JAMAICA, Va. (April 8) — The pressure was on Brandon Overton when he entered Saturday night’s Aaron’s King of the Commonwealth at Virginia Motor Speedway. After all, his boss, the retired Randy Weaver, won the event’s $20,000 first prize the last time it was run in 2015.
“Oh yeah, I felt it,” Overton said with a laugh after he duplicated Weaver’s achievement with a convincing victory in the 60-lap Ultimate Super Late Model Series-sanctioned feature. “He won this race, so I had to live up to what he did.”
Though Overton, 25, of Evans, Ga., had only raced at Bill Sawyer’s half-mile oval once before, he looked like an experienced veteran there driving the Chip Stone-owned Dream Racing Longhorn Chassis that Crossville, Tenn.’s Weaver vacated last fall after deciding to retire rather than attempt a comeback from a serious concussion he suffered in an April accident.
Using all the guidance that Weaver has provided him since he joined the team late last year, Overton outdueled Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., to assume command on lap 28 and then ran away from the field, romping to a full straightaway victory over Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga.
The fast-rising Overton dominated the race’s second half to defeat the 50-year-old McDowell by 4.175 seconds for a career-high $20,000 payday. It was his second triumph this season and his third since taking the reins of the No. 116 that Weaver drove so successfully for several years before his crash.
Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., finished a distant third, rallying from the rear of the field after he pitted on lap two to change a left-rear tire that deflated because its valve stem was cut by an opening-lap scrape with Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C. Davenport, who started second alongside the polesitting Overton, settled for a fourth-place finish in the Barry Wright house car after leading laps 1 and 9-27 and Madden, who started inside of Marlar in third, salvaged a fifth-place finish despite running virtually the entire distance with his car’s right-rear bodywork crunched from the incidental contact with Marlar.
Austin Hubbard of Seaford, Del., finished sixth after running as high as third and holding a top-five spot throughout the race's first half.
Overton, who turns 26 on April 13, overtook Davenport to lead laps 2-8 before ceding the position back to the 2014 King of the Commonwealth winner. That was fine with Overton, however, because he wanted to run second for at least a little while.
“I knew when I got the lead that I didn’t really want to be leading,” said Overton, who is two-for-two in Ultimate Series action in '17 after previously capturing the season opener on March 4 at North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth.. “I’ve done got passed so many times when I’ve led the whole race and then got passed on the last lap, or right at the end, and that drives me insane. So when we started racing (for the lead with Davenport during the A-main’s first half), I just kept making sure I was keeping pace with him and not let him get way ahead … I figured if it did rubber (and become one-lane) I could pass him back because I could find (the traction) first since I was second and could search around more.”
Alas, the surface didn’t take rubber, but chasing Davenport did open Overton’s eyes to the groove he needed to utilize to win the race.
“He went up there and showed me how to get in (turn) one really good, and that was the right line,” Overton commented. “In three and four he kind of had to rely on that bottom but I cold just blow off in there and kind of float so I knew I was better than him down there. I just had to wait on him to get cobbled up or do something and then I’d be fine. It all worked out right.
“Jonathan kind of showed me that top, and hell, that worked perfect for me,” he added. “I just kept driving in there hard, and then I would set it, get on my corner and set it up there … and then when I left them crumbs up there, I was pointed straight off the corner.”
Davenport, 33, had no answer once Overton turned up the wick and grabbed the top spot — and shortly thereafter, Davenport fell further, losing second to McDowell on lap a lap-30 restart and third to the charging Marlar on lap 45.
“I thought we was pretty good there, but I guess I just knew where to be on the racetrack before anybody else,” said Davenport, who capped his night by driving Wright’s Crate Late Model to a $3,000 victory in the companion 40-lap Fastrak Racing Series feature. “Once Brandon learned where to be on the racetrack, him and Dale both, they just drove away.”
Overton was overjoyed after running away with the checkered flag, which came with neither Weaver nor Stone in attendance.
“I can’t even believe I won, to be honest with you,” said Overton, whose only previous start at VMS was a May 17, 2014, Ultimate event in which he drove Troy Baird’s Club 29 car to a fifth-place finish. “We’ve lost a couple (races) these last couple weeks and we’ve all … not really been down, but we’ve all kind of made it a point that it can’t keep happening, you know what I’m saying? We set a high standard for ourselves, and running the more regional thing, we’ve gotta make the ones that I do run count.
“And this is a good one,” he asserted. “There’s good cars here … Mikey (Marlar), Dale, Madden, Davenport. This one means a lot.”
McDowell hustled forward from the sixth starting spot in his Sweet-Bloomquist car fielded by his brother Shane, but after reaching second place he never was able to offer Overton a serious challenge.
“I was a little tight, so when there was a little bit of traction there and I could charge really hard I was OK,” McDowell said. “Then (the surface) cleaned up for them guys … those guys couldn’t run as hard as I could early, I don’t think, and then they were balanced out a little bit more later —especially Brandon.
“I was just a little tight, so I would have to shear my car with the gas a little bit. I was hoping that caution (on lap 30) wouldn’t come out because when I got to ‘em (Overton and Davenport) the racetrack was more to what we were set up for.”
