Cooley Stops Boland For Season's First NeSmith Crate Win

By Roby Helm

JACKSON, Miss. – April 10. Defending NeSmith Chevrolet Dirt Late Model Series National Champion Eric Cooley picked up his first series win of the season on Saturday night, driving the 78 Towing and Recovery Victory Circle in the "Spring Nationals 50" presented by M&E Oil Services, Scarbrough Homes, and Permanent Exterior Solutions at Jackson Motor Speedway.

Cooley took the lead from Justin McRee on lap 32, and then held off a late-race challenge from Mike Boland to take his second series career win, and capture sole possession of first-place in the series National point standings.

“It’s really an accomplishment to come here and beat Mike Boland on a track that he has been so successful at through the years,” Cooley said.  “He gave Justin and me the bottom groove on the lap 30 restart, and we got under him.  I almost gave it back on the last lap because I got into turn three a little too hard and pushed up coming off turn four.  I was looking for him on my left, but I never saw him.”

Boland, who led laps 14 through 30, finished second, and McRee, who led lap 31, took the third spot.  Polesitter Johnny Stokes of Columbus, MS led the first 13 laps of the race, was involved in a lap 20 tangle, and came back to finish fourth.

Larry Harrod started 18th and rode the high side of the track to finish fifth and earn the GM Performance Parts Hard Charger Award.

Stokes earned the pole position with a lap around the 3/8-mile dirt oval in 16.564 seconds.  Stokes beat outside front row starter Cooley into the first turn, and McRee coming from the third starting hole drove under Cooley for the second on the opening tour of the race. 

Boland got by Cooley for the third spot on lap two, and then drove by McRee for second on lap three.  The leaders caught the cars on the tail of the lead lap by lap 12.  Stokes had Boland right on his back bumper, and when Stokes slid high in turn four on lap 13, Boland stuck the nose of his race car under the leader going down the front straightaway.

By the time the lead duo hit the first turn on lap 14, Boland had made the pass for the lead.  McRee got by Stokes to take the second spot on lap 16, while Boland pulled away.  Cooley spun in turn four on lap 20 to bring out the caution flag, but Cliff Williams was ticketed to the back of the pack for turning Cooley, who got his fourth spot back for the restart.

When the field went back to green, Boland led McRee, Stokes, Cooley, and Kyle Berry.  Going into turn one on restart, Stokes got into Cooley and triggered a multi-car tangle that blocked the race track to bring out the red flag.  Stokes was charged with the melee, and went to the tail of the lead lap cars for the next restart.

The next restart saw trigger another multi-car pile-up that necessitated another red flag.  The third lap 20 restart was a charm, especially for Smith, who was the first driver to try the outside groove, and advance from seventh to fifth.

Boland led McRee, Cooley, Berry, Smith, Lee, Burchfield, Turner, Wilson, and Shay Knight of Ethelsville, AL in the Dunn’s Auto Mastersbilt at the halfway point.  Knight was making a charge from the 21st starting spot, but he suddenly pulled to the infield on lap 30.

Berry had to pull up from his fourth position with a mechanical problem, just before a car hit one of the implement tires that mark the infield of the track in turn one, and sent it on to the racing surface on lap 31 to bring out the seventh caution flag of the race.

Boland went to the high side of the track on the restart, and it cost him.  McRee dove under Boland to take the lead.  Boland came back to try and retake the point on lap 32, but while McRee and Boland waged war, Cooley found an inside opening, and passed them both in turn four.

Once in the lead, Cooley began to pull away, as Boland got back around McRee on lap 34 for the second spot.  Stokes came back from his early race tangle to settle into the seventh spot on lap 36, and Boland started to close the gap between himself and Cooley.

With three laps to go, Brooks Strength hit the front straightaway wall to bring out the eighth and final caution flag of the race.  Cooley led Boland, McRee, Burchfield, Stokes, the high flying Harrod, Turner, Lee, Wilson and Smith back to the green flag for the three lap dash to the checkered flag.

Boland kept right on Cooley’s heals, but could not find an opening to challenge for the lead.  Stokes and Harrod got by Burchfield to take the fourth and fifth spot respectively.  On the final lap of the race, Cooley slid high coming off the fourth turn with the checkered flag in sight, but Boland was not close enough to capitalize on the open inside line. NeSmith - Jackson Motor Speedway

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