time to go ahead and get (the additional procedure) done rather than waiting and having to deal with it again later."
Expecting to recover in time for the April 10-11 doubleheader, Frank is anxious to return to racing. He's also confident he can continue an impressive start to the season that produced some of his best performances in years.
Quickly adjusting to his new Longhorn Chassis, Frank opened the year with four consecutive top-10 finishes including a fifth-place result at Ocala in which Frank led 10 laps and battled among the leaders before fading late.
The second WoO feature at Volusia produced a third-place finish for Frank, but that came between finishes of 22nd in Volusia's WoO opener and 13th in the finale. Those two races, which are Frank's only two finishes outside the top 10 so far this season, came in races in which he was involved in a caution.
Frank hopes that his improved performance to start the season leads to a return to victory lane. For a driver looking to end a nearly six-year WoO winless streak, that can't come soon enough.
"We're very happy with the new car so far," Frank said. "We didn't hit on some of the adjustments like we needed to, but we're working on that. For the most part, the car's been really fast. We just have to work on getting everything dialed in so we can get to victory lane."
T-Mac looks for improvement
After maintaining an average finish of fourth through the final 10 races of 2014, Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., entered the 2015 season with high hopes. But the year's first seven races weren't kind to the 2006 WoO champion with McCreadie securing just three top-10 results and recording an average finish of 11th.
"I think we're searching for a lot of things to get better," said McCreadie, a former big-block modified regular who sits sixth in the WoO standings. "We're not where we want to be.
"I was feeling really good after Charlotte at the end of the year that we were on the right track with some things. We've had some small issues that hurt our finishes, but we started to run a little bit better. We're still not where we'd like to be, but we're working. Hopefully we're still headed in the right direction at least."
While he's a distant sixth in the current WoO LMS standings, McCreadie is still optimistic about getting back in the title hunt. He feels his team is capable of much better performances as he and crew chief Tommy Grecco continue to gel. Grecco, who last worked with McCreadie during his 2006 championship season, returned to McCreadie's Sweeteners Plus team just days before the team headed south for February's events.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with where we're at in the points," said McCreadie, who will celebrate his 41st birthday on April 12. "We were kind of behind getting things together for Georgia and Florida and then had just all kinds of troubles with the hauler and other stuff — the kind of stuff that just distracts you from working on the car and getting it better.
"If we can get back right where we expect to be as a race team, we can chip away and chip away, and anything's possible. We're definitely not mailing it in now. We're gonna go out and try to win races and see where the rest of it shakes out. The best way to make up ground when you're points racing is just to win races, and that's what we're gonna try to do."