O’Neal Wins, But Moran Is Sunshine Nationals Champ


Hudson O’Neal celebrates in victory lane Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park. (Trent Gower photo)

BARBERVILLE, Fla. – In the span of 365 days, Hudson O’Neal has seen the highs and lows of racing with the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series at Volusia Speedway Park.

On Saturday night, the Martinsville, Ind., driver commanded the field and held off the top dirt late model drivers to win his first Sunshine Nationals feature - one year to the day that he missed the same feature.

O’Neal’s space in Victory Lane was shared with Dresden, Ohio’s Devin Moran, who won the Sunshine Nationals championship after a third-place finish in Saturday’s feature.

Moran and O’Neal led the field to the green flag of the 40-lap, $15,000-to-win feature, racing side-by-side before O’Neal drove away with the lead on the high line.

With lap traffic to manage, “The New Deal” utilized the top and bottom lanes to escape Moran and the leaders that closed in.

O’Neal held serve until Moran passed him on lap 15 for the race lead. The two battled intensely with each driver using both lanes to maneuver lap traffic and drive around one another.

O'Neal gained the lead on lap 20 before a bad turn saw Moran take back the lead from O'Neal two laps later.

On lap 28, O'Neal claimed the lead once more from Moran by using the bottom lane through the first two turns.

Multiple cautions in the final seven laps of the feature gave opportunities for drivers to have a chance at catching O’Neal and Moran, including Kyle Bronson, reigning series champion Bobby Pierce, and four-time series champion Brandon Sheppard.

On the final restart of the feature with four laps to go, O’Neal got the start he needed from his Rocket1 Racing Late Model to blast away and win the main event.

O’Neal found irony in the win, a year after one of the worst performances of his young career at the Sunshine Nationals.

“It’s ironic,” O’Neal said. “If anybody remembers my first outing with Rocket1 and how bad it was at Sunshine Nationals one year ago. Then, to turn around and come back and have a good showing like we did (tonight). I think we had a critical test session here last year, came back and got to make a lot of laps and it helped a lot. I don’t know, I think I’ve found something that I’m comfortable with and something that this place likes.

“We’re just happy to be in contention and we are so far ahead of where we started last year. Hopefully, we can go to Speedweeks and win a few more.”

Bronson finished second in his new Longhorn Chassis No. 40B. The Brandon, Fla., native said he believes building a notebook is important to his success at February’s Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.

“It felt pretty good,” Bronson noted. “It was really cool when I was catching (the leaders). I felt like I was going to drive right by them. I got into their dirty air. It changed a little bit, and I felt my car get a little looser there at the end because I was getting tighter entering the corner. Overall, our car was pretty good. We gained a lot from yesterday and I’m looking forward to coming back for DIRTcar Nationals.”

Moran – who won the Simpson Quick Time Award – came home in third place, clinching the Sunshine Nationals overall championship after winning Friday’s feature.

“It’s really cool,” Moran said of the event title. “It was a bummer I couldn’t get a caution when I was out in the lead. I felt like I could’ve maintained the race a little better, I just wasn’t good enough in traffic like (O’Neal) was and he did a good job.

“All in all, [this was] a good weekend and we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”

Ricky Thornton Jr. earned the Fox Factory Hard Charger Award after climbing up 19 positions in the feature to finish in fourth place.

“I really put myself behind after qualifying,” Thornton said. “I was just trying to be too cute with it and it cost me. There wasn’t much passing in the Heat and made it through the Last Chance Showdown. I was really good in the feature because I could go wherever I wanted to. Overall, going from 23rd to finish fourth is pretty awesome so, hopefully, we’re just as good in two weeks.”

Sheppard bookended Saturday’s top five finishers after racing inside the top 10 for the entire feature.

He leaves Sunshine Nationals as the current World of Outlaws late model point leader, holding a six-point lead over Pierce in second.

The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models will return to Volusia Speedway Park for the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 15-17.

The finish:

CASE Late Model Feature (40 laps): 1. 1-Hudson O'Neal [2]; 2. 40B-Kyle Bronson [7]; 3. 99-Devin Moran [1]; 4. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr. [23]; 5. B5-Brandon Sheppard [9]; 6. 32-Bobby Pierce [10]; 7. 28-Dennis Erb Jr. [19]; 8. 97-Cade Dillard [4]; 9. 44-Chris Madden [5]; 10. 9-Nick Hoffman [15]; 11. 12W-Ashton Winger [14]; 12. 10-Garrett Smith [6]; 13. 16-Tyler Bruening [22]; 14. 19R-Ryan Gustin [26]; 15. 39-Tim McCreadie [12]; 16. 96V-Tanner English [17]; 17. 18D-Daulton Wilson [8]; 18. 7-Drake Troutman [24]; 19. 97C-Cody Overton [25]; 20. 111-Max Blair [21]; 21. 174-Ethan Dotson [13]; 22. 3S-Brian Shirley [18]; 23. B1-Brent Larson [27]; 24. 14W-Dustin Walker [29]; 25. 20-Jimmy Owens [20]; 26. 30-Todd Cooney [28]; 27. 19-Dustin Sorensen [30]; 28. 157-Mike Marlar [11]; 29. 17M-Dale McDowell [3]; 30. 54-David Breazeale [16].

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