A runner-up finish wasn’t disappointing, however, for McDowell, whose best finish in his nine VMS starts since 2005 was a third in a 2012 Ultimate event. He owned just one other top-five finish at the track prior to Saturday night.
“A top three’s good,” McDowell said. “This hasn’t been one of my better places. It’s got a lot of wheel-spin and you’ve got to run the car sideways so it really hasn’t fit my driving style the best. I’ve watched these other guys to see what goes fast here so it was definitely an improvement and we’ll keep coming back.
“I like going to those places where I struggle at because it makes me better — if I don’t run out of years first,” he added with a laugh.
Marlar, meanwhile, felt snakebit after his early misfortune cost him dearly.
“We had a really, really good car,” Marlar said of his Ronnie Delk-owned XR1 Rocket. “I just had to use the tires up getting back to the front.”
Three caution flags slowed the event. The first came on lap two when Kenny Moreland of Waldorf, Md., Darryl Hills of Great Mills, Md., and Glenn Elliott of Sykesville, Md., tangled between turns three and four. Later cautions flew on lap 30 for Dustin Mitchell of Pine Level, N.C., who stopped in turn four, and on lap 43 for teenager Michael Lake of Uniontown, Pa., who clipped the inside wall rounding turns three and four.
Row 1: Brandon Overton, Jonathan Davenport
Row 2: Chris Madden, Mike Marlar
Row 3: Austin Hubbard, Dale McDowell
Row 4: Rick Eckert, Tyler Millwood
Row 5: Ross Robinson, Chris Ferguson
Row 6: Matt Cosner, Brett Hamm
Row 7: Kenny Moreland, Dennis Franklin
Row 8: Jason Covert, Willie Milliken
Row 9: Dale Hollidge, Nick Davis
Row 10: Darryl Hills, Dustin Mitchell
Row 11: Amanda Whaley, Michael Lake
Row 12: Glenn Elliott, Jason Welshan
First B-main finish (top 3 transfer): Dale Hollidge, Darryl Hills, Amanda Whaley, Justin Williams, Tim Allen, Jason Miller, Zack Mitchell, Kyle Pierce (DNS) Walker Arthur.
Second B-main finish (top 3 transfer): Nick Davis, Dustin Mitchell, Michael Lake, Glenn Elliott, Jason Welshman, Tyler Emory (DNS) Ricky Elliott, G.R. Smith.
Heat race results
First heat finish (top 4 transfer): Brandon Overton, Austin Hubbard, Ross Robinson, Kenny Moreland, Justin Williams, Kyle Pierce, Amanda Whaley, Tim Allen (DNS) Donald Bradsher.
Second heat finish (top 4 transfer): Jonathan Davenport, Dale McDowell, Chris Ferguson, Dennis Franklin, Darryl Hills, Dale Hollidge, Zack Mitchell, Jason Miller (DNS) Walker Arthur.
Third heat finish (top 4 transfer): Chris Madden, Rick Eckert, Matt Cosner, Jason Covert, Dustin Mitchell, Nick Davis, Glenn Elliott, Jason Welshan.
Fourth heat finish (top 4 transfer): Mike Marlar, Tyler Millwood, Brett Hamm, Willie Milliken, Tyler Emory, G.R. Smith, Ricky Elliott, Michael Lake.
Heat lineups (aligned by group qualifying)
(8 laps; top 4 transfer)
Brandon Overton (116), Evans, Ga., 17.936
Amanda Whaley (4), Millsboro, Del., 18.000
Austin Hubbard (11), Seaford, Del., 18.124
Kenny Moreland (24), Waldorf, Md., 18.125
Ross Robinson (7R), Georgetown, Del., 18.142
Justin Williams (89), Concord, Va., 18.228
Kyle Pierce (281), Statesville, N.C., 18.301
Donald Bradsher (93), Burlington, N.C., 18.371
Tim Allen (5), Kannapolis, N.C., 18.702
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 17.72
Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., 17.775
Chris Ferguson (22), Mount Holly, N.C., 17.899
Darryl Hills (55), Great Mills, Md., 18.073
Dennis Franklin (2F), Gaffney, S.C., 18.193
Zack Mitchell (79), Enoree, S.C., 18.228
Walker Arthur (87), Forest, Va., 18.409
Jason Miller (19), Berryville, Va., 18.605
Dale Hollidge (0H), Mechanicsville, Md., 17.698 (DQ-light)
Chris Madden (44), Gray Court, S.C., 17.58
Rick Eckert (7), York, Pa., 17.703
Dustin Mitchell (32), Pine Level, N.C., 17.805
Matt Cosner (66c), Ridgely, W.Va., 17.947
Glenn Elliott (5), Sykesville, Md., 18.24
Jason Covert (72c), York Haven, Pa., 18.315
Nick Davis (92), Gumboro, Del., 18.572
Jason Welshan (29), Maryville, Tenn., 18.639
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 17.918
Tyler Millwood (31), Kingston, Ga., 18.034
G.R. Smith (22*), Cornelius, N.C., 18.051
Ricky Elliott (88), Seaford, Del., 18.084
Brett Hamm (18), Newberry, S.C., 18.104
Tyler Emory (46), King George, Va., 18.408
Michael Lake (27), Uniontown, Pa., 18.518
Willie Milliken (1), Roanoke Rapids, N.C., 18.792