KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 24) — It wasn’t the runaway that so many expected, but Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., still emerged victorious in Thursday night’s 25-lap preliminary feature that kicked off the 12th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store at Knoxville Speedway.
Refusing to accept defeat after being overtaken for the lead by Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., with five laps remaining, Davenport kept digging and charged around the outside of Owens off turn four heading to the white flag to regain command and score a dramatic triumph worth $7,000.
Davenport, 31, beat the 43-year-old Owens to the finish line by 0.797 of a second, giving him an opening-night Knoxville Nationals checkered flag for the second consecutive year. It was the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points leader’s second straight and 12th win of 2015 on the national tour.
With Davenport’s latest memorable performance pushing his earnings for his 20 overall victories this season to a whopping $439,545, his good times continued to roll.
“I don’t think you ever get sick of winning,” said Davenport, who will bid to make Saturday night’s $40,000-to-win 100-lapper the sixth crown-jewel victory of his amazing campaign. “This is just a dream come true … I still feel like I’m in a dream. Just every night, our car is so good. It’s just been an excellent season really. I don’t ever want it to end.”
Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., finished third, well behind the leaders and with his Clint Bowyer Racing car’s right-rear completely exploded after it let loose off turn four on the final lap. Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., gained one spot from his fifth starting position to place fourth and Chris Brown of Spring, Texas, finished fifth after running second for the race’s first five circuits.
Davenport appeared headed to a blowout victory in his K&L Rumley Longhorn Race Car after blasting off the outside pole to grab the lead at the race’s initial green flag and building a full straightaway edge by lap six. He resumed his ownership of the A-Main after the event’s lone caution flag flew that circuit for Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., who stopped on the backstretch with mechanical trouble, but at the halfway mark the race suddenly became interesting as Owens drew within striking distance.
After Davenport made contact with Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., while diving to the inside of turn one to lap the 22-year-old driver on the 18th circuit, Owens pulled right up behind Davenport and ducked underneath the leader racing down the homestretch on lap 19. One lap later Owens surged past Davenport to assume command.
But while Davenport initially fell about 10 car lengths behind Owens, he quickly roared back in contention. Davenport made his winning move racing toward the white flag, sailing around the extreme outside of turns three and four to vault past Owens and lead the final two circuits.
“I didn’t even know that was coming to the white (flag) there,” Davenport said. “But I seen we got in (lapped) traffic and I knew Jimmy would lose a little bit of air when he went to the bottom, so I put ‘er on the cushion and put ‘er on the mat and tried to beat him to the cushion as he was coming back across.
“I was watching him, and if he was coming any faster (into turn three) I would’ve backed off and let him come up in that air. I just barely squeezed by (on the top) — there was a pretty big lip through the middle of (turns) three and four, and leaving off four there wasn’t really one so you could run out in the dust a little bit. I tried to get as wide as I could and give him room also.”
Owens gracefully accepted the defeat. After congratulating Davenport in victory lane, the three-time Lucas Oil Series champion explained that he simply gave Dirt Late Model racing’s hottest driver of 2015 too much racetrack to work with.
“It’s not over ‘till it’s over, and I felt like I was giving too much up fooling with lapped cars,” said Owens, who has just one Lucas Oil Series victory in 2015. “I wanted to move to the outside, but that cushion was kind of treacherous and I didn’t want to tear the nose off my car. I thought, If we can win, great … if we can run second, great. Let’s just be conservative … we’ve got two more nights of racing (left).
“(On the deciding lap) I was fooling around with the lapped cars and had to slow down so much for them guys and it left him a lane open on the outside,” he added. “And that high side, especially if you get turned good, you could really, really fly around through there. He was just able to get by me there.”
For Owens, the fact that he was able to overtake Davenport, however briefly, was a positive occurrence.
“I was just glad I got to pass him for once,” said Owens, who barrel-rolled several times in turn one during last year’s opening-night Knoxville Nationals action. “I was expecting him (to come) back.”
The 51-year-old O’Neal, meanwhile, felt fortunate to salvage a third-place finish after rolling under the checkered flag with his machine’s right-rear tire blown out in unusual fashion. The rubber literally folded inside the wheel so tightly O’Neal’s crew had to use a razor to cut it off.
