“As hard as it was to walk away (from dirt racing), it was definitely the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Richards, who headed off to focus on NASCAR in April 2012, seven races into the WoO LMS season. “I met a lot of great people, very important people — including, obviously, my wife-to-be (Andrea Cleveland) — and I learned a lot about myself. I mean, I had never even lived outside of my (childhood) house, so just being away and learning to do things on your own a little bit differently was something new.
“I was kind of able to take a break. This is my 10th year of racing and I had done eight years straight on the tour — it’s all I had ever done for a paycheck. A break was definitely worthwhile.”
Indeed, upon returning to the clay fulltime this season, Richards was recharged for a WoO LMS championship assault. With a winter of laser-focused preparation in the shop behind him, he jumped right back into the World of Outlaws wars as if he had never left.
Richards burst out of the starting gate on the 2013 WoO LMS. During the season-opening stretch of February racing in Georgia and Florida he won twice (Feb. 9 at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga., and a $20,000 special-event score on Feb. 17 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.) and finished outside the top five just once in eight A-Mains (a seventh-place finish on Feb. 22 at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla., after a mud-covered helmet shield forced him to pit).
After finishing second to Shane Clanton in the lidlifter at Screven and then tying Clanton for the top spot in the points standings with a victory the following night, Richards seized sole possession of the points lead after the season’s third race and never looked back. He was tailed closely by Clanton through the spring but steadily pulled away over the second half of the schedule, ultimately clinching the title with a third-place finish in the next-to-last race, on Nov. 8 at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C. He put a cherry on top of his campaign with a triumph in the World Finals finale on Nov. 9, giving him a career-high 10-win WoO LMS season and a 150-point championship margin over Darrell Lanigan that ranks as the third largest in tour history.
“This year was just kind of a blur,” Richards said. “It feels like we just started Speedweeks in Georgia and Florida, so it’s hard to believe it’s over and we won the championship again.
“It was such a fun season,” he continued. “We started off and everybody just clicked. We picked up a new crew member in Cody Duncan and he did a phenomenal job working with my dad and Matt (Barnes, the 2013 WoO LMS Crew Chief of the Year). We were able to get back in our rhythm and just kept the momentum up all year long.”
Aside from trailing Lanigan’s 12 wins on the WoO LMS checkered-flag list, Richards led the circuit in virtually every meaningful statistic. Over the 46-race season he had the most top-five finishes (32); top-10 finishes (41); fast-time honors (seven); heat wins (24); laps led (451); and money won ($342,970, including points-fund cash). In addition, he appeared in just two B-Mains all season, didn’t use a single provisional to start a feature and completed 2,400 of the campaign’s 2,450 A-Main laps.