Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – LAKE CITY, FL – After three runner-up finishes in his last four starts at North Florida Speedway, Lucas Lee is finally a Winternationals Feature winner.
It was one he wanted bad after being passed late while leading on two occasions in this event in the last three seasons. But after 25 trips playing defense around the sandy, 3/8-mile oval, Lee’s bridesmaid curse was broken Sunday night after holding off Justin Haley and Tyler Nicely to bag his first career victory at the track.
“It feels good – a win anywhere is good,” Lee said. “I don’t like seconds, whether it’s 10 years in-a-row or what. I just don’t like them. I’m expected to win, my dad expects me to win, and that’s what we try to do every time we come out.”
Lee, the second-generation racer from Paris, TN, said he and crew member Travis Nored prepared the car in a hurry before an early start time Sunday, which may have contributed to their sixth-quick time in Qualifying after setting Quick Time in the Speedweeks opener on Saturday. Regardless, Lee took the front-row starting spot in his Heat and won, besting NASCAR Cup Series regular Haley to claim P2 on the Feature starting grid.
The outside-lane starting spot played right into Lee’s hands, as he got the jump on polesitter Drake Troutman at the drop of the green and took off.
“It’s a lot easier to look at the flag stand on the outside,” Lee said. “You’re further out there, and you can see better. Down there, you’ve got to worry about hitting the big tires. You’ve gotta watch that and you’re trying to watch the flagman at the same time – it’s a lot more difficult.”
From that point, there was no slowing Lee down. Several caution flags dotted throughout the 25-lap event gave his competition plenty of chances to make a bid for the lead, but all were denied. The toughest of which came from Haley with 10 laps remaining.
Haley had worked his way through the top-five from fifth on the starting grid, using the restarts and high-momentum straightaways to make passes on the way to the head of the field. He cracked the whip and kept pace with Lee in the final laps, nearly getting under him in Turns 3-4 at one point but was unable to make the pass in the end.
“We were better on the long run, and we just kept having those cautions,” Haley said. “We’ll try to figure out how to heat up the right-rear a little quicker and go get ‘em at Volusia.”
Haley, competing in his first North Florida Winternationals, used the weekend test his new car/engine combination before heading to Volusia Speedway Park for the 52nd Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals, Feb. 6-18. A runner-up finish Sunday was great turnaround after spinning in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag in Saturday’s Feature.
“We had really good dig in our car, good turn, and had a good piece all around,” Haley said. “Happy we came down here to shake it down, and we’ll go next week and see what we got.”
The win now puts Lee in command of the UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks points chase with 11 races still on the schedule. He takes a one-point advantage over Saturday winner Tyler Nicely into the upcoming five-race stretch at East Bay Raceway Park, Jan. 31-Feb. 4, though Lee said he’s not worried about the margin at this point.
“I don’t like points racing – it’ll be what it is at the end,” Lee said. “Tyler’s going to be really hard to beat all the way through. There’s going to be a bunch of us that will be tough to beat all the way through it.”
Lee knows Nicely, who came home third on Sunday, will be among his toughest competitors for the Speedweeks points title, which stretches through the end of the Modified portion of DIRTcar Nationals on February 11.
“Tyler’s going to be tough to beat, period,” Lee said. “Me being points ahead of him right now… I’m a realist; I don’t really think about it being a gap, to be honest.
“I don’t wish anything upon him. We’ve just gotta go out there and not have any DNFs. If he gets one or two, then we’ll capitalize on it. We’ve just gotta keep going.”
DIRTcar UMP Modified Florida Speedweeks action continues with a trip to East Bay Raceway Park for the 47th annual Winternationals – Tuesday-Saturday, Jan. 31-Feb. 4.
Feature (25 laps) – 1. 12-Lucas Lee ; 2. 99-Justin Haley ; 3. 25N-Tyler Nicely ; 4. 5-Drake Troutman ; 5. 8-Jimmy Lennex Jr. ; 6. 25W-Allen Weisser ; 7. 25A-Jason Altiers ; 8. 44-Jeff Parsons ; 9. 7-Brad DeYoung ; 10. 57-Fletcher Mason ; 11. 16c-John Clippinger ; 12. 41-Brad Goff ; 13. 60-Jim Manka ; 14. 96-Kyle Arvin ; 15. 4M-Timothy Monroe ; 16. 2A-Matt Altiers ; 17. 24-Zeke McKenzie ; 18. 9PG-Percy Gendreau ; 19. 141-Justin Galbreath ; 20. 23B-Ethan Boomsma ; 21. 97-Mitch Thomas ; 22. 2J-Troy Johnson