KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Ricky Thornton Jr. brought out the broom on Saturday Night at Knoxville Raceway as the current Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Championship leader completed the weekend sweep of the 19th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals.
It was Thornton’s first win in the crown jewel event as he collected more than $64,000 for the weekend after winning Thursday and Friday night’s preliminary races and the $50,000 finale.
Thornton became only the second driver to win all three nights of the Late Model Nationals joining Billy Moyer who did it in 2010.
Mike Marlar earned $25,000 for his second-place finish as he was attempting to win his fourth Late Model Knoxville Nationals. Marlar led seven laps of the 75-lap race as he and Thornton traded the lead four times in the first 23 laps of the race.
Hudson O’Neal, coming off his first World 100 victory at Eldora Speedway last weekend, came home third. Jonathan Davenport, the defending race winner, was fourth after starting 18th with Brandon Overton rounding out the top five.
Thornton and Iowa native Chad Simpson started on the front row as Thornton sprinted to an early lead over Simpson, who settled into second. Marlar, who started fifth quickly made his way to the front taking over the second spot by lap six from Simpson.
Marlar then was able to run down Thornton taking his first lead of the race on lap 11. But two laps later Thornton was back out in front recapturing the lead on lap 13.
Thornton and Marlar then continued their battle for the lead as Marlar once again went to the top of the scoring pylon on lap 18.
Marlar led until Thornton was able to wrestle it from him on lap 23. Kyle Bronson, who had started seventh was using the top line to quickly move into second around Marlar on lap 35. Bronson stayed glued to the top of the racetrack as he held the second position until contact with the wall in turn three on lap 59 resulted in a rollover for the Florida veteran ending his night. Bronson escaped uninjured from the accident.
On the restart, Thornton had Marlar again behind him, but Thornton was pulling away to a huge advantage when the final caution flew on lap 67 for Ryan Gustin. On the single-file restart Thornton would pull away for the win.
The 32-year-old Martinsville, Indiana resident picked up his 20th Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win of 2023 and became the 14th different driver to win the event which began in 2004.
“It’s awesome honestly, you try to be the best you can I mean it’s been a dream season for me,” Thornton said. “I didn’t know if we were going to be good enough honestly. I saw [Kyle] Bronson coming and [Christopher] Jayco was telling me to move up. I saw him [Bronson] getting closer and closer and I thought man I’ve got to move up. I don’t know, but after that I drove my heart out and it worked out.”
Thornton had to patiently wait through several red and caution flag breaks during the race.
“I had big time concerns because you never know. When we got back racing, I tried to get the tires as hot as I could. I figured if mine was going to seal up everyone else’s was too. Hats off to this team they bust their butts.”
Marlar, who had won three out of the last seven Late Model Knoxville Nationals had one last shot at Thornton after a caution with 13 laps to go, but could not stay with Thornton as the winner went on for a 4.781 seconds advantage over the Tennessee racer at the end.
“The only thing up my sleeve I had left was that last restart,” Marlar said. “He [Thornton] went where I wanted him to, but he kind of slid up a little early in the corner and I couldn’t get that run I wanted to. He was better. He deserves to win, early on I passed him twice and he passed me back and drove away. You can’t blame the man for that. He done a good job. He is on a hot streak and his team is really doing good right now. He’s the man to beat, but we’re close though. I love Knoxville, you can use the whole track; you can race all over it. I thought it was a really good race. I love coming up here and, the fans are awesome.”
O’Neal, who remains second in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points came from 10th to third in the final rundown.
“I felt like I had something a little bit for them. I just couldn’t quite get a good enough run leaving the corner to get close enough to be able to clear him [Marlar]. I could get off there and get to his door, but that was about the extent of it. Man, we’ll take it. We had a trying week all week. We didn’t have the greatest of nights in our prelims, but I felt like we made gains all weekend long which is what I am really proud of.”
Feature (75 Laps): 1. 20RT, Ricky Thornton Jr., Chandler, AZ (1); 2. 157, Mike Marlar, Winfield, TN (5); 3. 1H, Hudson O’Neal, Martinsville, IN (10); 4. 49, Jonathan Davenport, Blairsville, GA (18); 5. 4, Brandon Overton, Evans, GA (6); 6. 18, Chase Junghans, Manhattan, KS (21); 7. 8s, Brian Shirley, Chatham, IL (13); 8. 99, Devin Moran, Dresden, OH (4); 9. Tim McCreadie (26); 10. B5, Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL (11); 11. 1T, Tyler Erb, New Waverly, TX (16); 12. 58, Garrett Alberson, Las Cruces, NM (20); 13. 25, Chad Simpson, Mt. Vernon, IA (2); 14. 18D, Daulton Wilson, Fayetteville, NC (8); 15. 32, Chris Simpson, Oxford, IA (19); 16. 11, Spencer Hughes, Meridian, MS (9); 17. 46, Earl Pearson Jr., Jacksonville, FL (14); 18. 22, Daniel Hilsabeck, Earlham, IA (23); 19. 111B, Max Blair, Centerville, PA (17); 20. Tim Lance (28); 21. 19R, Ryan Gustin, Marshalltown, IA (12); 22. 40B, Kyle Bronson, Brandon, FL (7); 23. 30, Todd Cooney, Des Moines, IA (22); 24. 22F, Christopher Ferguson, Mt. Holly, NC (3); 25. 16, Tyler Bruening, Decorah, IA (15); 26. 26JR, Corey Hedgecock, Loudon, TN (24); 27. Justin Zeitner (25); 28. Ross Robinson (27); 29. Frank Heckenast Jr. (30); 30. Matt Furman (29); 31. Boom Briggs (31, prov.).