From lucasdirt.com | Jeremy Shields
PIERCE EDGES O’NEAL TO WIN NAPA AUTO PARTS GOPHER 50 AT DEER CREEK
SPRING VALLEY, MN (July 8, 2023) – Bobby Pierce edged Hudson O’Neal at the finish line to win the NAPA Auto Parts Gopher 50 on Saturday night at Deer Creek Speedway. The winning margin was 0.002 seconds which equaled the closest finish in Lucas Oil Late Model Series history.
Pierce earned $50,000 for his biggest win thus far in 2023 and earned an additional $1,000 from NAPA Auto Parts for his first career victory in the crown jewel event. O’Neal was ahead at the white flag, but he bobbled in turn two allowing Pierce to close on him heading into the last two turns. Pierce through a slider on O’Neal heading into turn four to take the lead. O’Neal would turn down the track and the two-drag raced to the finish with Pierce scoring the victory.
Brandon Sheppard came home in third followed by Chris Madden and Jonathan Davenport.
Madden, the 2018 NAPA Gopher 50 winner, sprinted to the lead from his pole starting spot ahead of his fellow front row starter in Davenport, who was looking for his first win in the crown jewel event. Madden and Davenport ran first and second for the first 21 laps of the race when O’Neal grabbed the second position from Davenport. O’Neal then hounded Madden for the race lead until he was able to make the pass for the top spot on lap 37.
O’Neal then had to deal with Tim McCreadie as he moved into second, but Pierce was the car on the move as he came from his outside fifth row starting spot to take second by lap 41. Sheppard then started to show some strength as he and his fellow Illinois competitor raced hard for second with Sheppard gaining the spot from laps 49 through 55 when Pierce got back by him.
A caution with ten laps to go set up what would become a showdown between O’Neal and Pierce. Just when it looked like O’Neal was opening enough breathing room Pierce would close the gap. When O’Neal stumbled in turn on the final lap it was the opportunity that Pierce was looking for as he slid O’Neal heading into turn four to take the lead heading to the checkered flag.
Pierce in Lucas Oil Victory Lane for the second time this season and for the 14th time in his career came from the tenth starting spot to get the lucrative win. “I think everything had to play its part there. All the glory to the Holy Spirit and everything there. I had to have everything go my way. It was just one of those deals where Hudson just pushed, it was just bad timing on the last lap. I have had it happen to me plenty of times when you get to those last couple of laps and you’re leading, and you just want the race to be over. He [O’Neal] made a little push and every time he would pull me off two I knew three and four was going to be the one I was going to slide him. I am not going to lie I was scared to send that slider in there after what happened Thursday night.” Pierce referring to Thursday night’s preliminary feature where he got into the wall while going for the lead on Daulton Wilson ending his night.
Pierce, who only led the final lap went for it in the final corner. “It was like well he bobbled, and I’ve got to go for it, it’s the last lap like people were going to ask me why I didn’t do it if I didn’t take it like I did. I took it in there, I am sure I was slow, and I might have bottled him up in turn four and I got the cushion pretty good. I was worried about the wall because it kind of sticks out. I got the cushion, and the car was pointed down the hill and then I thought I was going to go for it and shoot it straight and gas it to the line. I heard Hudson to my left and we were both probably turning 9500 rpm’s coming to the line,” said the 26-year-old Oakwood, Illinois native.
O’Neal was heartbroken in his post-race interview as he had led from lap 37 to the last lap. “I knew I had a good enough lead, and the top was so dominate. I knew if I didn’t mess up that I was probably going to have it and that’s exactly what I did. I was going down the front straightaway and thought about it too much and I don’t know it’s the biggest heartbreak I have ever had in my life. I don’t really have any words. I definitely gave one away. In this big of a race to be leading and in that position, you don’t get those very often. I don’t hate it for me I hate it for my team. We’ve had a good race car and I felt like we had potential there and every time we got on the racetrack, we would get a little bit better and better. We had a heck of a hot rod all weekend.”
Sheppard, who was the first driver among the top three finishers to have won the race before rounded out the Big River Steel Podium in third. “We definitely had a really fast race car we were really maneuverable around the racetrack. I was a little bit snug around the cushion. I couldn’t really keep up with them two once they got their speed picked up when they were able to rip around the wall. Overall, we had a great weekend I feel like. The car’s phenomenal.”
The winner’s Longhorn Chassis is powered by Vic Hill Racing Engine and sponsored by Mesilla Valley Transportation, Rio Grande Waste Services, PureMax Racing Oil, Toyota of Danville, Leka Tree Service, Carnaghi Towing and Repair, Extreme Electric, A Plus Vacuum, Ted Brown’s Quality Paint and Body Shop, and Bloomington-Normal Truck Performance.
Completing the top ten were Tim McCreadie, Garrett Alberson, Earl Pearson Jr., Dustin Sorensen, and Chad Simpson.
Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
NAPA Auto Parts Gopher 50 – Night 3
Saturday, July 8, 2023
Deer Creek Speedway – Spring Valley, MN
NAPA Auto Parts Gopher 50 Night 3 Feature Finish (75 Laps):
The Big River Steel Chase for the Championship Presented by ARP Point Standings:
See the latest from the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series: