LAKE CITY, FL – It wasn’t a question “if” Tyler Nicely would win a Feature during DIRTcar UMP Modified Speedweeks, so much as it was a matter of “when.”
After some struggles at East Bay Raceway Park last week in the kickoff to the Speedweeks points championship, the 2020 Speedweeks champion and his crew regrouped earlier this week and didn’t have to wait long to see Victory Lane. Nicely pulled off a clean sweep of Saturday night at North Florida Speedway, setting fast time in Qualifying, winning his Heat Race and holding off the field on a green-and-white, checkered finish to score the win.
“I feel like we should’ve had one over there at East Bay,” said Nicely, of Owensboro, KY. “Definitely should’ve been on the podium every night I feel like, so it feels good to get the first one off our back.”
He won the race, but didn’t actually get the lead until the final laps. Outside polesitter Jason Garver swiped the lead from Nicely when the green dropped and held tight to it until Lucas Lee bested him on a Lap 7 restart. With Lee now in command of the field, Garver began to slip back into the clutches of Nicely.
The two swapped the second and third spots around a few times over the next 15 laps – Nicely using his excellent acceleration out of Turn 2 to pass Garver back after he would drive around him on the top. Several caution periods littered the second half of the race, which eventually benefitted Nicely and his choice of Hoosier Racing Tire in the end.
“We went with a little harder tire, and I feel like I got beat by that down at East Bay, so I didn’t want to try and go softer,” Nicely said. “I just needed about three laps to get going.”
Then came a turning-point restart on Lap 17, when Nicely fired-off well and maintained pace with leader Lee. With Nicely inching Lee in every lap, Lee decided to stay about a half-groove higher than the very bottom of the track, where Nicely was running. Nicely saw this and took his shot with three-to-go, getting under him out of Turn 2, drawing even with Lee’s #12 into Turn 3 and prying the spot away from him at the exit of Turn 4.
“On those restarts I’d get shuffled back, and finally we got a couple laps run and I was able to get underneath Lucas, and it was a good, clean race,” Nicely said.
“I thought as long as I could keep my speed up, [I’d be fine],” Lee said. “I didn’t think he was coming. My [signal] guy gave me a lead, and then it closed-up, and I knew I was a sitting duck.”
But that wasn’t the end of it. Christopher Rutherford spun in Turns 3-4 just as the leaders were coming for the checkers and the caution flag was thrown. This set up an intense green-and-white, checkered finish.
“I was actually worried more about Lucas,” Nicely said of his thoughts under the yellow. “I just wanted to make sure I hung my car out enough just so he couldn’t get a run in the middle going into Turn 1 on the last lap.”
But Nicely never flinched. He mashed the throttle on the start and sped away, opening a big gap behind him and securing the victory the next time by.
Crossing in second was Jupiter, FL-driver Clay Harris. Sporting a brand-new Longhorn by Loenbro chassis in his first competitive night on the car, Harris put together an amazing drive from 14th to second in 25 laps.
Before the final caution was thrown, Harris had been riding in third behind Lee. But that final restart gave him one last opportunity to pick up another spot, which he didn’t waste.
“He messed-up a little bit coming out of Turn 2 and Turn 4 on the same lap,” Harris said. “I thought I was going to pass him, and then the white flag came out, and I wasn’t even gonna try him. Then, they threw the caution, and I knew it was game time.”
New Speedweeks points leader Lucas Lee finished third after leading most of the race. Though he only lost ten points to Nicely in the standings, he said his tire choice cost him in the end.
“It was a gamble anyway,” Lee said. “I think I found the rubber before they did, and my tire wasn’t going to be there at the end. When my [stick signals] closed-up, I knew [Nicely] had a [harder compound] on. I figured he was coming.”
The DIRTcar UMP Modified Winternationals action continues at North Florida Speedway on Sunday, Feb. 6. Follow along on the DIRTcar Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages for all the latest updates and content.
Winternationals Feature (25 Laps) – 1. 25-Tyler Nicely; 2. 21J-Clay Harris; 3. 12-Lucas Lee; 4. 27-Jason Garver; 5. 72-Todd Neiheiser; 6. 27R-Steve Rex; 7. 57-Fletcher Mason; 8. 51-Brandon Green; 9. 242-Brandon Bollinger; 10. 91-Jamie Green; 11. 117-Clinton Gillen; 12. 7S-Ronnie Chance; 13. 2J-Troy Johnson; 14. 18-Christopher Rutherford; 15. 62E-Deece Schwartz; 16. S21-Seth Daniels; 17. 3D-Makayla Tyrrell; 18. 141-Justin Galbreath; 19. 16C-John Clippinger; 20. 21D-Danny Schwartz; 21. 711B-Jerry Bland Jr; 22. 05-Dave Wietholder; 23. I 70-Kim Edington; 24. 60-James McKeown; 25. 12D-Wesley Duboise; 26. 49-Billy Green