*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
What aspects of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series portion of Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks got your attention?
Richard: I would say that the thing that got my attention was the diversity of feature winners. In the 11 Lucas Oil features contested at the four tracks employed by the series, there were eight different victors with no one earning more than two trophies. And with only a couple of exceptions, it was as if the drivers and teams took turns being hot and not being hot. For example, Brandon Overton started SpeedWeeks with two wins in the first three races then ended the run with three straight finishes outside the top-5. Conversely, Hudson O’Neal had some early struggles then ended the stretch with back-to-back triumphs.
As is always the case in that part of the world, weather plays a significant role in track preparation. As a result, it seemed as if competitors were on a new track each night, even when they weren’t. The changes in track conditions no doubt was a factor in the diversity of winners.
Another thing that got my attention was the battle among the chassis brands. Following the Wild West Shootout, the Sunshine Nationals, and the first few Lucas Oil races, it looked as if Longhorn was on its way to a season of total domination. Then, however, Rocket came to life by winning five straight features at East Bay.
If these early returns are any indication, it looks as if we are in for a very competitive season.
Michael: One thing that got my attention was the performance of Rocket. Many had written off Rocket, and particularly the Rocket house car. Following last season and then the racing at Vado in January, Longhorn was on top of their game and the sport. Many wondered if Rocket was being left behind. They proved those naysayers wrong.
Something else that got my attention was the success of the so-call “regional” racers. Even though Ashton Winger has raced all across the country, some had written him off after last season’s problems. He redeemed himself with wins at East Bay in both the crates and LOLMDS.
Who is coming out of the first couple of weeks with the LOLMDS hot?
Richard: While Brandon Overton started out hot and Hudson O’Neal closed out hot, driver Ricky Thornton Jr. was impressive all throughout the 11 features run by the Lucas Oil Series. After finishing a very solid third in the 2022 standings, the SSI Motorsports driver has quickly established himself as one of the contenders who could go into the Dirt Track World Championship with a shot at the title.
Another driver and team who impressed as SpeedWeeks rolled on was Tyler Erb and Best Performance Motorsports. In their first few outings of 2023, this looked like a team that had lost its way. Then, almost as quickly as things had seemingly gotten away from them following their win in the Gateway Nationals last December, they came roaring back with a win and a string of strong runs.
The interesting part will be to see who can carry positive vibes out of Florida. Overton and the Wells Motorsports team have tended to follow pick-and-choose schedule over the past couple of seasons, but there is so much money available on the series if he stays. And we all know how good the No. 76 can be at Eldora Speedway where the championship-deciding DTWC will play out so if he can stay in the top-4(if he remains on the tour) he could go into that race as the favorite.
And if O’Neal carries his newfound momentum out of SpeedWeeks, we all know what that team can do when they get on a roll.
Michael: Ricky Thornton Jr. is the top of my list for this category. Even on the nights where he struggled early on, he rebounded with good finishes. I know Hudson O’Neal was strong all week long, RTJ has the points lead and wins outside of East Bay.
I thought Max Blair has done well to this point. I know he didn’t get any wins, he was in contention for several wins. And some wondered if being Boom Briggs’ teammate would be good or not. So far, it’s been good.
Who is not hot coming out of these first couple of weeks with the LOLMDS?
Richard: While I would not put these two drivers into the category of “not”, I am surprised that Jonathan Davenport and Tim McCreadie were only able to win one feature among the two of them during the Lucas Oil portion of the schedule. After the way Davenport fired off in the Wild West Shootout, he looked to be on his way to another season like those of 2015 and 2022 but his lone win at Bubba Raceway Park along with only one other top-5 were the only real highlights he has experienced so far in Florida.
McCreadie also seemed to struggle to find his usual consistency while in the deep South. No wins and three top-5 finishes made up his stat line coming off of two consecutive LOLMDS title runs. Again, it isn’t as if these first few races were a disaster, but the No. 39 was not at the front of the field as often as might have been expected.
Another driver who had his struggles was Jimmy Owens. There was a lot working against this team coming into these races as the ‘Newport Nightmare’ most likely does not count any of the venues used among his favorites. And more, this Koehler Motorsports team only came together just a very short time before SpeedWeeks was to get underway. It will be interesting to see what type of schedule the four-time Lucas Oil champion follows and if the ship can be righted very soon.
Michael: Davenport and McCreadie would have to be top of the list. Davenport usually runs well at East Bay. But he had problems at Bubba and Golden Isles. That is very surprising.
McCreadie wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t in the mix very often. East Bay is a different animal. I’m not concerned about where he will be as the season goes along.
Despite a hot start in January, I was surprised Devin Moran wasn’t any stronger than he was, especially at East Bay. He’s very successful and I expected him to win a race or two there. We’ll see what he does on his return to Volusia this week.
Please consider also reading:
Finding success with new team has bolstered Hudson O’Neal’s confidence level
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