SHINNSTON, W. Va. – (Aug. 21, 2012) – Josh Richards returned to action on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series last weekend for the first time in nearly five months – and judging by his performance, it was like he had never left.
Racing a doubleheader in Michigan as a teammate to Brandon Sheppard on his father Mark’s Rocket Chassis house car dirt Late Model operation, the 24-year-old from Shinnston, W.Va., came close to sweeping the NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored weekend. He finished second in the Winston 50 presented by Keyser Manufacturing on Friday night at Winston Speedway in Montague and then broke through for a victory in Saturday evening’s Merritt 50 at Merritt Raceway in Lake City.
Taking advantage of a lull in his NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, Richards competed on the WoO LMS for the first time since finishing sixth in the Illini 100 on March 31 at Farmer City (Ill.) Raceway. He announced shortly after that race that he was leaving the national tour on which he won back-to-back championships in 2009-10 to pursue a NASCAR career by campaigning on the Nationwide Series.
“I was debating whether we wanted to come back this week (to run the Late Model) or not and just decided to (to race in Michigan) at the last minute,” said Richards. “I drove a dually the whole way up and had Brett Benedum come help me. It was pretty much just me and him working on the car.”
The weekend began at Winston with Richards leading laps 1-16 and 18-26 before being overtaken by Rick Eckert and settling for a second place finish behind the defending WoO LMS champion. He made it to the finish line first at Merritt, leading all but one lap in a rough-and-tumble race that saw him outduel Sheppard, who placed second to give Mark Richards the first one-two finish of his distinguished career as a car owner.
“It’s cool to come back and have a weekend like we did,” said Richards. “To lead laps and run second (at Winston) and then win (at Merritt), it’s definitely a confidence booster to know we can come back and compete with the best.”
Richards was especially excited about his hard-earned victory over Sheppard at Merritt.
“I know we started on the pole, but that was definitely the hardest I’ve worked to win a race,” said Richards, whose second WoO LMS win of 2012 and the 39th of his career pulled him back into a tie with Darrell Lanigan atop the tour’s all-time win list. “The track was heavy and rough – and that condition is usually what I’m good in – but it was changing every lap so you didn’t know if you were gonna push or hit a hole.
“I saw a blue car underneath me, and I was like, ‘Man, I gotta get up on the wheel,'” continued Richards, who was nipped for the lead by Sheppard on lap 45. “Brandon does one heck of a job. If I didn’t have any confidence in him, then he wouldn’t be in our car. He’s gonna be really good and he’s gonna pass me up one of these days.”
Noting the one-two finish for the Seubert Calf Ranches/Ernie D’s Rocket Chassis team, Richards said he could imagine what his father was thinking as the race wound down.
“I’m sure he was nervous out there,” said Richards. “But I’m sure he was a proud father of ‘two’ watching that.”
Richards will be back racing on the NASCAR Nationwide Series this Friday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, following that, he’ll return behind the wheel of his the familiar blue No. 1 dirt Late Model for a burst of competition. Barring changes to his Nationwide schedule, he plans to enter WoO LMS events on Aug. 25 at Winchester (Va.) Speedway, Aug. 26 at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway, Aug. 29 at Little Valley (N.Y.) Speedway and Sept. 1 at Tyler County Speedway in Middlebourne, W.Va., plus the DIRTcar-sanctioned World 100 on Sept. 7-8 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
For more information on Josh Richards, visit www.joshrichards.com and follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Richards1.