Mike Marlar wasn’t sure if he could pass race leader Ryan Gustin Thursday night at Red River Valley Speedway. But on Lap 27, the 2018 World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series champion got the break he needed.
A flat tire forced Gustin to pit, handing the lead to Marlar with 13 laps to go. That was all he needed, leading the rest of the way to earn his first Series win of 2023 in the Titan Machinery Showdown.
Gustin led the field to the green in the 40-lap Feature, but a yellow flag came out in Turn 3 for an incident involving Germfree Lab Rookie of the Year contenders Dustin Walker and Nick Hoffman—one that knocked the Mooresville, NC driver out of the race.
The “Reaper” tried to get momentum out front, but several cautions slowed the field down, including one for Cade Dillard, who spun on Lap 15.
That Lap 15 restart is when Dennis Erb Jr. and Marlar tried to make a bid for the lead.
Marlar swung to the outside of the Erb in Turns 1 and 2, hoping to drive around him for second. But on that lap, Erb had the momentum as he stayed in front of the #157 in Turns 3 and 4. Then, the defending champion got a burst of speed down the front stretch as he saw an opening underneath Gustin.
However, that opening closed immediately, as Gustin shut the door in Turn 1, holding onto the lead. That loss of momentum cost Erb the second spot as Marlar passed him in Turn 2 and set his sights on Gustin.
The “Winfield Warrior” got another chance to wrestle the lead away from Gustin two laps later when the caution came out for Brent Larson on Lap 17.
On that restart, Marlar nosed ahead of him as they hit Turn 2. But it wasn’t enough, as Gustin powered back by him down the backstretch, seemingly on his way to victory.
However, the race’s outcome changed on Lap 26 when the caution flew for Chris Madden.
Gustin pitted with a right rear flat tire during that yellow flag, handing the lead to Marlar.
That was the opportunity Marlar needed, as he led the final 13 laps to score the $10,000 prize and his 14th career World of Outlaws CASE Late Models win.
Marlar was relieved after the race, knowing how hard it would’ve been to pass Gustin.
“We were having a heck of a race there,” Marlar said. “I almost got him off of [Turn] 2 over there, and I hit that hole and bounced out probably close to hitting him. I got out of the gas, and he got back by me.
“When the caution came out, I thought, man, how am I going to get around that guy? And then the answer appeared in front of me. It’s kind of weird how that happens. It happens to a lot of people, and I hate that it happened to him today. He was going to be tough to pass, especially with 13 to go when he had clear sailing.”
Marlar said one of the reasons Gustin was so tough to pass was that the track surface threw him a curveball.
“The track was odd tonight,” Marlar said. “It actually gained grip instead of losing it. Usually, it’s not like that. There was more grip off Turn 4 late in the race and in the middle, than there was early. So, I was able to find that and get out into the middle of the track and passed them guys.”
The Benton, KY driver said his car might’ve been good enough to win but needed to stay ahead of Marlar in the first three laps.
“I think the key to winning was Marlar passing me there before that first restart when we went double-file,” English said. “He got to third, so it put him to the outside, and he just kind of stayed ahead. He was pretty good. I don’t know if we had anything for him if we stayed ahead. I just stayed on the bottom there that one time and should’ve moved up and got in his line. I tried to stay down there and find something, but there wasn’t anything left.”
The two made contact several times in the race’s closing stages, including when they touched in Turns 3 and 4, leaving Bronson sideways in the middle of the corner. The Brandon, FL driver saved it and drove back by Pierce on the backstretch to gain the final spot on the podium.
The third-place finish is Bronson’s best during World of Outlaws Heartland Speedweek after dealing with bad luck, including a broken rear-end and flat tire.
“We’ve been having fast cars, but things haven’t been going our way,” Bronson said. “You can’t help flat tires and broken rear ends and stuff like that when it happens. Our cars had speed in it besides Tuesday. Tuesday was the only day I felt like we lacked a little speed.
“Hopefully, this will get us back on track here and get us back to where we need to be running and get going. We still have a lot of racing left to go, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Brian Shirley finished fourth, and Pierce rounded out the top five.
Pierce extended his Series points lead to 48 points over Hoffman, and 52 ahead of Madden.
Gustin fell to ninth at the end of the race, holding onto his seven-race top 10 streak. He said he felt the Titan Machinery Showdown was his race to lose.
“That’s how it goes unfortunately,” Gustin said. “I feel like we pretty much had that one in the bag. But you win some, lose some, and have some flat tires every now and again.”
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws CASE Late Models head north to Grand Forks, ND on Friday, June 30 for visit to River Cities Speedway. Then, the Series finishes World of Outlaws Heartland Speedweek with a stop at I-94 EMR Speedway in Fergus Falls, MN on Saturday, July 1.
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If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live on DIRTVision – either online on with the DIRTVision App.
CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Feature (40 Laps): 1. 157-Mike Marlar; 2. 96V-Tanner English; 3. 40B-Kyle Bronson; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley; 5. 32-Bobby Pierce; 6. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 7. 25-Shane Clanton; 8. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 9. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 10. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 11. 15-Donny Schatz; 12. 1TPO-Tyler Peterson; 13. 30-Todd Cooney; 14. 97-Cade Dillard; 15. 76-Blair Nothdurft; 16. 00-Mitch Johnson; 17. 18X-Shawn Meyer; 18. 14W-Dustin Walker; 19. 27-Rayce McCord; 20. 44-Chris Madden; 21. 1ST-Johnny Scott; 22. B1-Brent Larson; 23. 5E-Shane Edginton; 24. 9-Nick Hoffman FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER: Shane Clanton [+15]