After staging one of its bigger early season races last weekend in the Bad Boy 98 at the Batesville(Ark) Motor Speedway, the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series took a weekend off during the Easter observance. That pause offers the opportunity for teams, fans, and media to assess the season as it has played out so far and to look ahead for the purpose of guessing what is about to come as the 2017 campaign rolls on.
Following the holiday, the LOLMDS will head into a very busy and important stretch as it conducts eight feature races on eight different tracks over the next three weekends. Further, there will be a total of fifteen(13 points races) races for this series in the coming six weeks, culminating with the lucrative Show-Me 100 in Missouri on the last Saturday in May.
Whoever will end up as the Lucas Oil champion at the end of the season will almost certainly need to have a good run of results over the next month-and-a-half.
So what drivers have emerged as the top contenders for the 2017 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship?
The Real Contenders
A look at the standings for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series shows a distinct divide between the top-3 and those who trail them.
Scott Bloomquist- The three-time and defending series champion is an obvious choice to rank as a contender for the 2017 championship. The current leader in the standings has already scored two feature wins(East Bay & East Alabama) in the eight points-paying events held so far. And impressively, the Mooresburg, Tenn. resident has amassed six podium finishes(top-3) in those eight starts.
The No. 0 machine has been incredibly consistency and has shown plenty of strength over the last four races by posting finishes of 6th, 1st, 2nd and 2nd.
Further, Bloomquist has experience on his side as he has run this tour for years and has knowledge of most of the upcoming tracks. And even when the series does visit a new facility, the driver sometimes known as ‘Black Sunshine’ has an outstanding record on tracks that he visits for the first time.
If Bloomquist maintains the consistency he has shown to this point, he will be very difficult to unseat as the LOLMDS champ.
Josh Richards- Coming into the 2017 season many pointed to Richards as the most serious threat to challenge Bloomquist for the series championship. And particularly early on, the four-time World of Outlaws Late Models title winner showed that the faith placed in him was for good reason as he won the second points-paying race of 2017 and bolted to the early series lead. However, he has since been overtaken by Bloomquist.
A recent bit of inconsistency has hampered Richards’ efforts as he has posted results of 2nd, 11th, 14th and 4th over his last four Lucas Oil outings.
A potential issue for this driver who is competing full-time on this series for the first time in his career is that there will be tracks coming up in the future at which he has little or no experience. And while that should not be an issue when those tracks were new to everyone, it can be an issue for a driver competing against others who have many more laps than he at a particular place. One thing working in Richards’ favor, however, is that his Best Performance team has fielded cars on the LOLMDS on a regular basis for Brandon Sheppard in the past.
Although Richards does currently trail Bloomquist in the standings, history shows that he has the ability to get red hot and score points in big bunches.
Tim McCreadie- This is a driver who could be a real wildcard in the mix for 2017. McCreadie has demonstrated periods of inconsistency over the last few years as he has gone from one chassis brand to another. At the same time, he has plenty of driving talent and now appears to have all the elements of a good team behind him through his ties with Longhorn Chassis.
McCreadie has the most recent LOLMDS win after bringing home $20,000 for his triumph in the Bad Boy 98 in Batesville. Prior to that win, he had scored two top-5 finishes in the most recent three events.
McCreadie’s car has shown it has the speed in race trim as he has been able to overcome some less-than-stellar qualifying efforts this season to post good finishing results. If he can consistently qualify near the top of the page, it will allow him better heat race starting positions and definitely improve his chances to make a run at his first Lucas Oil title.
Keep an eye on these drivers
The next six weeks are critical for the drivers listed below. If they are to contend for the title against the level of competition on this tour, they must have a good run over these next thirteen races to keep the leaders in sight or they may simply find themselves racing for a place at the back of the top-5 for the remainder of the 2017 campaign.
Jimmy Owens- This is a driver who has won three LOLMDS titles and just about every big Dirt Late Model race on the planet so it seems odd to say that he has struggled(by his standards) over the past three seasons. But realistically, Owens has not shown the ability to score podium finishes on a regular basis. He did win the Show-me 100 last year but ultimately split with chassis builder Barry Wright in the middle of the campaign.
All that said, Owens and his Ramirez team have shown speed so far in the 2017 season with their Rocket XR1 chassis. As with all of these drivers who currently sit outside the top-3 in points, the question will be whether or not they can maintain that speed over the long haul and turn it into solid results. If he can find a way to do that, Owens could regain championship form during the summer months.
Earl Pearson, Jr.- This driver knows how to win a series. He was a four-time Lucas champion during a stretch from 2005-2008. However, his most recent years have not produced the kind of consistency and results that would lead to a title. But indications are that things may be taking a turn for the better in 2017. He won the Lucas Oil feature at Boyd’s Speedway in late March and is currently 5th in the series standings.
If Pearson is to once again contend for a championship, he has to find himself placing in the top-5 on a more consistent basis over these next six weeks or so.
Don O’Neal- The 2014 Lucas Oil champ has scored two top-5 finishes in the series standings since winning that title but the Clint Bowyer-owned team would no doubt like to see more visits to victory lane than they have had over the past couple of seasons. Like others, chassis changes have not brought about the number of wins they would have hoped for. However, O’Neal has won both a Lucas Oil feature(Duck River) and a WoO Late Models feature(Volusia) so far in 2017.
If O’Neal and crew can continue to show the type of speed that resulted in those early season wins, he could very well be the driver who emerges from this second pack as a serious title threat over the second half of the season.
Darrell Lanigan- The three-time WoO Late Models champion currently sits 10th in the Lucas Oil series standings and desperately needs to make a move forward over these next few weeks if he is to claw himself into the championship picture.
Since bringing his Club 29 Race Cars to Clint Bowyer Racing, Lanigan has not won races at the pace many thought he would. However, as mentioned above, Don O’Neal has shown signs of real strength so far in 2017. If Lanigan could capture some of that same mojo, he could be a force over the remainder of the season.
Dennis Erb, Jr.- The defending winner of the $100,000 Dirt Late Model Dream has shown throughout his career that he can step up and win big races from time to time. As is always the case, however, the question surrounding Erb and his team that may not have the budget equal to others he competes against is whether or not he can win races and run up front for the entire length of a long season.