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2016 Wild West Shootout – First Weekend Recap & Results

Saturday, January 9, 2016
Tucson, Arizona

USA Raceway was alive and kicking, during the first weekend of the Wild West Shootout! After it rained in Tucson for 4 of the last 5 days, leading up to Saturday’s show, the infield and pits were a little muddy, but the racing surface was ready for action! Weather had finally taken a turn for the better, as the sun was out nearly all day, with temperatures reaching the low 60’s. Much to my surprise, the water truck was on the track, when I arrived at noon.  My initial concern was that the track would be extremely wet and narrow the entire night. However, the track had been packed nicely and required a little more moisture, following hot laps.

USA Raceway in Tucson, Arizona – Saturday, January 9, 2016

A total of 100 cars, between the two top divisions, made the call for the first night of racing action! 60 Late Models were spread among 6 heat races, which were won by Chris Simpson, Shane Clanton, Tyler Erb, Darrell Lanigan, Ronny Lee Hollingsworth and Jason Krohn. 40 Modifieds competed in 5 heat races and those were won by Darron Fuqua, Cade Dillard, Matt Gilbertson, Ricky Thornton Jr and Rodney Sanders. Regardless of who was racing, there was one common theme throughout the night;

While the track held moisture well and had two distinct grooves, it was very bumpy on the bottom lane, especially entering turn 3. I spent the majority of the night in that area of the track, watching from the infield and saw left side tires literally bouncing and losing contact with the ground, as cars rumbled over the bumps. This would usually cause the car to skate up the track, costing precious time. “The Kentucky Colonel” Steve Francis responded “it definitely had some character”, when asked about the track conditions. I also spoke with Tucson, Arizona native, Jake O’Neil, after he won the “last chance dash” and explained that he “would just wait for guys to hit the bumps and skate up the track, then dive underneath them”.

As rough as the track was, it still provided some exciting racing action and nearly everyone agreed that the conditions should improve, as the mini-series race continues.  Here’s a recap of the racing action from Saturday, including results:

Late Models

“The Georgia Bulldog” Shane Clanton started on the pole and fired-off to an early lead, stretching it to nearly a straightaway, at one point. However, “The Real Deal” Don O’Neal was in close pursuit and was able to track Clanton down. Clanton and O’Neal had a spirited battle for the lead, as they ran side-by-side for several laps in a row, neither willing to give an inch. It was a thrill watching two Dirt Late Model Champions battle, as they never touched one another, during their race for the lead. Their battle was cut-short, as Grand Forks, North Dakota native, Dustin Strand, who had been running in the top-5, spun and made contact with the wall, on the exit of turn 4, bringing out the first caution. O’Neal was able to sneak by Clanton on the ensuing restart, but Clanton was remaining within striking distance, with “The Bluegrass Bandit” Darrell Lanigan running 3rd.  “Superman” Jonathan Davenport was the man on the move that night, as he started 19th and was one of the few drivers able to power-around others on the outside of the track.

Davenport was forced to start deep in the field, as he missed the scales following his heat race win and had to race his way through a B-main.  Lap 18 marked the turning point of the race and the action really started to heat up! Tyler Erb, of Texas, slowed to a stop in turn 4, while he was running in the top-5, surrendering to mechanical problems related to the radiator. There was a huge stack-up on the restart attempt, forcing Las Cruces, New Mexico racer, Garrett Alberson, up onto the track’s inside birm. Alberson’s right-side tires dug into the birm, causing him to roll softly and land back on his wheels. Thankfully, Garrett was okay, but that marked the end of his evening. On the next restart attempt, then 5th place running Kyle Beard, of Trumann, Arkansas, spun in front of nearly the entire field, upon entrance to turn 3. Somehow, the entire field avoiding contact with Beard, though Colorado native, Scott Lewis was forced into the wall and ended his night.

Thankfully, this was the last caution of the evening and left 12 laps for the remaining competitors to do battle!  Don O’Neal was excellent on the restarts and pulled away to the victory!  Steve Francis also made an impressive drive, taking the runner-up position, with Darrell Lanigan, “Mr. Smooth” Billy Moyer Sr and Davenport rounding-out the top-5. 