“Coming off of four for the checkered I ran over something,” said O’Neal, who started seventh. “It had three great big cuts in it … I’m lucky it was coming for the checkered.
“I’ve never in my whole racing career seen one suck inside the wheel like that one did,” he added. “As soon as it went flat I was like, ‘Man, it’s gonna blow the whole deck out of the car,’ and it never did do anything to it. It must have tore the wheel cover off and sucked inside somehow … it was completely different. I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Notes: Davenport registered his 16th career win on the Lucas Oil Series. His lead of 140 points in the tour standings over Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., didn’t change, however, because only Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals finale is a points race. … Bloomquist was the feature’s hard charger, advancing from the 22nd starting spot to finish seventh. … Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, finished eighth, one spot ahead of his younger brother Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa. … Brown was the race’s surprise after placing fifth in his first-ever start at Knoxville. “This place is really big so we weren’t really sure where we needed to be on the right-front (with tire-compound choice),” he said. “We guessed right in the heat race and then tried to run something similar in the feature. We weren’t too far off … we just maybe need to fine-tune it a little bit and get it a little tighter in certain areas and still be able to steer.” … Polesitter Ricky Weiss of Headingly, Manitoba, faded through the field before retiring with six laps remaining and finishing 23rd. … Twenty-one of the race’s 24 starters were running at the finish and 14 were on the lead. … Owens ended the night with the most points accumulated in time trials, preliminary races and the feature. Saturday night’s lineups will be set using drivers’ best points night from the two preliminary programs.
Preliminary lineups and results:
The 25-lap feature is slated to begin lining up in the pit area shortly after 10 p.m. CT. … Starting spots in the feature were determined using qualified drivers’ best time-trial laps; the top eight positions were inverted. … With Lucas Oil Series points only on the line in Saturday night’s 100-lap finale, there are no provisional starting spots for the weekend’s two preliminary features. … Outside polesitter Jonathan Davenport shoots for a victory in the opening night 25-lapper for the second consecutive year. … Dale McDowell's night went awry during his heat when a carburetor malfunction caused him to fall off the pace on the final lap. He was unable to transfer through the C-Main. … Tyler Bruening had the belts come off his car’s fuel pump during heat action. He hopes the problem didn’t damage the engine so he can compete the remainder of the weekend. … Tim McCreadie was forced out of his heat race by terminal engine problems. He will install a backup for Friday night’s action. … Mike Marlar lost power on the last lap of his heat due to ignition trouble. He came back to win the C-Main but couldn’t transfer in the B-Main. … Young Texan Austin Theiss loaded up after losing a motor in his heat. His team said they do not have a backup to continue racing this weekend. … Brian Shirley was a non-qualifier after his car sustained heavy right-side bodywork damage in his heat race as Mitch McGrath slid into him between turns one and two. … First-time Knoxville visitor Greg Cox flipped his Rayburn car onto its roof on lap two of the D-Main when he couldn’t avoid Paul Glendenning’s spinning car between turns one and two. Cox said he suffered some “bumps and bruises” but was otherwise uninjured.
B-Main finish (15 laps; top 6 transfer to A-Main): Darrell Lanigan, Shannon Babb, Jared Landers, Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Mars, Brandon Sheppard, Mason Zeigler, Matt Westfall, Ray Guss Jr., Jason Feger, A.J. Diemel, Wendell Wallace, Chris Spieker, Jason Papich, Donny Schatz, TIm Lance Jr., Dave Eckrich, Spencer Diercks, Jason Rauen, Justin Kay, Eddie Carrier Jr., Mike Marlar.
C-Main finish (12 laps; top 4 transfer to B-Main): Mike Marlar, Jason Papich, Dave Eckrich, Donny Schatz, Ryan Gustin, Mitch McGrath, Brian Harris, Denny Eckrich, Dale McDowell, Jay Johnson, Chase Junghans, Mike Fryer, Charlie McKenna, Jim Shereck, Skip Frey, Kerry King Sr., Ray Sveeggen, Rob Moss, R.C. Whitwell (DNS) Tim McCreadie, Austin Theiss, Sonny Findling.
