O’Neal Kicks Off Lucas Title Defense In Victory Lane

O’Neal

Hudson O’Neal celebrates in victory lane Thursday night at Golden Isles Speedway. (Heath Lawson/LOLMDS photo)

WAYNESVILLE, Ga. – Reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion Hudson O’Neal started his title defense in style Thursday night by winning the tour’s season opener at Golden Isles Speedway.

O’Neal led all but one lap to win the kickoff to the General Tire Super Bowl of Racing.

While he gave up command for one lap to Jonathan Davenport on lap 22, O’Neal fought back to regain the point a circuit later and went on to win the 40-lap race by .633 seconds.

Davenport held on for second over Brandon Overton, winner of four of the previous six Super Bowl races at Golden Isles.

O’Neal started on the Victory Fuel pole position and grabbed the lead at the start of the race. Jimmy Owens, looking for his 81st series win, ran in second for the first six laps until yielding the spot to Davenport.

The race was a hotly contested battle for most of the 40 laps, as several drivers were in contention to pick up the opening night win. O’Neal stumbled slightly in turn two, opening the door for Davenport to take the lead on lap 22, but came right back to regain the point from the three-time champion.

With cautions on lap 27 and lap 30, the field stayed bunched up behind O’Neal for the restarts, but O’Neal stayed committed to the high side to hold off Davenport and Overton at the end when the final 10 laps went caution-free.

Thursday night marked O’Neal’s 25th career Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win and first at Golden Isles.

The second-generation star has his sights set on a second consecutive championship after beginning the new season in stellar fashion, but didn’t hesitate to detail the lap that nearly led to his downfall.

“The top was just blowing a lot of crumbs across it. If you didn’t get set enough, you would lose the front end halfway through the corner,” O’Neal noted. “Jonathan got back by me and did the exact same thing and let me get back by him. Things just worked out in our favor, and I thought that one mistake I made it was going to be it, but fortunately he made a little bobble over there in two and got us back in it.”

“The restarts actually calmed me down a little bit,” added the Martinsville, Ind., young gug. “I was nervous whenever we got to lapped traffic, because I didn’t know where to go. Whenever the cautions come out it actually gave me a little bit of a clean racetrack again for a few laps.

“My race car was awesome all night long. This is exactly how you hope to start the year.”

Seeking his 73rd series win, Davenport saw his one chance to take control of the race slip away on lap 23.

“I just kind of slid for the lead there and I knew he (O’Neal) would be coming back the next corner,” tipped Davenport. “He made a mistake over there. I wish I was a little bit further behind because once he started coming left, I knew he was going to block the bottom, but I was already to his inside.

“I wish I was a couple of feet behind because I could have went to the outside and maybe got a run off of four on him. I just didn’t capitalize on his one mistake he made.”

Overton, the driver who has dominated at Golden Isles over the past few seasons, was in the thick of things until the end but didn’t have enough to contend for the win down the stretch.

“Our car was actually good. These guys are good. It is what it is,” he said. “They are the best in the business. It was a heck of a race for a while. This is just the first night. I am looking forward to tomorrow. I am sure we can do a couple of things to speed up the car a little bit.”

Behind Overton, Ricky Thornton Jr. and Brandon Sheppard were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Jimmy Owens, Kyle Bronson, Devin Moran, Daulton Wilson, and Dennis Erb Jr. closed the top 10.

The finish:

General Tire A-Main (40 Laps): 1. 1-Hudson O'Neal [1]; 2. 49-Jonathan Davenport [2]; 3. 76-Brandon Overton [5]; 4. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr. [7]; 5. B5-Brandon Sheppard [8]; 6. 20-Jimmy Owens [3]; 7. 40B-Kyle Bronson [4]; 8. 99-Devin Moran [9]; 9. 18D-Daulton Wilson [6]; 10. 28-Dennis Erb Jr. [13]; 11. 58-Garrett Alberson [17]; 12. 7T-Drake Troutman [16]; 13. 5-Mark Whitener [20]; 14. 7-Ross Robinson [22]; 15. 6-Clay Harris [15]; 16. 157-Mike Marlar [19]; 17. 111-Max Blair [23]; 18. 10-Garrett Smith [12]; 19. 79-Donald McIntosh [14]; 20. 39-Tim McCreadie [21]; 21. 25-Tony Jackson Jr. [26]; 22. 99B-Boom Briggs [25]; 23. 1T-Tyler Erb [18]; 24. 17M-Dale McDowell [10]; 25. 46-Earl Pearson Jr. [24]; 26. 75-Daniel Adam [27]; 27. 44-Chris Madden [11].

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