The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series points leader took the lead on Lap 1 and never looked back to earn the opening night win of the 36th annual USA Nationals.
It was his second win in a three-day span, after claiming his second Hawkeye 50 triumph on Tuesday. That momentum carried into Thursday night at Cedar Lake, winning his Heat Race and then drawing the pole for the 25-lap Feature.
Pierce drove away from three-time and defending USA Nationals champion Jonathan Davenport on the opening lap of the Feature. However, his momentum was slowed twice in the first five laps as Daniel Hilsabeck spun to bring out a caution on both occasions.
Despite the yellow flags, the Oakwood, IL driver aced both restarts, pulling away from the field.
Behind the “Smooth Operator,” four-time Series champion Brandon Sheppard climbed to the front, locked in a battle with Davenport for second. The two traded slide jobs for a couple of laps before Sheppard got the advantage in Turn 2 on Lap 7. That’s when the New Berlin, IL driver set his sights on Pierce.
Sheppard inched closer and closer every lap. But when they found traffic, Pierce found a better course to navigate throughout it each time. Out of traffic, Sheppard could close in, close enough to dive underneath the #32 at times, but that was as close as the #B5 would get. And every time Sheppard feel back, Ricky Thornton Jr. was there, waiting.
In the final 10 laps, Pierce pulled away to win his seventh World of Outlaws Feature of 2023.
Pierce said his $6,000 victory came down to tire choice and some luck.
“It’s pretty crazy the roll we’re on,” Pierce said. “We had a little luck tonight drawing the one, and Gordy had some issues in the Heat Race, and I don’t know if I was going to pass him or not. But sometimes, a little luck goes a long way.
“The car was a little tight in the Feature. I got tight there, and I just changed my line. I think we made the right call on tires. A lot of guys running up front had the opposite of what I had.”
Even though Pierce is celebrating, he knows what’s ahead of him this weekend as he prepares for his chance at $50,000 on Saturday.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Pierce said. “We’ve already got this first night out of the way. We’ve got a lot of really good points, and [Series] points in general.”
The win extends Pierce’s points lead to 112 points over Chris Madden, who finished 14th – earning the Fox Factory Hard Charger award, coming from his 23rd starting position.
Sheppard settled for second, but only after a battle with Thornton Jr., the Prairie Dirt Classic winner, in the last few laps. Thornton pulled underneath Sheppard’s Longhorn Chassis a few times but didn’t have the momentum to make the pass.
The four-time champion said he was happy with his car but might’ve gone the wrong way on his tire choice.
“My car was really good,” Sheppard said. “The car was balanced and maneuverable. I could put the car top, middle, bottom, anywhere I wanted to go. As soon as I got into lap traffic in the end, I pushed it a little bit harder, and I felt my tire getting hot and getting greasy, and I started sliding a little bit more. I think that was my biggest issue. But overall, it’s a solid start to the weekend.”
Thornton finished third—his third consecutive World of Outlaws podium. The Martinsville, IN driver said he needed the top lane to slow down to have a chance at the win.
“I was really good in the middle and the bottom,” Thornton said. “We’re kind of setting up for the 100 lapper. I told [my crew], really, as long as we get a top five here, it’ll set us up good for tomorrow at least. We had a good car. Bobby was a little better than us, but I feel like clean air had a lot to do with that, too.”
Despite finishing third, Thornton didn’t walk away empty handed. He won the annual F.A.N.S. Fund dash to end the night, passing Ricky Weiss to earn the $2,500 prize.
Brian Shirley finished fourth in Thursday’s Feature, while Hudson O’Neal rounded out the top five.
After one night of action at Cedar Lake Speedway, Pierce leads the USA Nationals points standings by one point over Brandon Sheppard. The top 16 drivers after Friday’s Feature will lock into Saturday’s USA Nationals finale.
Here’s a look at the Top 10 in points:
- Bobby Pierce 742
- Brandon Sheppard -1
- Ricky Thornton Jr. -12
- Hudson O’Neal -19
- Jonathan Davenport -20
- Brian Shirley -21
- Cade Dillard -23
- Tanner English -24
- Shannon Babb -30
- Shane Clanton -50
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models return to Cedar Lake Speedway for night two of the 36th annual USA Nationals at Cedar Lake. Drivers will battle in another 25-lap Feature paying $6,000-to-win.
CASE Construction Equipment Late Mode Feature (25 Laps): 1. 32-Bobby Pierce; 2. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 3. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley; 5. 1-Hudson O’Neal; 6. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 7. 96V-Tanner English; 8. 97-Cade Dillard; 9. 18B-Shannon Babb; 10. 25-Shane Clanton; 11. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 12. 31-Kye Blight; 13. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 14. 44-Chris Madden; 15. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 16. 1T-Tyler Erb; 17. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 18. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 19. 174-Ethan Dotson; 20. 55C-Chad Mahder; 21. 9-Nick Hoffman; 22. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 23. B1-Brent Larson; 24. 49T-Jake Timm; 25. 30-Todd Cooney; 26. 14W-Dustin Walker; 27. 7-Drake Troutman; 28. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER: Chris Madden
F.A.N.S Fund Dash (12 Laps): 1. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 2. 7W-Ricky Weiss; 3. 14G-Trevor Gundaker; 4. 12-Ashton Winger; 5. 25F-Jason Feger; 6. 18D-Daulton Wilson; 7. 11G-James Giossi; 8. 126-Kaede Loudy; 9. 8M-Dillon McCowan; 10. (DNS) 7-Drake Troutman