Francis repels Davenport to snap Lucas dry spell
By James EssexLucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series
GAFFNEY, S.C. (June 22) — Winning his first series race since Florida Speedweeks, Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., survived a late-race charge from Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., to capture the 14th annual Grassy Smith Memorial at Cherokee Speedway.
The driver of the Cowpens, S.C., Barry Wright house car earned $10,000 for his third Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory of the season. | Video
"To win for Barry and (crew chief) Lance Wright here at their home track is just terrific!” the 44-year-old Francis said after his first career victory at the 4/10-mile oval. "I couldn't wait until this race was over, because I wasn't sure how much right rear tire we had left. We held on, and I had to get up on the wheel at the end when Jonathan pressured me on the outside.”
Davenport actually overtook Francis heading down the backstretch with five laps remaining, but a caution flag erased the move and reset the field with Francis out front. Davenport slipped out of the groove on the final restart in turn two, allowing Steve Shaver of Vienna, W.Va., to slip by and grab second.
"We have been coming here a long-time and to finally win here is something we can be proud of, the Clements Engine ran great and the car was just superb, I was saving my tires. I got a little too conservative there, we caught a break on that yellow when he (Davenport) got by me.”
Shaver and Davenport were followed to the finish by fast qualifier Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., while two-time series champ Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., was fifth. Series points leader Jimmy Owens, who started in the pole position, was running fifth when a flat tire forced him pitside and he ended up ninth.
Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., started outside the front row and led the first 18 laps, but Francis overtook him amid heavy lapped traffic on lap 19. O’Neal suffered driveline failure on the next restart, his yellow No. 71 slowing dramatically on the backstretch. Owens, who had the second spot before his tire started deflating, pitted during the yellow.
Francis led the rest of the way, holding off Davenport and Shaver for his eighth career victory on the series. The feature was slowed by six cautions.
Notes: Francis drives a Clements-powered Barry Wright Race Car sponsored by Valvoline, PRC, VP Racing Fuels, Port City Racing, Harbaugh Amusements, Hoosier Racing Tires, Keizer Aluminum Wheels, JRi Shocks and AES Racing. ... Francis previously won on the circuit twice at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla., on Feb. 16 and 18. ... Fourth-finishing Mike Marlar started 10th. ... Hometown driver Dennis Franklin earned the Optima Batteries Hard Charger honors for his 24th-to-eighth run. ... Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., entered but scratched from the racing action. ... Drivers drawing caution flags: Ross Bailes (lap 19); Earl Pearson Jr., Ross Bailes, John Blankenship (lap 19); Eric Wells (lap 27); Ty Dillon (lap 44); Austin Hubbard (lap 45); Tyler Reddick (lap 49). ... The race honored Grassy Smith, the father of Hall of Fame driver Freddy Smith and grandfather of Jeff Smith; Freddy came out of his unofficial retirement to completed, finishing 21st. ... The feature lasted 41 minutes. ... Drivers failing to make the feature lineup: Tim Rivers, Chris Madden and John Pursley. ... Lucas Oil competitors head to Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Va., for Saturday’s weekend-closing Blue Ridge 50, another $10,000-to-win event.
Grassy Smith Memorial: (1) Steve Francis, (2) Steve Shaver, (3) Jonathan Davenport, (4) Mike Marlar, (5) Scott Bloomquist, (6) Dale McDowell, (7) Jeff Smith, (8) Dennis Franklin, (9) Jimmy Owens, (10) Earl Pearson Jr., (11) Eric Wells, (12) Mike Gault, (13) Ross Bailes, (14) Johnny Pursley, (15) Austin Hubbard, (16) Tyler Reddick, (17) Brent Dixon, (18) Ty Dillon, (19) Casey Roberts, (20) Donald Bradsher, (21) Freddy Smith, (22) Jared Landers, (23) John Blankenship, (24) Don O’Neal, (25) Chris Ferguson. Fast qualifier (among 28 cars): Marlar, 15.541 seconds. Heat race winners: Owens, Shaver, O’Neal, Francis. Consolation winners: Pursley, Bailes. Provisional starters: Dixon, Franklin, Smith.