Brennon Willard took advantage of a late race yellow flag and then took the lead on a lap 26 restart from point leader Kaleb Allison to become the 4th different O’Reilly Auto Parts Pro Late Model feature winner in 4 events in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action at the Lebanon I-44 Speedway Saturday night on Caddy Shack Golf Car Night At The Races.
The Late Model feature saw points runner-up Kyle Donahue jump to the opening lap lead from his outside from row starting spot with current track point leader Kaleb Allison following closely as the field remained tight in the opening laps.
A major crash on lap 12 involving front runners Steve Holt who was running 4th and Jimmy Vanzandt who at the time was in 7th place along with 6th place Kevin Donahue bunched the already tight field together as Holt and Vanzandt were done for the night with extensive damage to their cars.
On the restart, Kyle Donahue and Kaleb Allison had current NASCAR Missouri State point leader Austin Fullerton and 10th starter Willard applying pressure to the front runners. On lap 16, Willard moved into 3rd spot with Jake Griffin following him through after starting the night in the 15th spot. On lap 17, Allison moved around Donahue to take the lead as Willard followed. A tight 4 car battle for the lead kept the fans guessing to the winner for as dark skies hung over the speedway. The red flag flew on lap 22 for another major wreck involving Fullerton, Josh Woody and J.C. Newell with both Fullerton and Woody walking away but extensive damage to the cars.
On the restart, Allison was keeping Willard at bay with Donahue and Griffin dicing for 3rd spot right behind the leaders. The field slowed for a lap 26 caution as Griffin and Donahue touched while battling for 3rd while Willard and Allison were staging the race for the lead. Donahue went for a spin in turn 2 as Terry Smith and Peyton Lucas slightly touched behind the lead pack. Both Donahue and Griffin were sent to the rear as Smith went to the pits and Lucas was able to continue after a quick pit stop for front bumper damage.
Willard shot to the low side of leader Allison on the restart as they were side by side with veteran Terry Limberopoulos having a clean run holding off Kevin Donahue and JC Newell. Willard was able to execute the pass and record a 3 car length victory over Allison with a wild scramble for 3rd that had Limberopoulos grabbing the spot followed by Newell and Kevin Donahue.
For Willard, the win was very emotional as it marked the anniversary of his Grand-Father and track builder Bill Willard passing away. “I wanted this win tonight because of the date as Grandpa passed away in 2002, the last season the track was pavement. I learned a lot from grandpa and some of his vision was the reason we decided to take the track back to pavement in 2009. The car was fastest in practice and we won the fast heat, so I felt we had the car to beat tonight. Kaleb was really quick and gave me plenty of racing room when we were side by side racing for the lead. I guess I broke the teenage winning streak in Late Models tonight as the first 3 winners this season are under 20 years old.” For Willard it was his second career Pro Late Model win at the High-Banks. Willard and Kevin Donahue captured the qualifying heat race victories.
In Budweiser Modified action, veteran Tim Swearengin continues his strong comeback season after being away from the racing scene for over 10 years as he became the 1st repeat winner in 5 features this season. Swearengin wasted no time in taking the lead on the opening lap from his 4th starting and withstanding a mid-race charge from Ricky Icenhower to take his 2nd win of the season. Current points-runner-up Chris Johnson and Joe Bunkers brought the open-wheeled cars to the green as Swearengin shot quickly to the top groove and headed the pack. Opening night winner David Bates moved around Johnson on lap 3 and began to close in on Swearengin as Icenhower was working from the back of the field.
The 1st yellow waved as Brian Lewis and Mark Riddle made contact ending both of their nights. On the restart, Icenhower moved by Bates and started applying pressure to the leader as current Lebanon I-44 Speedway point leader Stephen Counterman was quietly working from the 11th starting spot. Icenhower was applying heavy pressure to Swearengin, but had nothing for the leader with Swearengin taking the checkered followed by Icenhower, Bates, Counterman and Johnson completing the top 5.
Front runner Terry Taylor’s strong run forward ended with a Transmission issue late in the race. After pulling into the pits on the pace laps, Taylor started 12th and just barely made the green flag. Taylor was challenging Johnson for a top 5 run when the car slowed on lap 21 as he pulled to the infield. Richard Lewis and Icenhower grabbed the heat race wins.
The Coca-Cola Charger feature went caution free as 13 cars took the green flag and again showed close racing all night long with 3 different leaders taking turns before point leader Jordan Nisbett took home his 3rd feature win out of 5 features so far this season. 18 year old lady driver Lauren Buhr of Neosho grabbed the opening lead from the outside front row as Ben White and defending champion Jimmy Poindexter went wheel to wheel early while Nisbett started the night in the 8th starting spot. Buhr held the top spot until lap 3 when White and Poindexter both went around as Nisbett was racing hard with John Hunn for position. On lap 5, Nisbett moved around White at the stripe to take over the lead as White and Poindexter stayed close behind.
With a 3 way battle up front, the race for 4th place was even tighter as Buhr, Hunn, Jason Walls, and Larry Hunter were swapping spots. On lap 10 of the 12 lap feature, Nisbett opened-up a 4 car length advantage as White and Poindexter were wheel to wheel for second. White nipped Poindexter for the spot with Hunn and Walls completing the top 5 as 11 of the 13 starters finished on the lead lap. The brothers Japheth Nisbett and Jordan Nisbett took home the heat race wins.
The Monster Energy Sportsman feature played to the old saying” Rubbing Is Racing” as current point leader Toby Harden and Paul Jepsen went back and forth swapping the lead several times before Harden took home his second win of the season.
Jepsen, a 2-time feature winner this season grabbed the opening lead as Harden and JC Newell followed. After a quick exchange of passes, Harden grabbed the lead on lap 2 and was keeping Jepsen at bay until lap 5 when Jepsen went back around. With close quarters up front, Jepsen spun after contact by Harden as both drivers were sent to the rear.
JC Newell would lead on lap 6 as both Harden and Jepson made a 3 wide pass with Harden taking back the lead and Jepsen right on his rear quarter panel. In turn 4 of lap 12, Jepson made a quick pass to get back in front as Harden again made the cross over move in turn two of the following lap to lead.
Justin Blake’s spin on lap 14 slowed the pace with Harden in front. On the restart, Harden pulled some distance on Jepsen and held on to grab the win with Jepson, Newell, Blake and Justin Allen following. Jepson took home the heat race victory.
For the Keyser Manufacturing Road Warriors point leader Carl Harlow recorded his 2nd win of the season after taking the lead from Nick Cherry on lap 4. Cherry grabbed the opening lead from the pole position with Les Mallard and Harlow following. Harlow kept working the low side of the track and moved around Mallard on lap 3. With the feature staying green for the distance, Harlow made the pass in turn 2 around Cherry. On lap 5, Mallard moved around Cherry for 2nd place as Lebanon’s Michael Juergensen was making a great run after spinning on the opening lap. By lap 10, Juergensen moved into the runner-up spot and was slowly closing in on the leader when the checkered flew. Following Harlow and Juergensen to the line was Mallard, early leader Cherry and Mike Funcannon.
Racing continues Saturday Night June 7th with Budweiser Night at the races. The Ground-Pounding Modifieds will run the 50 lap Budweiser Shootout along with Monster Energy point’s events for Pro Late Models, Chargers, Sportsman and Road Warriors as race time begins at 7PM while the gates open at 5PM.
For more information visit the website at WWW.I44Speedway.Net and check out the Facebook page and join the ever-growing followers.
– Lebanon I-44 Speedway Press Release. Photo Credit: Lebanon I-44 Speedway