“The Real Deal” Don O’Neal won Night 1 of the Wild West Shootout
“The Kentucky Colonel” Steve Francis charged up to finish 2nd in Night 1
“The Bluegrass Bandit” Darrell Lanigan & “Mr. Smooth” Billy Moyer Sr finished 3rd & 4th
The tracks rough conditions and several racing incidents left only 13 cars running at the finish. I was most impressed with Davenport’s ability to charge from 19th to 5th in the 30-lap feature and found the biggest disappointment with Shane Clanton’s finish, as he slipped to 6th place, after leading early. Jason Papich’s charge from 20th to finish 7th and AJ Diemel’s from 17th to finish 8th were also very impressive! Clint Bowyer Racing has flexed its muscle early in this event, finishing 1st and 3rd! Here’s a run-down of the full results, with the driver’s starting positions in parenthesis:

Late Model Results

1. Don O’Neal (4), 2. Steve Francis (5), 3. Darrell Lanigan (8), 4. Billy Moyer Sr (6), 5. Jonathan Davenport (19), 6. Shane Clanton (1), 7. Jason Papich (20), 8. AJ Diemel (17), 9. Chris Simpson (10), 10. Terry Phillips (21), 11. Kyle Beard (2), 12. Morgan Bagley (16), 13. Brad Looney (15), 14. Garrett Alberson (18), 15. Scott Lewis (13), 16. Tyler Erb (7), 17. Billy Moyer Jr (14), 18. Scott Ward (23), 19. Dustin Strand (3), 20. Jason Krohn (12), 21. Ray Moore (9), 22. Rodney Sanders (22), 23. Ronny Lee Hollingsworth (11), 24. Pat Doar (24)

Modifieds

“The Sandman” Rodney Sanders is arguably one of the best Modified racers in the country and had the luxury of starting the main event on the outside front row. Sanders jumped to an early lead, stretching to nearly a full straightaway. However, a rash of early cautions allowed other drivers to make quick passes and also erased his advantage. Sanders had been committed to running the middle-to-high lane all night, which may have proved to be his downfall. Cade Dillard was rapidly charging through the field, on the bottom of the track and made quick work of Sanders around the halfway point of race, lap 12. From there, Dillard set sail and ended up winning the race by nearly a full straightaway! Darron Fuqua had caught Sanders and tried everything he could to get around him, but was unable to make the pass, as they rounded out the top-3.
Cade Dillard won the Modified feature in Night 1 of the Wild West Shootout!

“The Sandman” Rodney Sanders settled for 2nd, while Darron Fuqua finished 3rd

It was a long night of racing, as I believe there were 5 red flags stretched throughout the entire night. This, combined with a total of 5 B-mains, between the Late Models and Modifieds, made for a late evening. Racing ended shortly after 11:00pm Arizona time, which is 1:00am Eastern. Overall though, the on-track action was exciting and the track offered options to the competitors. Most importantly, there was not one groove that had an advantage over the other, which left handling and driver skill to determine the outcome. Here’s are the finishing positions for the Modifieds, including their starting position in parenthesis:

Modified Results

1. Cade Dillard (8), 2. Rodney Sanders (2), 3. Darron Fuqua (3), 4. Phillip Houston (10), 5. Fito Gallardo (13), 6. Matt Gilbertson (1), 7. Jimmy Ray (11), 8. Ryan Mikkelson (17), 9. Shawn Fletcher (4), 10. Matt Leer (21), 11. Royal Jones (7), 12. Justin Rexwrinkle (15), 13. Todd Shute (12), 14. Danny Bayor (24), 15. Bobby Hogge (18), 16. Ricky Thornton Jr (9), 17. Ken Arment (5), 18. Jake Hartung (16), 19. Blake Jegtvig (14), 20. Corky Thomas (6), 21. Scott Bintz (22), 22. Ryan Gustin (19), 23. Brad Dierks (23), 24. Stormy Scott (20)
Sunday, January 10, 2016
Tucson, Arizona
Sunday proved to be a much more cloudy day and the sun was only out for brief periods of time. This did not keep the track from becoming dry, however, as the track crew was forced to water and re-work the track, following hotlaps. One thing you have to love about Dirt racing is that the track is usually always different from the previous night! It was not as cold on Sunday, as it was on Saturday, which allowed the track to take a bit more rubber.

