It should come as a surprise to no one that a feature race at Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, South Carolina came down to a game of tire management. A number of late-race cautions for drivers forced to slow when their tires expired before the end of the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series-sanctioned Rock Gault Memorial 60-lap main event proved to be a major story. While Brandon Overton of Evans, Georgia went on to score yet another high-paying win, a number of top stars found trouble during the night with much of that trouble related to tire wear.
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The eventual winner pointed out later that he was very much playing the game of tire conservation throughout the feature.
“I thought I saved enough to roll out and pass them guys out of the rubber,” Overton declared in his victory lane interview with DirtVision.com. “I said, damn, my race car is either really, really good or their tires are wore out. I thought I had enough but they kept blowing them and I wasn’t going to take no chance so I just backed up(the pace). It is what it is, you know.”
Timing proved to be the key for Overton as he made his move to pass Jonathan Davenport for the lead in the outside groove not long after the halfway point of the race.
“You’ve got to race out there and you’ve got to play chess,” the Wells Motorsports Longhorn Chassis driver explained. “You’ve got to sit there and wait on when to go. I moved up early and I was wanting them to get up then I could get in the rubber and maybe pass them that way, but nobody did. They all stayed on the bottom.”
Overton ultimately took the checkered flag and the $40,000 that went with it.
Chris Madden methodically moved up the leaderboard by managing his tires then ending his night with a runner-up finish on the track located not far from his Gray Court, SC home.
“We got ourselves in position there,” Madden said in his post-race interview. “We just needed to finish the race. We knew tire wear was going to become an issue and it definitely did. We couldn’t have had many more restarts there, you would’ve had a lot of flats. We managed to make it go 60 when we needed it to do it and got us a good finish tonight.”
Third-place finisher Jimmy Owens also noted the need for managing tires.
“We just took our time early in the race because we knew we had to have tires left at the end,” the Newport, Tennessee racer explained. “We had a pretty decent car. We made a whole lot of adjustments and was a whole lot better there for the feature than what we was in the heat race.”
Others did not fare so well.
The top-two drivers in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings, Tim McCreadie and Jonathan Davenport, saw good runs turn bad because of tire failures.
Davenport passed NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson to take over the top spot on lap 32 but was then passed by Overton on lap 39. However, the Blairsville, Georgia star appeared to be bound for a podium finish until he slowed due to a flat tire with only four circuits remaining.
At the same time Davenport was battling with Overton for the race lead, McCreadie was moving forward. After starting the feature from the outside of the fifth row, the Watertown, NY driver had entered the top-5 and was looking to continue his march toward the front of the field. But like Davenport, a flat tire ended his hopes of a good finish. The No. 39 machine slowed on lap 42 and was forced to pull into the pit area.
McCreadie was credited with a 13th place finish while Davenport ended his night in the 19th spot.
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Another driver who saw a good effort lost late in the race was local hero Chris Ferguson. The Mt. Holly, NC driver started from the front row and was in contention much of the way. But at the same time Davenport was pitting for a fresh tire, Ferguson had to surrender the third spot to also come to the attention of his crew for service. The end result would be a 15th for “Fergy”.
Although he did not have tire issues in the feature, World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series points leader Brandon Sheppard did have his night hampered by a shredded tire. After setting fast time in Group A qualifying, the No. 1 Rocket Chassis car was slated to start from the pole position in the first heat race of the night. But before the cars even took the green flag, a jam up at the front of the field led to contact between Sheppard and third-starting Trent Ivey with a cut left rear tire being the result for Sheppard.
After having to start the heat race from the tail, Sheppard failed to transfer to the main event. After not making his way into the top-3 in the Last Chance Showdown, the New Berlin, Illinois driver had to use a series provisional and start from the 12th row in the feature.
A night that started off well for Sheppard then turned sour quickly eventually ended with a 10th place result.
The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series will now head to Georgia for a $10,000-to-win affair at the Lavonia Speedway on Friday night then to Bulls Gap, Tennessee for $10,000-to-win race at the Volunteer Speedway on Saturday evening.
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