IRWINDALE, Calif. — Toni McCray took her first victory of the season in the Lucas Oil Late Model Twins at Irwindale Speedway by holding onto the lead in a dramatic, door-banging, side-by-side restart with Cole Custer with two laps to go Saturday night.
Ryan Partridge won the opening Lucas Oil twins feature, leading all 30 laps to finish 1.4 seconds in front of runner-up Travis Irving.
Partridge also was victorious in the Irwindale Race Trucks, his 44th career triumph at the half-mile track to tie Tim Huddleston for second on the all-time list.
McCray had comfortable advantages wiped out three times by cautions. She started on pole and built a 2.6-second lead in the initial 18 laps before the race’s first caution. McCray decided to take the inside for the double-file restart with Mike Johnson of Covina alongside and powered into a clear lead exiting turn two.
Partridge moved from fourth to third on the same restart and was trying to overtake Johnson for second on the next lap when he made contact and spun Johnson out exiting Turn Two.
“I took him out, but it wasn’t intentional,” Partridge said. “He knows I wouldn’t do that. I came up about an inch short of clearing him.”
Partridge was sent to the rear of the field. He drove from 13th to finish fifth, his worst finish of the season in Lucas Oil Twins. He has four wins and a third in the other five races.
McCray started on the inside next to Trevor Huddleston of Agoura Hills, Calif., on the restart and immediately regained control of the lead.
Custer, a Stewart-Haas Racing development driver who is also competing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, passed Huddleston on the restart for second. But he couldn’t challenge McCray.
The race’s final caution came out as McCray rounded Turn Four, headed for the white flag. She’d have to start on lap 29 with Custer of Ladera Ranch, Calif., next to her.
McCray was thinking she’d take the third restart the same as the previous two, on the inside. But after talking with crew chief Rip Michaels, she went to the outside.
“Rip has helped not only with making the car better, but with my driving,” McCray explained. “He asked me how Cole had been on the previous restarts and I told him he hadn’t been that strong down low. I decided to take the outside.”
Custer drove her up the track in Turns One and Two and they banged doors.
“We were racing hard,” McCray said. “We did a little rubbin’. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
McCray moved ahead of Custer going down the back straight and won by three car lengths over second-place Custer. It was her third victory in late models at Irwindale.
Partridge won by 15 car lengths in the initial Lucas Oil Twins, which ran its 30 laps without a caution.
“I was taking it easy the last 10 laps, saving my tires and car for the second race,” he said.