Wheatland, Missouri (March 6, 2020) - Motivated and recharged following a strong second half of 2019, Republic Missouri's Payton Looney appears poised for a Championship run with the Lucas Oil MLRA in 2020. After capturing the MLRA Sunoco Race Fuels Rookie of the Year Award in 2018, Looney had strong hopes of contending for the series title last season. However, those hopes were quickly dashed when a run of bad luck plagued the team, forcing them to the sidelines for six of the next eight MLRA events.
Coming off third and fourth place finishes during the second weekend of the season, the Atnip Motorsports team appeared to be right where they wanted to be in the early laps of 2019, knocking down top five's and contending for their first MLRA win. That momentum carried into the following weekend at the Stuart International Speedway, where Looney secured his first DirtonDirt.com Pole Award of the season and jumped to a sizable lead in the early going. A simple puff of smoke off the exit of turn two quickly erased the team's momentum, yet served as a positive turning point in their season.
"Leaving Stuart was pretty dejecting," said Looney. "We started in the back of our heat and won it, and I was feeling pretty comfortable in the car. To feel like I had a shot to win or run top two, and then to end up finishing with a broken motor and having to head home early without being able to finish the weekend really sucked. In the end it all kind of ended up working out for us. We had to take about two months off, when we ordered our new car, and when we debuted it I felt like we were really in contention for the win everywhere we unloaded. It was really a blessing in disguise."
Looney finally debuted a new 2020 Capital Chassis in early September which resulted in a flurry of positive results nearly everywhere the #15 unloaded over the final few months of the season. "I've got a really good race car and a good relationship with the guys at Capital. I really feel that I am faster now than I ever have been, so hopefully that will translate well into this season."
The 25-year old driver will be carrying momentum into the upcoming MLRA opener at the Lucas Oil Speedway April 10th - 11th, following a near unthinkable finish in last October's MLRA Fall Nationals finale. Less than 24 hours removed from a nine car incident on the opening lap that left Looney's new ride sitting on its top, he returned to the track with a repaired race car, and crossed the line in the second position.
"I felt like I had a good enough car to compete with Tony (Jackson Jr.), he was obviously really good but I was still fighting some issues from our flip the night before, commented Looney. "Our motor wasn't running the way it should have, so I never really actually could run with them like I thought I should, but in the back of my mind I felt like I did have a car that was capable of winning the race."
At the time of the roll-over, Looney admits they were likely not prepared for such an incident having just recently transitioned to the new car. "We had some left front suspension damage, and I actually didn't have any spares at the time so we ended up running the bent left front parts on Sunday night," he commented. "We have spent the winter freshening things up and getting everything prepared, and we will be ready to go when we head back to Lucas."
Looney will enter the upcoming season with Cornett horsepower under the hood and support from car owner Jeremy Atnip and long-time crew member Lake Mooneyham.
2020 will mark the 5th year for Looney behind the wheel of the Atnip Motorsports entry. Looney commented on the relationship, "It has been great, we don't argue and we don't bicker with one another. Jeremy doesn't put added pressure on me and we have a pretty good working relationship. There are not many car owners that actually work on a car and help out like he does, he is 100% hands on."
"A lot of times it's just him and me running down the road at three, four, or five in the morning. We have a perfect relationship that's transferred not only just working wise, but also on a personal level. He is involved with my family and I am involved with his family, so it has been really good," stated Looney.
Lloyd Collins--FastTrack Photos
Rejuvenated and ready for a fresh start, Looney and team are excited to return to the track in 2020 and to see what will unfold. "Hopefully this will be the year where we can finally rattle off a couple of wins," said Looney. "I really think if I can get a good start on the year that we will have as good of shot as anybody to contend for the championship."
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