KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Ricky Thornton Jr. made it back-to-back in preliminary features at Knoxville Raceway as he led wire-to-wire in the 25-lap $7,000-to-win event on Friday night.
The win was his 19th of the season for the Martinsville, Indiana, racer and former Iowa resident.
Thornton will try to become only the second driver in the history of the Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals to sweep the weekend if he can capture the 75-lap A-Main on Saturday night. Billy Moyer is the only driver to do so in 2010.
Chad Simpson, the current Lucas Oil MLRA points leader finished in second followed by 12th place starter Devin Moran who rounded out the podium.
Brandon Overton, who ran as high as second in the race was fourth with Kyle Bronson completing the top five drivers.
Thornton jumped to the lead at the start of the race and the only time he was slowed was for the lone caution of the race with 16 laps complete. Chad Simpson held the second spot for 24 of the 25 laps as the only time he didn’t was when Overton got by him on lap 16, before the caution came out.
On the restart, Overton fell back to fifth which allowed Simpson and two other drivers to get by. Overton was able to get by Bronson on the final lap to salvage fourth.
It was Thornton’s 24th Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win of his career as he looks to complete a possible $64,000 weekend out of a $262,000 purse. Thornton’s winning margin was a convincing 3.815 seconds when the checkers flew.
“I didn’t know if I needed to stay around the top. I got to [Todd] Cooney and [Daniel] Hilsabeck and I went to the bottom, and I felt like I made a better lap, but [Christopher] Jayco said lap time wise I was better where I was,” Thornton said. “It’s cool to win on Burroughs’ [crew chief Anthony] birthday so hopefully we will party a little bit tonight. We were thinking about just testing earlier tonight after last night, but we were going for it. We went with a completely different set-up from last night and I think we picked up a little bit of speed there. I think we know what we need to do tomorrow.”
Chad Simpson, who won a preliminary night race in 2015, took back the second spot from Overton after a lap-17 restart.
“We were chasing it all night long last night we chased it early tonight, but everything then fell through and the car got good,” Simpson said. “We started so deep then tonight we put ourselves in a good position we timed better and raced better.”
Moran, who comes into the weekend sixth in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings rallied from his outside sixth row starting spot to take third.
“You’ve got to drive hard every lap you know. It’s obviously not like Volusia, but these big half-miles, you’ve got to hit the grip. I love racing on these kinds of tracks. This place is awesome, it was a lot of fun tonight. We’ve got to conserve ourselves tomorrow night you can’t drive that hard for 75 laps around here, we need to stay in the top five.”
Feature (25 Laps): 1. Ricky Thornton Jr. (1); 2. Chad Simpson (3); 3. Devin Moran (12); 4. Brandon Overton (8); 5. Kyle Bronson (6); 6. Daulton Wilson (2); 7. Spencer Hughes (4); 8. Brandon Sheppard (18); 9. Hudson O’Neal (11); 10. Ryan Gustin (5); 11. Brian Shirley (21); 12. Tyler Erb (15); 13. Chase Junghans (20); 14. Tyler Bruening (10); 15. Garrett Alberson (17); 16. Justin Zeitner (24); 17. Corey Hedgecock (19); 18. Todd Cooney (13); 19. Daniel Hilsabeck (23); 20. Mike Marlar (7); 21. Christopher Ferguson (9); 22. Jonathan Davenport (22); 23. Max Blair (14); 24. Earl Pearson Jr. (16).