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Hudson O'Neal In victory lane at Marshalltown Speedway. (Jim DenHamer photo)

O’Neal Rides The Cushion At Marshalltown

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Hudson O’Neal says his Double Down Motorsports team has been inching toward success in recent weeks. So perhaps was fitting O’Neal’s car was within inches of slipping over the razor-thin cushion Wednesday evening at Marshalltown Speedway.

Surviving a few close calls on the high groove at the wall-free oval, the 21-year-old driver from Martinsville, Ind., raced to his first victory of the season, earning $22,022 for a Castrol FloRacing Night in America triumph.

O’Neal slid past racelong leader and hometown driver Ryan Gustin on the 31st of 50 laps and fought off Gustin, runner-up Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., as well as polesitter and third-place finisher Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., in scoring his first victory since Oct. 2, 2021, at Pittsburgh’s Pennsylvania Motor Speedway.

“I couldn’t see behind me, but my guys were giving me a pretty close signal, so it had to be a pretty good race behind me,” the third-starting O’Neal said. “It was a good race for the lead.”

The seventh-starting Sheppard, who struggled with what he called “gremlins” during the main event, finished .809 of a second behind O’Neal at the checkers followed by Marlar’s body-damaged car, Gustin and 16th-starting Tyler Erb.

In stalking Gustin and sliding into the lead on the 31st lap, O’Neal took a step toward getting back to the Tennessee-based team’s level of an impressive 11 victories last season, including an unprecedented sweep of the Show-Me 100 and Topless 100.

 “We’re really really good right now and arguably the best I’ve been,” O’Neal said. “You know, we’ve been able to qualify good, which is something I’ve struggled at. So, you know, we’ll just try and keep the ball rolling. It’s hard to stay on top of these racetracks every night and to make the right decisions and especially tonight, we were a little tight and it was just hard to make the right decision.”

After O’Neal took the lead, he had a couple of tense moments on the cushion, slipping up with 15 laps remaining and allowing Gustin to pull alongside on the backstretch. After edging back away, O’Neal also had a near slipup with two laps remaining but held on for the victory.

“I was having a hard time hitting (the cushion) down here. It was so thin around that top probably, just a foot — if a foot — up there left. I spent most of the time through the middle and then Gustin moved down and I knew I had to get up there to pass him,” O’Neal said. “Man, this car was just awesome all night long. You know being able to qualify good from a deep position like we did and capitalize on starting up front. I knew just running around there pacing them first 20 laps, I knew I had a good race car. I was just trying to keep the tires underneath me for a while.”
Sheppard said he didn’t want to make excuses, but he was fighting issues that didn’t quite allow his Rocket Chassis house car to be at its best.

“We were fighting a few gremlins there in the heat race, and in the feature there. I think, if we could’ve had our stuff running there … I was stopped in the middle of (turns) three and four a couple of times there, so it was definitely a crazy race,” he said. “I was a little bit leery to drive in too hard, because (the engine) would almost die in the middle of the corner. But once it started to slicken off, (the problems) started to go away a little bit and then I could start maneuvering around a little bit and trying to pass some cars. Man, we had a really maneuverable race car again tonight. It was just a heck of a night for me and the team and congratulations to Hud. That was a heck of a race, a really fun race track. Hopefully get to come back soon.”

Marlar never led a lap despite starting on the pole and managed to salvage a third-place finish.

“I kind of beat myself on the tire. I don’t have an actual tire guy who picks ‘em — I have to pick them and I don’t want to pick them,” he said. “So I picked the tire tonight, and these guys were just softer (on tire compound). So I committed to the cushion after I seen I was kind of too hard on tire, and then tore the quarter(panel) off, so that definitely didn’t help.”

The finish:

Feature (50 Laps): 1. 71-Hudson O’Neal[3]; 2. 1-Brandon Sheppard[7]; 3. 157-Mike Marlar[1]; 4. 19-Ryan Gustin[2]; 5. 1T-Tyler Erb[16]; 6. 39-Tim McCreadie[4]; 7. 58-Garrett Alberson[9]; 8. 32S-Chris Simpson[12]; 9. 32-Bobby Pierce[13]; 10. 21JR-Billy Moyer Jr[8]; 11. 46-Earl Pearson Jr[5]; 12. 16-Tyler Bruening[21]; 13. 49-Jake Timm[14]; 14. 7-Ross Robinson[11]; 15. (DNF) 11H-Spencer Hughes[18]; 16. (DNF) 89-Ashton Winger[10]; 17. (DNF) 9-Devin Moran[19]; 18. (DNF) 22M-Charlie McKenna[17]; 19. (DNF) 36-Logan Martin[20]; 20. (DNF) 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr[6]; 21. (DNF) 25-Chad Simpson[15]; 22. (DNF) 29-Spencer Diercks[22]