D-Main finish (10 laps; top 4 transfer to C-Main): Denny Eckrich, Dale McDowell, Chase Junghans, Jim Shereck, Jason Utter, Paul Glendenning, Greg Cox (DNS) Tyler Bruening, Brian Shirley.
(15 laps; top 6 to A-Main)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Jared Landers
Row 2: Scott Blomquist, Jason Rauen
Row 3: Shannon Babb, Matt Westfall
Row 4: Jimmy Mars, Justin Kay
Row 5: Mason Ziegler, Brandon Sheppard
Row 6: Eddie Carrier Jr., Ray Guss Jr.
Row 7: A.J. Diemel, Jason Feger
Row 8: Wendell Wallace, Tim Lance
Row 9: Chris Spieker, Spencer Diercks
Row 10: Mike Marlar, Jason Papich
Row 11: Dave Eckrich, Donny Schatz
(12 laps; top 4 to B-Main)
Row 1: Jason Papich, R.C. Whitwell
Row 2: Mike Marlar, Tim McCreadie
Row 3: Mitch McGrath, Dave Eckrich
Row 4: Donny Schatz, Mike Fryer
Row 5: Rob Moss, Kerry King Sr.
Row 6: Brian Harris, Charlie McKenna
Row 7: Ryan Gustin, Austin Theiss
Row 8: Skip Frey, Sonny Findling
Row 9: Jay Johnson, Ray Sveeggen
Row 10: Denny Eckrich, Dale McDowell
Row 11: Chase Junghans, Jim Shereck
(10 laps; top 4 to C-Main)
Row 1: Jim Shereck, Tyler Bruening
Row 2: Brian Shirley, Dale McDowell
Row 3: Paul Glendenning, Chase Junghans
Row 4: Denny Eckrich, Greg Cox
Row 5: Jason Utter
Josh Richards grabbed the lead from Spencer Diercks on lap three and held on to win the final prelim. Seventh-starter Jonathan Davenport broke into second on lap five and tore relentlessly after Richards, but the Lucas Oil Series points leader's bid for a last-lap win was thwarted by the lapped car of Charlie McKenna; Richards went under McKenna in turn one on the last circuit and Davenport lost momentum behind the slower machine on the outside of the track, leaving J.D. as the runner-up. Billy Moyer Jr., meanwhile, made a late pass of Brandon Sheppard to finish third. Early leaders Dave Eckrich (lap 1) and Diercks (2) fell from contention.
Finish: Josh Richards, Jonathan Davenport, Billy Moyer Jr., Brandon Sheppard, Justin Kay, Spencer Diercks, Dave Eckrich, R.C. Whitwell, Charlie McKenna, Greg Cox.
Chris Brown surprised Chad Simpson on a lap-10 restart to take the lead and march to victory. Simpson, who had come from the eighth starting spot to pass Tim Lance Jr. for the lead on lap seven, settled for runner-up and Steve Francis was third. Early retirees included Chase Junghans and Tim McCreadie.
Finish: Chris Brown, Chad Simpson, Steve Francis, Tim Lance Jr., Jason Feger, Matt Westfall, Sonny Findling, Tim McCreadie, Kerry King Sr., Chase Junghans.
Jimmy Owens roared to victory, blasting forward from the seventh starting spot to take the lead from Morgan Bagley on lap eight. Bagley hung on to finish second and Chris Simpson was third in a race slowed by a lap-eight caution flag. Dale McDowell ran into trouble on the final lap, falling from fourth to 10th in the final rundown.
Finish: Jimmy Owens, Morgan Bagley, Chris Simpson, Ray Guss Jr., Jared Landers, Jason Rauen, Mike Fryer, Austin Theiss, Ray Sveeggen, Dale McDowell, Tyler Bruening.
Dennis Erb Jr. passed Billy Moyer for the lead on lap three and never looked back, beating Moyer to the finish line by 1.497 seconds. Frank Heckenast Jr. smoothly rolled to a third-place finish, while Wendell Wallace and eighth-starter Scott Bloomquist fell short of transferring, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. Mike Marlar and Brian Shirley were early retirees.
