RIPLEY, W.Va. – In a tremendous finish between the top two in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Championship points standings, Don O’Neal held off Jimmy Owens to win the 46th annual Hillbilly Hundred on Sunday night at I-77 Raceway Park.
O’Neal fought off some tough challenges to claim the $25,000-victory in America’s oldest crown jewel event. The event was also part of the ASi Crown Jewel Cup presented by Dirtondirt.com and awarded valuable points towards the year end $10,000 cash award.
Steve Francis, driving the Clint Bowyer Racing team car to O’Neal, charged back from the tail to finish third after spinning out early while running second. Dennis Erb Jr. finished fourth and Jonathan Davenport rounded out the top five.
“This is a pretty fun and interesting track to race on,” said O’Neal, who now sits just 25 points behind Owens in the race for the series championship. “There were so many caution flags out there. I felt like they hurt me because I’d get my rhythm going and then we would have another caution. Jimmy came up there near the end and made it closer than I wanted it to become. It feels good to win such a prestigious race; a lot of great drivers have won this one, and to win this for Clint Bowyer, Barry and Lance Wright, Jeremy Justice, and Tony Trent is a great way to top off the weekend.”
Mason Zeigler led the first nine laps from the pole. O’Neal passed Zeigler for the lead on lap 10. O’Neal then held the top spot until Francis charged to the point on lap 15. The frantic race for the lead continued with O’Neal surging back ahead with 19 laps scored.
“Early on, that was a great race for the lead. I was trying to keep the car on the bottom as I was working my way up there. These corners are so tight. This is such a demanding track, physically, and you have to be up on the wheel at all times that for sure,” O’Neal said.
Francis and Scott Bloomquist dueled side-by-side for second until Francis brought out a caution on lap 42 as he spun in turn two. Carrier eventually unseated Bloomquist for the second spot on lap 73. Owens then got by Bloomquist and moved up to second around Carrier just two circuits later. With 76 laps complete Bloomquist suddenly slowed with a problem as he went pit-side. The race was under a red flag on lap 82 when the two-time Hillbilly Hundred winner Mike Marlar flipped in turn three. He escaped uninjured after the crash.
Several cautions in the remaining 18 laps kept the field bunched up. O’Neal and Owens then went at it tooth-and-nail to the checkers as Owens pulled even with O’Neal several times in turn four, but could never clear O’Neal to take over the lead.
“I ran the car hard into four, but left him plenty of room. I wasn’t going to wreck either one of us. That was a heck of finish. I hoped the fans enjoyed the race. I think we all put on a pretty good show,” said Owens.
Francis restarted 24th after his spin and recovered nicely to finish a close third.
“I really messed up by spinning, but I was able to drive through the field. I thought for a while that we might have a shot at winning this thing. We have tried so long to win this race. I go back to the Pennsboro days in trying to win this. We had a car good enough to win tonight, but it’s another podium finish for the Georgia Boot No. 15,” said Francis.
Don O’Neal, Jimmy Owens, Steve Francis, Dennis Erb Jr., Jonathan Davenport, Devin Moran, Tim Dohm, Eddie Carrier Jr., Corey Conley, John Blankenship, Jeremy Berwanger, Zack Dohm, Jared Hawkins, Jared Landers, Jason Hughes, Kenny Newhouse, Harold Redman Jr., Earl Pearson Jr., Davey Johnson, Jason Papich, Scott Bloomquist, Mike Marlar, Mason Zeigler, Chris Garnes, Steve Shaver, Freddie Carpenter, Jackie Boggs.