TAMPA, Fla. – Past Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year Mason Zeigler narrowly edged out Kyle Bronson to win Friday night’s Wrisco Industries Winternationals feature at East Bay Raceway Park.
For Zeigler, it was his second career Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win, with both coming at East Bay.
A caution with nine laps to go set up a frantic single-file restart. Zeigler made a charge to the lead before he and Bronson traded the lead twice in the final four laps, with Zeigler ultimately winning by a scant .068 seconds.
Bronson finished second in the Brandon Ford Rocket, with Brandon Sheppard taking third in the Valvoline-backed Mark Richards Racing Rocket House Car.
Tyler Erb finished in fourth, followed by Jonathan Davenport, who completed the top five.
Before a packed house, Sheppard bolted to the lead early over Tyler Erb and Jimmy Owens, with the perennial World of Outlaws Late Model Series dominator in search of his third win of the week.
Sheppard held off Erb for the first eight laps of the race until the first caution came out. On the restart, Bronson gained the lead for the first time in the race, as he passed Sheppard for the top spot. Sheppard fell to second, with Owens still holding the third spot.
On lap 17, Josh Richards, who was running fourth after starting 10th, slowed with drive line failure. On the restart, a long green flag run opened up for 24 laps, with Bronson holding the point.
With 10 laps to go the running order was Bronson, Sheppard, Erb, Jonathan Davenport and Zeigler.
A caution for a slowing Boom Briggs on lap 41 set up a classic East Bay finish.
On the restart with nine laps to go, Bronson carried the lead to within five laps of victory, but Zeigler was picking off cars one by one as he climbed to third and then eventually second with four laps remaining.
Zeigler and Bronson then staged an epic battle for the race lead, with Bronson yielding the lead to Zeigler on lap 48, but coming back to lead at the white flag.
On the final lap, Zeigler went back around Bronson and as they came to the checkers, Zeigler edged Bronson by a nose for his first series win since winning at East Bay in 2016.
Zeigler, the 2018 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Rookie of the Year, was ecstatic with the win before a cheering crowd in victory lane.
“I knew Kyle (Bronson) was going to be tough because that cushion was still pretty good up there. The cautions really helped me, because their tires were getting a little cool and I could just work that middle (groove),” Zeigler explained. “I knew if I could just get ahead of him, clear him, and take his nose getting into (turns) one and two, we could drive away.
“He gave me all I wanted. I didn’t expect that slider. I didn’t think he’d be able to pull up alongside me again, and he sure as heck did. We just had barely enough room there,” Zeigler added. “I did everything I could not to door him; it’s just hard-core racing. This place is elbows up and get after it. We’re just happy to come out here and put on a show.”
Bronson was looking for his second career series win during the East Bay Winternationals, and led 40 of the 50 laps, but came up just short.
“The late caution definitely hurt me there. I felt like I had a little bit of a gap before that happened, but we had a 1300 on, and them guys had a 40 on,” noted Bronson. “At the end there, when we fired up with nine laps to go, I knew my tire was done. I drove as hard as I could, I felt like, without putting it into the fence.
“Mason did a good job. He raced me hard, he raced me clean, and I wasn’t going to wreck him as clean as he raced me. That was all I could do to hold him back; I just couldn’t beat that tire,” Bronson said. “He did a good job. I have to thank my guys, though. We destroyed a car this week and put this crate car together, and came back and raced last night. I’ve got some momentum going now and hopefully we’ll win $12,000 tomorrow.”
Sheppard was on a mission to win his third race of the week and led the first eight laps, ultimately taking another podium finish.
“At the beginning, I was going too hard and was overheating my tires on the long runs. Every time I tried to move down, I wasn’t any good, but it was because I was overheating my tires,” Sheppard noted. “I think Mason had a little different tire than we did, and that probably helped him get down there in the black.
“Once Kyle passed me there I was just kind of just riding behind him.”
Mason Zeigler, Kyle Bronson, Brandon Sheppard, Tyler Erb, Jonathan Davenport, Mike Marlar, Tim McCreadie, Tanner English, Brian Shirley, Tyler Bruening, Devin Moran, Jimmy Owens, Hudson O’Neal, Dennis Erb Jr., Billy Moyer Jr., Shane Clanton, Stormy Scott, Chase Junghans, Shanon Buckingham, Pearson Lee Williams, G.R. Smith, Boom Briggs, Earl Pearson Jr., Jadon Frame, Josh Richards, Brian Birkhofer, Charles Powell, Billy Moyer, Colton Flinner, Freddie Carpenter.