Late Model heat race action on Sunday. Check out the snow-capped mountains in the background
57 Late Models showed-up for action on Sunday, which were split into 6 heat races again. Winners included Tony Toste, Jason Papich, Steve Francis, Jimmy Mars, Ryan Gustin and Jonathan Davenport. 39 Modifieds also made the call on Sunday, which were condensed into only 4 heat races. Winning those races were Rodney Sanders, Matt Leer, Stormy Scott and Ryan Mikkelson.  The outside lane was popular in heat racing and B-main action, which left very little moisture or cushion, when main events hit the track. The fan in me would’ve liked to have seen the track crew add moisture and re-work the top of the track, though that likely would have made the outside line much faster than the bottom. Here’s a recap from the racing action on Sunday, including results and current points:

Late Models

“The Iceman” Jimmy Mars started on the pole and immediately jumped-out to nearly a straightaway lead. Racing was much cleaner on Sunday night and the Late Models found their groove early, spreading out nicely throughout the field! Mars was committed to running the bottom though, which would ultimately be his downfall. After leading the first 20 laps with relative ease, he begin to hit lapped traffic, who was also running on the bottom of the track. This allowed 2nd place starter, “The Reaper” Ryan Gustin to close back in. At one point, with a little less than 10 laps remaining, you could throw a blanket over the top-3, which included “Superman” Jonathan Davenport in 3rd. California racer, Jason Papich, was not far behind in 4th, but then there was a big gap back to 5th place Garrett Alberson. Davenport reeled-in Gustin for 2nd, as the two drivers appeared destined for a side-by-side battle.

Unfortunately for Gustin, he and Davenport made contact out of turn 2 with less than 10 laps remaining, causing “The Reaper” to spin out. Davenport had been hammering what was left of the cushion, on the outside of the track, upon entrance to the corner. However, since the cushion was nearly up on the wall on corner exit, he would let-off halfway through the turn, cut his wheels hard left and get a nice run out of the corner, running as low as he possibly could. It was that exact line that he ran, when Gustin’s right-front tire struck his left-rear tire, causing Gustin to spin. “The Reaper” did his best “Days of Thunder” impression, completing a full 360-degree spin and keeping the car rolling.

Thankfully, he did not spin into traffic, but Gustin slowed and pulled into the infield, knowing his chances for a solid run had evaporated. Since Gustin kept his car rolling, a caution flag was not thrown. Davenport then set his sights on race leader Mars and flew around the outside of him with about 5 laps remaining in the 30-lap feature. “The Iceman” gave “Superman” a run for about a lap, but eventually gave way and settled for 2nd place, allowing Davenport to run away for the victory!

“Superman” Jonathan Davenport stole the win late on Sunday, Night 2 of the Wild West Shootout!

After leading over 20 laps on Sunday night, “The Iceman” Jimmy Mars settled for 2nd place

Jason Papich & Garrett Alberson finished 3rd & 4th on Sunday night
Papich had a very solid run in 3rd, with Alberson rebounding from his soft rollover the night before, to finish 4th and the previous night’s winner, “The Real Deal” Don O’Neal rounding-out the top-5. Here’s the Late Model finishing order, including starting position in parenthesis:

Late Model Results

1. Jonathan Davenport (5), 2. Jimmy Mars (1), 3. Jason Papich (4), 4. Garrett Alberson (3), 5. Don O’Neal (6), 6. AJ Diemel (7), 7. Shane Clanton (13), 8. Steve Francis (10), 9. Brandon Sheppard (18), 10. Kyle Beard (8), 11. Darrell Lanigan (16), 12. Morgan Bagley (11), 13. Billy Moyer Sr (17), 14. Chris Simpson (14), 15. Tony Toste (9), 16. Jason Krohn (19), 17. Jake O’Neil (22), 18. Terry Phillips (15), 19. Rob Sanders (24), 20. Ryan Gustin (2), 21. RC Whitwell (20), 22. Rodney Sanders (22), 23. Brad Looney (), 24. Austin Siebert (21)

“Superman” failed to disappoint for the 2nd night in-a-row and left everyone wondering what “might have been”, had he not missed the scales following his heat race win the night before. Davenport will certainly be the driver to beat during the next race, on Wednesday night. “The Georgia Bulldog” was also impressive on Sunday night, charging from 13th to finish 7th, along with “B-Shepp” Brandon Sheppard, who charged from 18th to finish 9th. Hard luck award of the night has to go to Gustin, who went from challenging for the lead with about 7 laps to go, to finishing 20th, in the infield. Here are the current Late Model point standings, after 2 races, entering Wednesday night’s action:

