LAKE CITY, Mich. — Josh Richards won the Keyser Manufacturing Great Lakes Shootout decisively Sunday night at Merritt Speedway. With his 17th trip to victory lane, Richards tied the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series record for most wins in a season.
“We got to win six or seven and we’ve had a phenomenal year,” Richards said. “It’s just crazy to think we’ve had ten wins since then. The track moved around quite a bit, more than I thought. I thought the bottom was going to be better than the top. The top had just enough brown where I was a little too tight early. But once the tires got to speed it was a lot better. I was just trying to get through lapped traffic the best I could, catch the brown, and it was a lot of fun racing. I can’t thank Merritt enough for holding us out another day.”
Though Richards led the 24-car field into the green flag for 50 laps, it only took Fruitport, Mich. native Richard Neiser the following lap to undertake him in turn two for the lead. In a caution-free feature, the top five thereon spaced itself out into one-second splits. When the top of the field hit lapped traffic on lap 12, which is when windows of opportunity opened for those drivers.
The top three grouped together while positions four through six followed suit. Richards gained ground on Neiser’s No. 87 Bowman’s Body Shop/ Daugherty Motorsports Rocket car, cutting the margin down to less than one second. On lap 21, Richards wedged his No. 1 Valvoline/ Seubert Calf Ranches Rocket car under Neiser in turn one, reclaiming the lead.
“Rich did a great job setting the pace,” Richards said. “He kind of showed me how much brown was left up there. I got to give him a lot of credit. He was one of the reasons why this car was as fast as it is. He helped us a lot — him and his brother. We had a great battle out there. It’s crazy.”
With 20 laps remaining, Richards kept three lapped cars in-between Neiser. Within the next few laps, Brandon Overton wheeled his No. 76 Budwiser/ C-H Paving Moyer/ Victory racecar into on the top of the cushion in turn three. His target: 2011 Series Champion Rick Eckert. Though he did not reel him in on lap 32, he succeeded the next lap.
With 10 laps remaining, Richards opened up a 3.876-second lead on the field. Meanwhile, Overton used his momentum to catapult his car into the second spot. Richards went on to win by a 7.467-second margin, earning the $10,000 purse. Overton recorded his 13th top five performance, finishing in the runner-up spot. Neiser rounded out the podium.
“We just started a little too far back.” Overton said. “I didn’t really get going until the last 15 laps. I hope I’m gaining some points. I’d love to go to Charlotte just to race. I’d like to go there without any pressure. We’ve been working on it, and we’re definitely getting better. I’m excited. We did some stuff to the car last night and some stuff today. It was good.”
Neiser was the only Michigan-native to place in the top five.
“I have to thank Mark and Josh for helping me with that car first of all,” Neiser said. “If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t be what it is. I got to thank my brother and all my sponsors. I represented Michigan the best I could and as far as I’m concerned, I won the thing. Thanks for all the fans who came out. I really appreciate it. Right at the end, I got into lapped traffic and was a little too snug. I knew I was in trouble. I was hoping for a yellow.”
Josh Richards, Brandon Overton, Rich Neiser, Rick Eckert, Shane Clanton, Billy Moyer Jr., Dona Marcoullier, Eric Wells, Eric Spangler, Morgan Bagley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Brian Shirley, Tyler Erby, Joey Coulter, Nick Kurtz, Chub Frank, Steve Casebolt, Dale McDowell, Travis Stemler, Brandon Thirlby, Bill Bray, Boom Briggs, Greg Gokey, Brad Harden.