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Knoxville Raceway

Back on track, Stovall takes Knoxville challenge

September 25, 2013, 7:55 am
By Joshua Joiner
Jesse Stovall has three victories over a recent nine-day stretch. (rickschwalliephotos.com)
Jesse Stovall has three victories over a recent nine-day stretch. (rickschwalliephotos.com)

What started out as a dismal year for Jesse Stovall has turned into a solid campaign during the second half of the season. After going winless until late June, Stovall, 33, of Galena, Mo., finally got things turned around during the middle of the summer and hasn’t slowed down since.

The reversal of fortune has been most evident during the month of September with Stovall claiming four victories to go along with a runner-up and a third-place finish in his past six starts. He swept a doubleheader weekend Sept. 20-21 at Salina (Okla.) Highbanks Speedway that closed out the year for both the MARS DIRTcar Series and the National Championship Racing Association.

“Everything with our program is just clicking right now,” said Stovall, who ended up second to Tony Jackson Jr. of Lebanon, Mo., in the MARS points chase. “I just had a monkey on my back and it was really bothering me and affecting how we were doing. Things just weren’t working, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t deal well with stress.”

Stovall’s success in the second half of the year has coincided with a mid-season change in scenery. After starting the year driving for car owner Al Humphrey — a combination that produced 16 victories in 2012 and Stovall’s first MARS Series title — a mutual parting of ways led Stovall to reconnect with former car owner Steve Rushin in July. After some time to readjust to his new-old team, Stovall feels he’s finally returned to form with his recent hot streak.

“I’m in a great situation right now, and we’ve finally got things rolling,” said Stovall, who previously drove for Rushin in 2011 when he scored five overall victories and finished second in MARS points. “We’re not a high-dollar team with a big budget, but they get me the best they can get me and I know if I go out and win races I can have more tires and we can put better pieces on the car. That’s really all you can ask for.”

The move back to Rushin’s equipment has made for a bit of a shuffle in equipment for Stovall, who has primarily driven Victory Circle Race Cars throughout his Late Model career. With Rushin, Stovall’s primary car is a Bob Pierce Race Car, but he’s continued to drive Victory Circles while borrowing Humphrey’s car for select events and while driving his own car on occasion.

The best thing about Stovall’s turnaround in his performance is he’s fast no matter what chassis he’s driving.

“I’ve had the exact same setup on the Victory Circles and the Pierce car and they both feel the same to me. They both are really, really good,” Stovall said. “I’ve got a setup going right now that’s just unbelievable. The stuff I’m doing is something you wouldn’t never have thought you would do to a race car, but it works. It’s crazy.”

Stovall will look to keep his hot streak rolling this weekend when he heads to Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway for the Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals — a three-day event for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series that features $7,000-to-win preliminary events on Thursday and Friday and the $40,000-to-win main event on Saturday. While the trip to Knoxville means a step up in competition than the regional events he’s dominated for much of the month, Stovall is confident he can have a strong showing as he makes his second visit to the historic half-mile oval.

“I went last year for the first time and I really liked the place,” said Stovall, who made one of Knoxville’s two preliminary features in 2011 before missing Saturday’s main event lineup when he suffered a flat tire in the B-main while running in a transfer spot. “We were kinda down on power, so I’m looking forward to going back with a better program and trying it again.”

Stovall has proven that he’s capable of running well in major events before with feature starts in crown jewel events such as Show-Me 100 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., and Batesville (Ark.) Motor Speedway’s Topless 100. He’s also proven he’s capable of contending at those events with heat race victories at both Wheatland and Batesville. While his heat race wins have yet to lead to significant main event success, Stovall hopes to turn that around this weekend at Knoxville.

“When you get to winning races, it really gets your confidence built back up. That’s always good to have when you go to these big races,” Stovall said. “We’ve been able to run good with these guys. It seems like I always qualify good and run good in the heat race, but I just haven’t put the whole package together yet. But I know it’ll come.

“These guys are tough and they do this for a living. They don’t mess around, so you have to be at your best. I learn a little more every time I race with them. It’s tough to do when you’re a little team — a little dog trying to run with the big dogs — but we’re getting closer.”

Whatever the results of the Knoxville trip, Stovall is satisfied with his season, even after the disappointing first half. While winning 16 races and a championship certainly made for a better year last season, Stovall has learned to still appreciate even when things doing go quite so well.

“It’s been a good season and I know a lot of people would give anything to have a season like this,” Stovall said.  It’s kinda hard after last year with the year we had, to come off of that and just have an average year, but you have to realize that if you win seven or eight of these races, you’ve had a really good year. That’s what we’ve done now so I can’t complain.”

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