Late Model Points

1. Don O’Neal 123, 2. Jonathan Davenport 119, 3. Steve Francis 112, 4. Jason Papich 110, 5. Shane Clanton 105, 6. Darrell Lanigan 99, 7. AJ Diemel 97, 8. Garrett Alberson 91, 9. Billy Moyer Sr 90, 10. Kyle Beard 82, 11. Jimmy Mars 75, 12. Chris Simpson 75, 13. Morgan Bagley 70, 14. Terry Phillips 63, 15. Jason Krohn 49, 16. Brandon Sheppard 48, 17. Brad Looney 47, 18. Tony Toste 35, 19. Tyler Erb 33, 20. Scott Lewis 33

Modifieds

The Sunday night Modified feature had an all-star front row with Ricky Thornton Jr on the pole and Rodney Sanders outside of him. Unfortunately, the highly-anticipated battle was short-lived, as Sanders jumped the cushion entering turn 1, striking the outside wall and ended his night. As Sanders limped around to the infield, Thornton Jr was out front and in command, enjoying a sizeable lead. The previous night’s winner, Cade Dillard, was charging through the field for the 2nd night in-a-row and applied heavy pressure on Thornton Jr around the lap 10 mark. Thornton Jr was able to hold-off Dillard for several laps, protecting the bottom line, but Dillard eventually made his move on the high side, entering turn 3, just passed the halfway mark, around lap 15. That was all she wrote, as Dillard was driving like a man possessed and easily cruised to his 2nd victory in as many nights! 
Cade Dillard made it two-for-two, winning Sunday, Night 2 of the Wild West Shootout!
Ricky Thornton Jr, Stormy Scott & Brad Dierks finished 2nd through 4th on Sunday night
Stormy Scott and Brad Dierks had nice bounce-back runs, finishing behind Dillard and Thornton Jr in 3rd & 4th! Here’s a list of Sunday’s final running order, including the driver’s starting position in parenthesis, followed by the current Modified points:

Modified Results

1. Cade Dillard (3), 2. Ricky Thornton Jr (1), 3. Stormy Scott (7), 4. Brad Dierks (12), 5. Jake Hartung (11), 6. Blake Jegtvig (8), 7. Danny Bayor (14), 8. Matt Leer (6), 9. Royal Jones (10), 10. Bobby Hogge (9), 11. Kyle Beard (18), 12. Chad Olsen (13), 13. Phillip Houston (17), 14. Christy Geroges-Barnett (20), 15. Todd Shute (15), 16. Greg Chesley (22), 17. Matt Gilbertson (19), 18. Brent Dutanhoffer (24), 19. Justin Rexwrinkle (21), 20. Jeff Hartley (23), 21. Jacob Gallardo (16), 22. Ryan Mikkelson (4), 23. Rodney Sanders (2), 24. Fito Gallardo (5)
Cade Dillard flex his muscle for the 2nd night in-a-row, leaving everyone scratching their heads and wondering if anyone can beat him. Nearly every big-name Modified racer has experienced some sort of trouble in one of the first two nights, leaving Dillard with a comfortable points lead:

Modified Points

1. Cade Dillard 137, 2. Ricky Thornton Jr 98, 3. Rodney Sanders 90, 4. Phillip Houston 89, 5. Matt Leer 86, 6. Royal Jones 81, 7. Matt Gilbertson 80, 8. Jake Hartung 78, 9. Danny Bayor 78, 10. Blake Jegtvig 74, 11. Brad Dierks 70, 12. Darron Fuqua 69, 13. Stormy Scott 68, 14. Fito Gallardo 68, 15. Bobby Hogge 67

Coming Up Next

Next race is Wednesday night, January 13th, which always poses to be a “wild card” night. The races start 2 hours later than on the weekend and the track always seems to retain a little more moisture, making starting positions even more important. If you cannot make it to USA Raceway in Tucson, Arizona, for all of the action, be sure to tune-in by watching the live broadcast provided by Dirt On Dirt!

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