|Zack Anthony Photo|
The 2018 season has not gone exactly to plan for former Lucas Oil Late Model Series Champion Don O'Neal and this year's Rookie of the Year candidate Mason Zeigler. But on Monday night at Sharon Speedway, the two drivers turned in performances that could point to results based turning point on the horizon for O'Neal, and a confidence boost for Zeigler.
O'Neal broke through in the win column for the year the previous night at Mansfield Speedway (OH) when he dominated the field in collecting the $12,000 victory in the "Freedom 50". The veteran pilot believes the recent decision to skip the "Firecracker 100" at Lernerville Speedway to take a vacation may have played a part in the recent upturn that he parlayed into back to back wins in series action. O'Neal, who started third on the grid, took advantage of a mistake from race leader Zeigler on lap nine and made his way underneath for the lead which he never gave up.
"The key for us was to be good from the middle groove down and let the car roll the center," O'Neal said. "
For Zeigler, the second place finish came with some sting as he watched an opportunity to find victory lane slipped away. However, he was please with the result as he crossed the line behind O'Neal. " It felt good to have a good result with the way the racing luck has been for our team," Zeigler said. "My crew and all the guys needed this and I’m just happy for them to get the result we did”
|Zack Anthony Photo|
Zeigler and Earl Pearson Jr. brought the field to green flag and Zeigler jumped out to the early lead. Series points leader Johnathan Davenport was the first to jump to the top side of the track and he made it pay off as he vaulted his machine to second early on. O’Neal made his presence known as he wrested the runner up spot away three laps later.
The race's most pivotal moment came on lap nine as Zeigler was entering turn three. Zeigler got a little to high, slapping off the wall with the right side of his Late Model killing all momentum and allowing O’Neal to pull along side utilizing the middle of the surface in each set of corners. By lap 20 O’Neal had built up a huge lead as he lapped car after car. Zeigler in the meantime was mired in traffic as well contending with Davenport who was looking to take the second position from him, and on lap 22, Josh Richards made his way to 3rd. With everyone hugging the bottom grove passing was at a premium. At the halfway point it was O’Neal, Zeigler , Richards , Davenport and Lanigan occupying the top five positions. The longer action continued without a caution the more important real estate became. With 10 to go Zeigler had cut into O’Neal’s lead. But it would be a case of too little, too late as O'Neal crossed the finish line with Zeigler a mere three car lengths behind in a race they went caution free.
Richards found himself in second place in the standings following the podium finish. “We are pleased with the result despite how things started," Richards said. “We had a water pump fail and we weren’t sure if it hurt the motor. I'd like to thank Matt Cosner and team for lending us one. We missed hot laps so that put us behind."
Feature Finish ($12,000 Lucas Oil Late Model Series Steel Valley 50)
1. Don O'Neal (5) 2. Mason Zeigler (25z) 3. Josh Richards (1) 4. Jonathan Davenport (49) 5. Darrell Lanigan (14) 6. Bobby Pierce (32) 7. Earl Pearson, Jr. (1) 8. Tim McCreadie (39) 9. Jimmy Owens (20) 10. Mike Maresca (7MM) 11. Max Blair (111) 12. Jackie Boggs (4B) 13. Scott Bloomquist (0) 14. Gregg Satterlee (22) 15. Hudson O’Neal (71) 16. Austin Rettig (94) 17. Dennis Erb, Jr. (28) 18. Jared Miley (10) 19. Kyle Bronson (40B) 20. Matt Cosner (66c) 21. Charlie Powell (94) 22. Jason Jameson (12) 23. Bob Anderzack (8) 24. Doug Drown (12)
Photos Courtesy of Zack Anthony Photography