Thornton, Egbert win opening night Duel qualifiers

Ricky Thornton Jr. won the first IMCA Modified qualifying feature, on opening night of the Duel In The Desert at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Melissa Coker, Melissa’s Out On A Limb Photography)

By Steven Young 

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (Nov. 11) – Ricky Thornton Jr. and P.J. Egbert punched their tickets Wednesday night for the 23rd annual Duel In The Desert IMCA Modified main event, winning their respective 22-lap qualifying features. 

In the first qualifier at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, Thornton and William Gould led the field to the green. Thornton set a blistering pace early, leading by over a full second at the completion of the opening round. Tanner Black moved up to the second spot on the second circuit, then began to close in on Thornton for the top spot.

The lead duo maintained the same distance through 10 completed laps, as they approached the rear of the field.

Thornton closed in on a pair of lapped cars running high and low with six remaining, allowing Black to close to within a half of a second with five laps left. 

Three lapped cars further quelled Thornton’s momentum, causing him to abandon the bottom to work the traffic with three laps left. Thornton put two lapped cars between himself and Black as the white flag flew, continuing on to victory.

In qualifier number two, Craig Oakes and Jordan Grabouski led the field at the start. Shane DeVolder moved up to second at the conclusion of the opening round and began to stalk Grabouski for the lead.

The pair swapped the lead on the third circuit, with Grabouski remaining on the point at the end of the lap. It was then that Egbert moved up to the second spot on lap four, then to the point on the fifth lap.

After a caution for Jason Wolla just before halfway, DeVolder briefly moved back to a spot in the duel while he, Grabouski and Ricky Alvarado went three-wide for second. Alvarado’s night ended on the following circuit, making hard contact with the turn one wall to bring out another caution.

Ryan McDaniel replaced Alvarado in the dogfight for second on the restart, Egbert built a lead of a second-and-a-half as the final battles for second played out, with McDaniel following Egbert home to head to Saturday’s duel.

In the IMCA Sunoco Stock Car qualifiers, Dan Mackenthun and Jack Sullivan punched their tickets to Saturday’s dance with qualifying feature victories.

Zane DeVilbiss and Steve Heckman led qualifier one to the green and it was DeVilbiss who set a blistering pace for the majority of the event. DeVilbiss built leads of three and eight seconds between cautions, while Mackenthun moved to the second and final transfer spot to the duel with four laps complete. 

The lead duo worked traffic late in the race, before the final caution as the white flag flew, erasing a nine second lead. DeVilbiss then went pitside with a flat tire, allowing Mackenthun to inherit the lead for the green-white-checkered restart. 

Mackenthun went on to victory over Colby Deming.

In qualifier two for the Stock Cars, it was Jeffrey Abbey who led the field for the majority of the second 18-lap race. Sullivan, making his debut in the division, moved from his seventh starting spot to second on the sixth circuit. 

Dallon Murty ran third as Abbey started working lapped traffic with six laps left, cutting his four second lead in half. The top three went nose to tail through traffic with four remaining, with Sullivan taking the point a half mile later and bringing Zach Madrid with him into second.

Abbey climbed over Madrid’s right rear coming out of turn two with two laps left, causing flat tires and a spin for Madrid. Murty moved to second on the final restart, as Sullivan continued on to victory.

In Karl Kustoms Northern SportMod action, Austin Manzella and Johnathon Logue were the qualifying feature winners.

Manzella built a second and a half lead with five laps complete, in his bid to recover from a practice night crash, while also avoiding disaster again in his heat race earlier on in the night. Andrew Peckham closed to within a half of a second at the halfway point, and went on to peek to Manzella’s inside on multiple occasions in the ensuing laps. 

Fred Ryland made it a three-car battle for the lead in the waning laps, as the trio worked traffic.

Jason Nation fell back early in the race, but stormed back to take second with two to go, while making a bid for the lead at the white flag.

Manzella beat Nation back to the checkers by seven tenth’s of a second for the win. 

The final qualifying feature of the night saw Austen Becerra set the pace for the bulk of the race.

Fending off charges by Jake Sachau and Johnathan Logue, Becerra went on to build a second and a half lead at the halfway point.

With three laps left, Becerra suffered a mechanical failure, ending his race.

That handed the lead to Logue, who passed both Becerra’s failing mount and Sachau at the flagstand to take the lead.

Logue held off Sachau and Chris Toth after a green, white, checkered restart to secure his place in Saturday’s finale.