After being tested by Mother Nature for two weeks, it was only fitting that Matt Wallace had to show a little more patience Saturday night at Lebanon I-44 Speedway. Working his way through the 19-car pack, Wallace had to make a move on Ken Dickinson twice before grabbing the lead and holding on for dear life to score the first O’Reilly Auto Parts Pro Late Models win under the NASCAR banner at the track just seven months after coming up one spot short in his bid for a title.
In other opening night action on Saturday night, Tyler Scott returned to victory lane fresh off another title, making it look like old hat in the Budweiser Modifieds. Robert Reeves did the same thing in the Monster Sportsman, working through the field and holding on to score the first win of the 2013 campaign. Geoff Ledford scored a comfortable win in the Hoosier Tire Road Warriors and Ben White made a last-lap maneuver to steal the win in the Coca-Cola Chargers feature event.
Lil J.C. Newell rolled to the green flag and led the 19-car field around Missouri’s only asphalt oval for the opening two laps of the 30-lap O’Reilly Auto Parts NASCAR Late Models main event. Veteran Ken Dickinson snuck past Newell on the inside and grabbed the top spot on the third circuit as last season’s runner-up, teenager Matt Wallace, followed him into the second position.
Wallace erased the gap between himself and the leader in two laps, peeking to the inside of Dickinson before slipping up on the exit of turn two and settling back into line. The first caution of the night waved with 12 laps in the books after Austin Fullerton sent ‘Jammin’ Jimmy Vanzandt through the spin cycle in turn three.
Dickinson drove away to a two car length restart when the green flag waved, but Wallace waltzed back into the picture. As the race passed the halfway mark, Wallace dove to the inside of Dickinson and stole the lead on the frontstretch. Newell moved underneath Dickinson for the second and race back toward the front, challenging his fellow young gun and turning up the heat on his back bumper as Cole Williams closed up behind them.
Both drivers ran out of time over the final laps though, as Wallace held on to score the first victory of the 2013 campaign just seven months after the North Carolina teen fell short to Mike Slone in his bid for a championship. As Wallace drove around the track to celebrate his win, fisticuffs broke out on the backstretch between Jimmy Van Zandt and another driver as the season got off to a heated start under a cool night sky.
“We just want to keep the car clean and be a little more consistent this year,” Wallace said in victory lane as the melee ensued behind him. “Tonight, I got to the front after battling with Ken for a little bit and just tried to stay there. I had to show a little patience and it worked out in the end.”
Newell made a strong debut, finishing second in his first Pro Late Models race while Williams made it three teens on the podium with his third place effort. Grant Sharp recorded a solid fourth place finish and 14-year-old Jake Griffin notched a top-five in fifth.
The early edge in the 25-lap Budweiser Modifieds headliner went to Stephen Counterman, but engine trouble on the fourth lap of his season sidelined the young gun and brought out a caution. Defending champion Tyler Scott inherited the lead when racing resumed as the battle for second became a three-car fray. Scotty Allen emerged in the bridesmaid’s position and Scott eased away to a comfortable margin out front.
The yellow flew at the halfway mark erasing Scott’s advantage and bunching the 15-car field back up. When racing restarted, the top four cars broke away as David Bates nipped at Scott’s back bumper. Each time Bates peeked to the inside, Scott slammed the door shut on the exit and maintained a small cushion. Bates threw his car into the final two turns over the last few circuits but couldn’t get the inside track on Scott as the two-time champion fended off the veteran to stake an early claim to the top spot in the point standings once again.
Bates started out his season on a good note with his runner-up effort while Ricky Icenhower notched a podium finish in third.
Veteran J.C. Newell paced the field around the first six laps in the 20-lap Monster Sportsman main event before Robert Reeves got around Newell’s machine and grabbed the lead. Reeves soared to the front and held his ground on a restart as Randy Besser wheeled his fluorescent orange machine to within a car length. After a Justin Allen spin, Reeves had to survive one more push from Besser on the way to a place he became very familiar with last season: victory lane. With an eye on a championship this season, Ragin’ Robert got his season off to a quick start with a feature win.
Besser broke through onto the podium with his second place effort while Aaron Douglas came back from a spin to finish third.
Jordan Nisbett nabbed the early edge in the 12-lap Coca-Cola Chargers main event but Jimmy Poindexter wasn’t long in waiting for the top spot. Poindexter raced around Nisbett and assumed command of the race with eight laps remaining. Ben White cut Poindexter’s lead in half but wasn’t going to catch him until a caution flew with two laps remaining.
On the restart, Poindexter held the high line as White swung to the inside and looked for an opening. The Rolla native found his hole when the white flag waved and got around Poindexter when he washed up the track, allowing White to roll back to the checkers and score the first victory of the season in the division in defending champion Paul Jepson’s old car.
Nisbett got around Poindexter for the second spot on the final lap and Lauren Buhr did the same to steal third. Poindexter settled for a tough luck fourth place finish.
Allen Ellis led the Hoosier Tire Road Warriors to the first green flag of the season in their 15-lap feature. Geoff Ledford took the top spot away after a lapped car got in front of Ellis, and didn’t look back from there in his first ever race at I-44. The former mechanic scored the first feature win of the season for the wide-open division and threw his hat in the ring as a potential contender to fill Dustin Reeves’ shoes as champion.
Justin Blake tallied a second place finish and veteran Les Mallard rounded out the podium with his third place effort.
Racing returns to Missouri’s only asphalt oval this Saturday night, May 18, for one of the biggest shows in the track’s 30-year history that will pay an amazing $8,000 to win. Over 40 cars have entered the JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour event that will headline this weekend’s action, including Bubba Pollard, Chase Elliott and Ross Kenseth alongside Grand Marshal Bill Elliott. Two NASCAR support divisions will run Saturday as well with the NASCAR Late Models and Budweiser Modifieds in action to round out the evening’s jam-packed slate of racing action. Stay tuned to I-44’s website throughout the week for more information on this historic event.
For more information on Lebanon I-44 Speedway, including a full 2013 schedule and more, visit the track website at www.i44speedway.net or visit the track’s Facebook and Twitter pages online.
Lebanon I-44 Speedway PR