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News

Thomas Closes Points Gap with Needmore Victory

Thomas Closes Points Gap with Needmore Victory

NORMAN PARK, Ga. (Nov. 29) — Newsome Raceway Parts Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series drivers descended upon Needmore Speedway Friday night to compete for a $2,000 prize in the opening event of the season-ending Early Bird doubleheader weekend, and with a series title hanging like a carrot in front of his eyes and facing a 22-point disadvantage to Jason Welshan entering the championship-deciding weekend, pole position starter Jimmy Thomas took off like a hungry rabbit and rolled to a flag-to-flag victory.

His victory in the 25-lapper ended a recent stretch of bad luck for the Phenix City, Ala., driver, who watched a 70-point advantage in the standings disintegrate over the past few weeks, but now sits a mere six points behind Welshan in what has been a hotly-contested battle among four different drivers for the prestigious crown worth $10,000 to the overall titlist on the Eastaboga, Ala-based touring circuit.

Welshan, Thomas, Jake Knowles and Rookie of the Year candidate Tanner Collins have spent the entire season locked into a four-way dogfight for the championship, and have traded the points advantage so often that the bright orange spoiler designated to be used by the points leader at each event has been jokingly viewed among the four contenders as a form of bad luck, because whoever owned it always seemed to lose the points lead.

That spoiler now sits damaged from an on-track incident in a corner of the series trailer, and officials were unable to have a new one made in time for the final race weekend of the season, but the fiery points battle forges ahead with one event remaining on the schedule. Races and championship battles rarely get bigger and more interesting than this one has gotten, and even more rarely involve four different drivers for the entire season.

Thomas held a 16-point lead over Welshan after the James Powell Memorial held Oct. 23 at All-Tech Raceway in Ellisville, Fla., and lost the points advantage [which also damaged the points leader’s orange spoiler] after hitting the wall Nov. 6 at Magnolia Motor Speedway in Columbus, Miss. He’ll enter the final race of the season trailing by, well…not much. Based on how series points are distributed, the six-point difference basically boils down to three finishing positions. Winners receive 100 points, second-place finishers are awarded 96 points, and that is the biggest gap between positions. It counts down from there at two points per finishing spot: 94-92-90-88-86, etc.

“It’s a helluva points battle…a big-time points battle,” Thomas said after leading every circuit at the 4/10-mile speedplant. “We’ve got one more race tomorrow night, and we’re just coming to win and that’ll be our main focus. The points…they’re gonna shake out how they’re gonna shake out. All we can do is make sure we worry about ourselves, and let the rest just happen.”

Thomas worried little en route to his fourth victory of the season in 20 starts, and has also claimed wins this season July 3 and Oct. 2 at Talladega Short Track in Eastaboga, Ala., and Oct. 9 at Tri-County Speedway in Pollard, Ala. He took the lead at the drop of the green flag, and led without serious challenge to the checkered flag over fastest qualifier Rhett Carter, three-time Early Bird winner Joseph Brown, Jake Knowles and Clay Harris.

“I knew we had to beat that guy on the front row with us [Carter] into the first corner, and I felt like the track might be a little bit one lane-ish,” Thomas said. “I wanted to lead the race early, protect the bottom and hit my marks. This is one of those places where angles are real important and you gotta get your arc into the corners just right, and I’ve not been good at doing that the last few years. Maybe this is a sign I’m getting a little better.”

The race ran without a single caution, and no restarts meant no serious challenges. The green-to-checkered run boosted Thomas’ cause even more as he sped to a 1.624-second edge over Carter at the stripe. Thomas’ closest call actually occurred leaving turn four in the middle stages when lapped traffic loomed ahead, and his car made minor contact with Troy Dixon on the frontstretch, flipping Thomas’ fender flopper up briefly as the pair scraped together.

“Just a little racing deal there, but that really wasn’t nobody’s fault,” Thomas said. “He was racing down there low on the track when I got to him, so I just kinda nudged him a little bit to let him know we were coming.”

Thomas completed the required distance in a Scorpion Race Cars-chassied entry with a BTR engine providing the power. Sponsors included Appliance Gallery, High Roller Recovery, Wimmers Wrecker Service, Bilstein Shocks and Allstar Graphics by Bruce Carroll.

The championship-deciding series finale is slated Nov. 20 at the same facility, and will be the traditional Early Bird 50. Jake Knowles sits third in the title chase, and is just 44 points shy of the two leaders. The event will pay $10,000 to the winner, and also award points toward the first-year E-Z-GO $100,000+ Challenge title. Mark Whitener currently leads Welshan by 52 points in the chase for that $5,000 championship, which is counted separately from the regular touring series.

Early Bird 25: 1. Jimmy Thomas, 2. Rhett Carter, 3. Joseph Brown, 4. Jake Knowles, 5. Clay Harris, 6. Jeremy Faircloth, 7. Dillon Brown, 8. Jason Welshan, 9. Richie Stephens, 10. Matt Henderson, 11. Colton Leyendecker, 12. Jordy Nipper, 13. Kyle Bronson, 14. Kyle Bridges, 15. Garrett Mosley, 16. Cole Exum, 17. Ty Giles, 18. Tanner Collins, 19. David Whitener, 20. Mark Whitener, 21. Mike Combs, 22. Henry Carter, 23. Troy Dixon, 24. Russell Brown Jr.

Crate Racin’ USA Dirt Late Model Series (current points): 1. Jason Welshan, 1,690 points; 2. Jimmy Thomas, 1,684; 3. Jake Knowles, 1,646; 4. Tanner Collins, 1,564; 5. Mike Combs, 1,286; 6. Troy Dixon, 1,196; 7. Matt Henderson, 749; 8. Colton Leyendecker, 715; 9. Mark Whitener, 664; 10. Jadon Frame, 524, 11. Wil Herrington, 496; 12. T.J. Brittain, 440; 13. Jake Rainey, 402; 14. Jimmy Elliott, 392; 15. Garrett Mosley, 359; 16. Trynt Lloyd, 346; 17. Austin Horton, 340; 18. Joseph Joiner, 338; 19. Russell Brown Jr., 336; 20. Brad Skinner, 322.

Entries: 40
Fast qualifier: Rhett Carter, 14.947 seconds
Lap leaders: Jimmy Thomas 1-25.
Margin of victory: 1.624 seconds
Cautions: None.
B-main winners: Ty Giles, Matt Henderson, Jordy Nipper.