The time has arrived for the first cut in the new ‘Big River Steel Chase for the Championship’ on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. As was announced during the past off-season, that tour will change from a format that previously had drivers accumulate points over the course of a full season with the one who compiled the highest number being declared the champion to one that will employ a series of cuts until a final group of four drivers will compete for the title in the Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway on October 21st.
After this weekend’s Show-me 100 at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri there will be 15 drivers remaining with a chance to win the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series championship. Further, there will be bonus money paid out on Saturday evening based on each competitor’s position in the standings.
As dramatic as that may sound, it may not necessarily be so. A look at the current standings shows that the top-15 are pretty much locked in considering that there have been essentially 15 drivers to have competed in all the series races held so far.
Ross Robinson currently sits 15th in the Lucas Oil standings a full 170 points ahead of 16th place Boom Briggs. Unless something really crazy happens, the drivers who will make up the group that will advance in the Chase from here is already known.
Of course, what ultimately matters with this type of format is doing what is needed to make it into the final four group of drivers who will enter the DTWC with a shot at being crowned as the champion. The series offers a payout well back into the field, but if winning the title is the goal, there is much positioning to be done between this weekend and October.
As of now, three drivers have distanced themselves from the pack at the top of the LOLMDS standings. Ricky Thornton Jr. currently leads the way with a 40-point margin over second-place Hudson O’Neal and a 90-point advantage over third-running Brandon Overton. While those three are certain to move on to the next round, it’s never too early to be thinking about positioning one’s self for that final run toward the championship. Every point amassed right now is one that the competition will have to overcome later on in the season.
The next three drivers in the standings are also guaranteed to survive this first cut and are certainly in good position to advance into the ‘Round of 12’ following the next pairing down of hopefuls after the July 15th Diamond Nationals at Lucas Oil Speedway. But it is likely that the likes of Tim McCreadie, Devin Moran and Jonathan Davenport had more in mind than just making it into the final 12 in the Chase when the 2023 season began. But if they are to make into the season finale with a chance to earn a title, they need to start gaining ground on the front runners soon.
McCreadie currently sits in fourth 365 points behind Thornton while Moran and Davenport are 430 and 435 markers respectively in arrears of the leader. The points do not re-set from round to round, except for in the last event in which the four contenders will race heads-up for the crown. As a results, it is important not to fall too far behind now or else catching back up as the features click off could become a tall order.
As is described in the video linked below, drivers such as Daulton Wilson, Max Blair, Tyler Erb, Earl Pearson Jr., Spencer Hughes, Jimmy Owens, Garrett Alberson, Tyler Bruening and Ross Robinson need to move forward quickly or risk getting eliminated from the Chase by mid-summer.
Almost certainly, many racing purists have already formed the opinion that they do not like the idea of a Chase type format. At the same time, some are looking forward to seeing how that final race at Eldora will play out with four drivers racing for a championship while also having to compete with the other noncontenders in that event.
Like it or not, there is one obvious fact regarding this system. More drivers will have a shot at winning the title under the Playoff-type format. If the more traditional way of deciding a champion was being used, the Lucas Oil championship would already be a three-horse race even though it is only May. As it is now, it is not inconceivable that someone such as Daulton Wilson or perhaps even a Jimmy Owens could get hot through the summer and fall months and work his way into the top-4 in time for the Eldora race and have a chance to collect the big trophy.
Yes, there is a bit of gimmick in this system, but at the same time, the Big River Steel Chase for the Championship is giving more drivers a chance at the title than would be the case under normal circumstances and is providing some nice bonus money opportunities along the way.
Current Lucas Oil Standings: 1. Ricky Thornton Jr.(2695), 2. Hudson O’Neal(-40), 3. Brandon Overton(-90), 4. Tim McCreadie(-365), 5. Devin Moran(-430), 6. Jonathan Davenport(-435), 7. Daulton Wilson(-525), 8. Max Blair(-535), 9. Tyler Erb(-565), 10. Earl Pearson Jr.(-570), 11. Spencer Hughes(-660), 12. Jimmy Owens(-675), 13. Garrett Alberson(-770), 14. Tyler Bruening(-880), 15. Ross Robinson(-960)
Respond to this post on Twitter by following @RichardAllenIDR and @MichaelRMoats or by liking the InsideDirtRacing.com Facebook page.
Also, NASCAR and pavement racing fans can check out InsideCircleTrack.com