*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.
The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American All-Star Pro Late Models Presented by PPM Racing Products
Give an overview of the upcoming Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series season
Richard: This has to be one of the most interesting and perhaps unpredictable seasons in Dirt Late Model racing history. With the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series incorporating a ‘Chase’ format that will guarantee a tight battle for the championship all the way down to the season finale in the Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway, there are a lot of things that can happen in terms of championship implications.
No doubt, there will be at least one driver who was not thought of as a title contender who will go into that race with a shot and there will be at least one who was thought of as a favorite who will not. We see such a scenario play out almost annually in the NASCAR Playoffs.
As far as the individual races go, there could be some impact on those in that drivers may feel it worth the risk to take chances that they might not have taken under the old format in hopes of securing a spot in the next round. At the same time, those who have done what it takes to lock themselves into the next round may guard against damaging a favorite car.
In the end, the top stars are going to win most of the races as they always do. But as always, there will be the occasional surprises as well. Just how much impact will those surprises have on the final outcome is the key question going forward.
Michael: Anyone that knows me knows I’m no fan of the NASCAR Playoffs. Having said that, I’m not thrilled with it coming to Dirt Late Model racing. I still think most drivers are more focused on winning races instead of a title. The drivers in contention for a championship do get concerned about a title as the season goes along.
I will say as the years have gone along; I do get interested in the NASCAR Playoffs once they are here. It may take some time, myself and other fans may warm up to it. The difference here is there is more than one Dirt Late Model series to follow.
Name the drivers who will be consistent front runners
Richard: Tim McCreadie and Jonathan Davenport have won this series championship in four of the last five years with only the 2020 run by Jimmy Owens interrupting their dominance. When picking drivers who will consistently run up front on this series, the conversation has to begin with those two considering that both look to run the full slate in 2023.
McCreadie and Davenport will pile up the feature wins and will be in contention for the championship come the Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway at the end of the season. With this ‘Chase’ format now being used, simply getting to the finale with a chance is really all one can hope for as there are so many factors that can happen to determine the outcome of a single race.
From early indications, it looks as if Devin Moran and Double Down Motorsports will be in the mix after the new pairing won in their first two outings in the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Model Series-sanctioned Sunshine Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. While there will still be some time needed for settling in to his new situation, I believe Moran will win multiple race on the Lucas Oil tour, especially on the tracks he is most familiar with.
I also believe that Ricky Thornton Jr. is primed for a good season. He was third in the final standings last year and seemed to always have a fast car when he unloaded at the track. He is one of those guys who may not draw a lot of attention to himself but is always right there as a contender so I look for him to be among those vying for the title as the season winds down.
Michael: In a previous blog, I predicted Davenport would be this year’s champion. McCreadie will be tough to beat. Thornton was my dark house pick. The one driver I omitted was Devin Moran. I have always thought Moran was one of those breakout drivers to win a bunch of races if he was in the right situation. I believe he is in that situation now. If Volusia is any indication, look out.
What drivers have the best chance of beating out the expected front runners?
Richard: Maybe the better question here is ‘Can anyone who drives something other than a Longhorn contend on a regular basis?’
That said, I look for Garrett Alberson to become a thorn in the sides of the regular front runners. He seemed to get consistently better as the season went on last year and now, with that experience under his belt, I believe he could very well be ready to win a feature here and there.
Another driver I am very interested to watch is Hudson O’Neal in the Rocket Chassis house car. In the few races he ran at the end of last season and the Sunshine Nationals he appears to be struggling to find the handle on his new ride. I have no doubt that with his talent and the depth and experience of that team, they will become a force. It will just be a matter of how long it takes.
Also, Tyler Erb scored an emotional victory at the end of 2022 in the Gateway Nationals in St. Louis. However, the Best Performance Motorsports team seemed to struggle in the Rio Grande Waste Services Wild West Shootout at Vado Speedway Park. We have seen Erb win some big races in the past but we have also seen inconsistency from that team. When they hit on the right combination, Erb and crew chief Randall Edwards can be as fast as anyone.
Michael: I guess O’Neal would have to be that one driver not in a Longhorn that could rain on the Longhorn parade. That is the top Rocket team and they won’t sit idly by as another chassis maker dominates the sport. I suppose time will tell if this team is a good fit. Albertson finished ’22 on a strong note. I’m interested to see if he is more successful following a year on the tour.
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