In order to pick up the $10,000 paycheck in Friday night’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Grassy Smith Memorial at Cherokee Speedway, the driver dubbed “The Real Deal” had to be real patient.
Don O’Neal, who set fast time, won his heat and led the first two laps of the 50-lap feature at the South Carolina clay bullring, watched as drivers on a softer tire compound rocketed by in the early stages. Once Brandon Overton and Jonathan Davenport moved ahead of him, O’Neal just played the waiting game from the third position.
Lapped traffic bunched the leaders up in the final half of the race. Then once the new tires began to wear off the cars ahead of him, O’Neal turned up the wick. He passed Davenport for second on lap 32 and rocketed past Overton to take the lead just four laps later. O’Neal never surrendered the lead from there, earning his fourth Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory of the season.
“I knew when we started the race they were on the softer tires,” said the 49-year-old Inidana native O’Neal. “With that softer compound, you’re going to be fast early, but you just have to hope to have something at the end. I just let them go and tried to hang with them. We were able to stay with them and then started challenging them. The harder tires prevailed in the end.”
O’Neal’s strategy of letting the softer-tire cars set the pace early was a strategy he had picked up on throughout the 2014 campaign.
“It seems like it’s been that way every race this year,” said O’Neal. “You just cannot get out front, drive off and check out. You might be out there for a while, but someone’s going to challenge you or pass you and then you’ve got to pass them back. It’s been tough.”
Overton, of Appling, Georgia, knew that when he passed O’Neal for the lead early on, it was both a blessing and a curse.
” When I passed him, I was like, ‘Woah. What do I do? Do I slow down or keep going?” Overton quipped after finishing second. “I love watching Don O’Neal race. He’s good. I knew if I slowed down too much, he was going to charge up there and if I keep going I’d burn the tires off of it. That’s what happened. I burned the tires off of it.
“I was too excited. It would’ve been the biggest one I would’ve won yet.”
O’Neal, who teamed with the Clint Bowyer Racing before the 2014 season, has finished second in the final point standings on three occasions in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. With a fourth win that extended his point lead, O’Neal is doing everything he can right now to maybe end that championship drought.
“The season started off slow in January and I really thought we should be better than we were,” admitted O’Neal. “It’s just taken some time for them to know what I want in a racecar. Since then, I don’t want to jinx it, but we’ve been solid week in and week out.”
Behind O’Neal and Overton, Jonathan Davenport, Casey Roberts and Jimmy Owens completed the top five.
O’Neal and the rest of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series drivers will compete Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Tennessee for another $10,000-to-win event.
– By Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director – Twitter: @MattKentfield. Photo credits: Speed51.com
Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
Grassy Smith Memorial
Gaffney, South Carolina
|FINISH||START||CAR #||DRIVER NAME||HOMETOWN|
|1||1||5||Don O’Neal||Martinsville, IN|
|2||3||5e||Brandon Overton||Appling, GA|
|3||5||6||Jonathan Davenport||Mount Airy, NC|
|4||7||101||Casey Roberts||Toccoa, GA|
|5||9||20||Jimmy Owens||Newport, TN|
|6||8||15||Steve Francis||Ashland, KY|
|7||11||22||Chris Ferguson||Mount Holly, NC|
|8||10||44m||Chris Madden||Gaffney, SC|
|9||6||2F||Dennis Franklin||Gaffney, SC|
|10||4||28||Eddie Carrier, Jr.||Salt Rock, WV|
|11||14||1d||Brent Dixon||Elberton, GA|
|12||13||28e||Dennis Erb, Jr.||Carpentersville, IL|
|13||23||44||Earl Pearson, Jr.||Jacksonville, FL|
|14||19||23||John Blankenship||Williamson, WV|
|15||18||17m||Dale McDowell||Chickamauga, GA|
|16||21||777||Jared Landers||Batesville, AR|
|17||15||87||Ross Bailes||Blacksburg, SC|
|18||17||12||Jason Hughes||Watts, OK|
|19||22||5J||Eric Jacobsen||Watsonville, CA|
|20||24||91p||Jason Papich||Nipomo, CA|
|21||16||9||Johnny Pursley||Clover, SC|
|22||12||57||Zack Mitchell||Enoree, SC|
|23||2||0||Scott Bloomquist||Mooresburg, TN|
|24||20||1w||Ricky Weeks||Rutherfordton, NC|