NEW RICHMOND, Wis. — Josh Richards got his golden egg Thursday night, reaching one dozen wins at Cedar Lake Speedway’s USA Nationals preliminary show. It was Richards’ 70th World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series win.
“From 2013-15 the track changed,” said Richards, who won the $6,000 purse. “But from last year to this year, the track was quite a bit different – with the surface and everything. We could race on it really well. I want to thank all the track guys for putting on this event and working hard on the track. This is the track to race on. Thanks to all the fans for coming out.”
Richards, who won his heat race earlier in the night, caught fire in the 30-lap feature. He was supposed to start fifth in the A-Main, but electrical failures in Jonathan Davenport’s car forced him to forfeit third position. This moved everyone up by one position. Davenport won the show last season, but helped others’ cases to win this time around.
Local hero A.J. Diemel led the 27-car field into the green flag, and he held his own against regional favorites and national studs. This was while drivers began to fight for track position. Richards made quick work of Jason Feger, moving into a podium spot. This set up a three-wide battle for the lead following the race’s first caution. It was not until lap 10 when Eckert managed to get under Diemel in turn two for the lead. One lap later, Richards followed suit from the top of the front straightaway. The night’s second caution called-off his advances but for a short time.
Diemel began to fade; he finished eighth. This rekindled a regular battle between two former series champions, who are also in the top three in the 2016 series championship race. Richards, wheeling his No. 1 Valvoline/ Seubert Calf Ranches Rocket car, quickly gained on Eckert; he closed more than a one-second gap to a 0.886-second margin with 11 laps remaining. The race’s third caution diminished what cushion Eckert had left, but Feger returned to challenge Richards on the restart.
Barreling into turn four, Feger got inside Richards but within that lap, another caution prevented any position changes. Eckert, Richards and Feger maintained their podium spots respectively. In this restart, Eckert left a window of opportunity for Richards at the bottom of the track. With 10 laps remaining, Richards swept under Eckert’s No. 7 Monumental Paving & Escavating/ P-J Contracting Co. Longhorn machine.
“Rick put on one heck of a battle up there,” Richards said. “The car just went, and I just had to go for it. I grew up watching Rick win races here when I was little, so passing him there was pretty cool. He wanted to win it, but I was going to give it all I had.”
Richards would go on to extend his lead to 0.945 seconds, until the fifth caution regrouped the field. Though this restart was uneventful, the sixth and final caution was not. Richards and Eckert separated themselves from the rest of the pack by more than one second with six laps remaining. Eckert made one last attempt at Richards.
“It was a good run,” Eckert said. “I could just not get going on those restarts. (Josh) had a little more traction, and he could drive up off the corner better than I could. That’s the way he’s been. They’ve been the team to beat for sure. We can see him now, so we’re getting closer — as awful as that is to say. Here, we could finally see him.”
Richards was too strong. Eckert, though he has not won since Feb. 13, recorded his ninth top five finish of the season. Feger’s No. 25F Cheap Cars/ Floyd’s Waste Systems Black Diamond car rounded-out the podium.
“We were pretty good up there for a few minutes,” said Feger, who used the top of the track to his advantage throughout the night. “We made a few changes with the gears before the feature that hurt us on the top-side. We geared it wrong, and if we changed it down I think we would’ve been a lot faster on the top. We were good through the middle, and I thought we would’ve had something for [Rick]. It felt like we both lost right-rear grip there, and Josh didn’t seem like he did that. He’s been on fire.”
Richards will seek his second USA Nationals win Saturday night.
“We’re sure going to try,” Richards said. “Our car is really good. We’ll just have to get it to maneuver a little bit better through lapped traffic. These guys are really good, and just a little tough to pass right now.”
Josh Richards, Rick Eckert, Jason Feger, Steve Casebolt, Billy Moyer, Brian Shirley, Bobby Pierce, A.J. Diemel, Chris Simpson, Mason Zeigler, Chub Frank, Billy Moyer Jr., Shane Clanton, Tyler Erb, Frank Heckenast Jr., Chase Junghans, Morgan Bagley, Brandon Overton, Eric Wells, Jordan Yaggy, Joey Coulter, Chad Simpson, Boom Briggs, Nick Anvelink, Tim McCreadie, Lance Mathees, Jonathan Davenport.