For the first three quarters of the 30th running of the Icebreaker 100 this weekend at Desoto Speedway, 2014 Brighthouse Series and Desoto track champion Jesse Dutilly looked like he'd start 2015 in a place he found quite often in 2014 -- victory lane.
But after a mechanical failure 26 laps from the end of the race brought the Bradenton driver's hopes of winning the track's biggest race of the year to a screeching halt, it was veteran driver Jeff Scofield who was left holding the trophy in front of the sun-drenched crowd in Eastern Manatee County.
Dutilly started on the pole and led the first five laps before being overtaken by Scofield for the top spot. As Scofield, Dutilly, Chris Fontaine and Anthony Cataldi battled for the top spot, Cataldi and Fontaine tangled, triggering a melee that collected several cars and sent Cataldi to the pits with damage. He was able to rejoin the field before the restart after quick repairs.
Dutilly passed Scofield for the lead on the outside on a lap 21 restart and wasted no time pulling out to a 10 car-length lead over Scofield, Fontaine and defending race winner Joe Boyd. He had a decent over Scofield when the caution flew for Troy McNabb's spin in turn four.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Bradenton Herald
On the restart, Dutilly held off a challenge from Scofield, Fontaine, Boyd and 14 year-old rookie Tyler Dipper, a dirt modified driver from New York making his first-ever start on asphalt. Dipper was challenging Boyd and Fontaine for fourth when he and Michael Atwell got together in turn two, sending Dipper into a spin.
Scofield and Boyd both got past Dutilly on the lap 51 restart. Dutilly finally got back around Boyd 10 laps later and needed only two more laps to pull off the outside pass on Scofield to get back out front.
As Dutilly began pulling away, fluid began spraying out of the rear of his car. On lap 74, a large plume of smoke came from Dutilly's ride and two lapped cars spun out in the oil. After several trips to the pits to repair the car, Dutilly's day came to an end with an apparent rear end failure.
Boyd inherited the lead with 24 laps to go, but was passed by Scofield on the restart. Dipper was challenging Boyd for third on lap 84 when he lost control of his car and slammed the wall.
Scofield, who said the oil left by Dutilly's car made the track very slippery over the closing laps, held off a challenge from Fontaine with seven laps to go and went on to collect another Icebreaker 100 win.
"I've got to hand it to Chris and Joe because we hit that oil and we were bumping and grinding -- and we kept our cool and showed some good sportsmanship," Scofield said. "I'm not going to lie -- I'm happy Dutilly broke because nobody could run with him. I'm not sure what he's got, but he was gone."
The runner-up finish was a good start of the season for Fontaine, who will run in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona in two weeks.
"That was probably the cleanest Jeff and I have ever raced," Fontaine said. "It was fun, but I wish we had a little more. None of us had anything for the 30 (Dutilly)."
Boyd followed up last year's win with a third place finish. He said he needed about 20 more laps to give Scofield a serious challenge for the victory.
"We could have given him a run for his money," Boyd said.
Nick Neri and Dylan Bigley rounded out the top five. Atwell, Billy Bigley, Scott Walters, Cataldi and Tyler Scofield finsihed sixth through 10th, respectively.
Sunday's 50-lap Open Wheel Modified feature also went down to the wire. Just one lap into the race, Steve Arnold and Doug Moff were racing down the back stretch side-by-side for the lead. The two cars made contact and spun directly in front of the 22-car field. Both cars were able to continue with Moff, who set fast time in qualifying, being sent to the rear.
After a rash of caution flags, Arnold found himself in a fight for the lead with Devin McCleod and Travis Roland. Roland eventually got to the lead on lap 11 and was starting to pull away when the yellow flew again for Robert Haygood's spin on lap 15.
Roland had built a solid lead before Wayne Jefferson began reeling him in over the final 10 laps. Roland and Jefferson made contact a couple of times and Jefferson appeared poised to take the lead when the caution flew for Travis Todd's spin on lap 46.
Jefferson made Roland pay for taking the outside lane on the restart, and easily took the lead, as the field made its way on to the back stretch. On the next restart, Roland got into the back of Jefferson and caused him to spin, and Roland was sent to the rear of the field with just two laps left.
Jefferson would hold off a challenge from Cody Stickler on the final restart to take the win. Moff rallied to finish third, while Cameron Ray and L.J. Grimm rounded out the top five.
Winged Sprint Cars were the final headline event of the weekend. Dave Steele, who picked up the win in Saturday night's 40-lap, non-wing sprint car event, started fourth in Sunday's 50-lap feature and needed just half a lap to get to the tail of polesitter, and early leader, Ty DeCaire.
DeCaire put a little distance on Steele before catching traffic about 20 laps into the race. That allowed Steele, a three-time Little 500 champion to close quickly and eventually pass DeCaire for the lead at the halfway point. Steele went unchallenged the rest of the way to pick up the victory. DeCaire had a career-best second place finish, while Mickey Kempghens -- the only other car to finish on the lead lap -- was third.
In other action this weekend, Steve Darvalics led from flag-to-flag to take the 50-lap Pro Truck feature; Palmetto's Billy Carlbert won the 30-lap Pure Stock feature; Rob Kohler won the three-quarter midget feature; Darin Coker won the 20-lap Legends feature; Bobby Mobley won Saturday's 35-lap Street Stock feature; Kenny Gibson and James Wright III won Saturday and Sunday's 30-lap Bomber features; and Mike Gamache won Saturday's School Bus Figure 8 race.