OCALA, Fla. — Josh Richards closed the second annual Bubba Army Late Model Winter Nationals with a flourish, blasting to a convincing victory in the inaugural 75-lap Super Sunday Showdown at Bubba Raceway Park.
The two-time World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion seized command of the event for good on lap 18, steering his Valvoline-sponsored Rocket Chassis house car by Jimmy Owens in a powerful sweep through turns three and four. He turned back a late threat from Scott James en route to his second win of 2013 on the national tour and a lucrative payday of $20,650.
James battled brake problems in his Warrior Chassis house car over the final laps but held on to finish a WoO LMS career-best second, 3.311 seconds behind Richards. He marched forward from the 11th starting spot to race in the runner-up spot from lap 34 to the checkered flag.
Don O’Neal, who started fourth and ran in the top five throughout the event, went a bit too hard with his tire-compound selection but still placed third in Larry Moring’s MasterSbilt machine. Rick Eckert, who won the finale of last year’s Winter Nationals, finished a season-high fourth in his Team Zero by Bloomquist car and 16th-starter Chub Frank scored a season-best finish of fifth in his Rocket.
Richards, who started third, ran second behind polesitter Owens until slipping briefly into the lead on lap nine. Owens regained command the following circuit but couldn’t repel the hard-charging Richards, who made his deciding move for the top spot on lap 18.
For the remainder of the distance Richards combined a conservative inside line with some well-placed aggressiveness to spin up his 41st career WoO LMS victory.
“Owens had a little bit softer left-rear tire than we did and we fired off with him, so I felt really, really good about our chances,” said Richards, who one week earlier captured the finale of the WoO LMS Winter Freeze at Screven Motor Speedway in Sylvania, Ga. “Once I got the lead I was just trying to stay on the bottom, rotate and be easy on (the car), but there at the end it just felt like the right-rear got hot. I’d get in there and I’d feel like my right-rear would just slide up the racetrack and I couldn’t hold my left-rear down in the brown like I could (earlier).”
After Richards made contact with Eric Wells entering turn one while lapping the WoO LMS rookie on lap 59, James almost immediately drew close to the leader. But that development prompted Richards to toss his No. 1 to the outside of the three-eighths-mile, D-shaped track’s first and second corners for several laps — a move that allowed him to quickly put several lapped cars between himself and James.
“I was kind of watching their signals a little so I just felt like I had to get back up top to get the speed built back up,” said Richards, who realized that his edge over James had shrunk thanks to help from his crewmen stationed in the infield work area. “I felt comfortable running up there. I didn’t feel comfortable letting off at the bottom and feeling like you’re losing all that time.”
Richards made the right move to maintain control of the race, which ran caution-free from lap 48 to the finish. The circuit’s current points leader wore a big smile when he reached victory lane to celebrate his third career WoO LMS triumph worth $20,000 or more.
“I just gotta thank (BRP co-owner) Bubba (the Love Sponge Clem) for putting on this kind of race for us,” said Richards, who dropped off the WoO LMS last spring to compete on the NASCAR Nationwide Series but is returning to the dirt tour fulltime this season while continuing to pursue opportunities in NASCAR. “It’s cool to win the big one of the week.”
James thought he might have a shot at overtaking Richards for his first-ever WoO LMS victory when he pulled almost to Richards’s rear bumper with 15 laps remaining, but mechanical trouble hampered his bid.
“With 20 to go the brake pedal started going down to the floor,” said James, who registered his second top-five finish of the Winter Nationals, following up his fifth-place run in Friday night’s 35-lapper. “I lost my brakes — I think something came up and punctured a brake line — and then when (Richards) went around (the slower) Brandon (Sheppard) late in the race I couldn’t get in there hard. I had to turn the car on the gas, and that’s not what you want to do. I had to slow down a lot getting in at that point because I didn’t want to miss my marks and I lost ground to Josh.
“But I’m still excited about getting second. Other than my mistake putting the wrong tires on last night (he pulled off and finished 20th), we had a great weekend.”
Mason Zeigler was the surprise top qualifier in Ohlins Shocks Time Trials. His lap of 13.948 seconds earned him a career-first WoO LMS fast-time honor.
Josh Richards, Scott James, Don O’Neal, Rick Eckert, Chub Frank, Bub McCool, Shane Clanton, Tim McCreadie, Brady Smith, Tim Fuller, Jimmy Owens, Morgan Bagley, Darrell Lanigan, Eric Wells, Mason Zeigler, Brandon Sheppard, Kent Robinson, Steve Francis, Mike Marlar, Dillon Wood, Pat Doar, Casey Roberts, Billy Moyer, Clint Smith, Ron Davies, Ivedent Lloyd Jr.