Finish: Dennis Erb Jr., Billy Moyer, Frank Heckenast Jr., Wendell Wallace, Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Mars, Mitch McGrath, Skip Frey, Mike Marlar, Brian Shirley.
Joel Callahan dominated the prelim, leading all the way to win by 6.762 seconds over Rich Bell. Kent Robinson held off a late challenge from Darrell Lanigan to finish third.
Finish: Joel Callahan, Rich Bell, Kent Robinson, Darrell Lanigan, Shannon Babb, Eddie Carrier Jr., Donny Schatz, Ryan Gustin, Rob Moss, Jason Utter, Denny Eckrich.
Earl Pearson Jr. passed A.J. Diemel for the lead on lap four and never looked back. Ricky Weiss came on to finish second while Don O'Neal overtook Diemel on lap 11 for the final transfer spot.
Finish: Earl Pearson Jr., Ricky Weiss, Don O'Neal, A.J. Diemel, Mason Zeigler, Chris Spieker, Jason Papich, Brian Harris, Jay Johnson, Jim Shereck, Paul Glendenning.
Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., ripped off a lap of 17.280 seconds near the end of the second qualifying group, giving him the overall fastest clocking of the evening's time trials.
Jason Papich of Nipomo, Calif., was the fastest qualifier in the first group with a lap of 17.414 seconds.
A 63-car field is signed in for the evening’s action. It’s down 16 entries from last year’s 79 cars, which was the third-largest turnout in the event’s history. … The field has been split into two qualifying groups. Drivers in Group 1 will compete in heats 1-3 and those in Group 2 will race in heats 4-6. … An 8-car invert will be used for the heat races. … The big news making the rounds in the pit area comes from Hall of Famer Billy Moyer, who announced in a press release that went out about 5:30 p.m. CT that he plans to “semi-retire” from Dirt Late Model racing at the end of the season. The 57-year-old said he is unsure how much he will race in 2016, but he will not compete on a full-time basis any longer; he plans to shift his focus to the Billy Moyer Victory Race Cars chassis-building business he launched this year with his uncle Carl Moyer of Karl’s Performance. … World of Outlaws Sprint Car superstar Donny Schatz — a nine-time Sprint Car Knoxville Nationals champion — has his Dirt Late Model entered in the first night of the weekend action. WoO Sprint Car events at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway and Michigan’s Berlin Raceway are on his schedule for Friday and Saturday nights, but he said he would be ready to fly back to Knoxville for Saturday night’s finale if circumstances allowed him.
Heat race lineups
(12 laps; top 3 transfer)
Row 1: Brian Harris, A.J. Diemel
Row 2: Jim Shereck, Ricky Weiss
Row 3: Earl Pearson Jr., Mason Zeigler
Row 4: Don O’Neal, Jason Papich
Row 5: Chris Spieker, Paul Glendenning
Row 6: Jay Johnson
Row 1: Rich Bell, Joel Callahan
Row 2: Rob Moss, Donny Schatz
Row 3: Kent Robinson, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 4: Shannon Babb, Darrell Lanigan
Row 5: Ryan Gustin, Denny Eckrich
Row 6: Jason Utter
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Wendell Wallace
Row 2: Frank Heckenast Jr., Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 3: Mitch McGrath, Mike Marlar
Row 4: Jimmy Mars, Scott Bloomquist
Row 5: Brian Shirley, Skip Frey
Row 1: Morgan Bagley, Dale McDowell
Row 2: Tyler Bruening, Ray Guss Jr.
Row 3: Chris Simpson, Jason Rauen
Row 4: Jimmy Owens, Jared Landers
Row 5: Mike Fryer, Austin Theiss
Row 6: Ray Sveeggen
Row 1: Tim Lance Jr., Chase Jungians
Row 2: Steve Francis, Jason Feger
Row 3: Tim McCreadie, Matt Westfall
Row 4: Chris Brown, Chad Simpson
Row 5: Kerry King Sr., Sonny Findling
Row 1: Spencer Directs, Dave Eckrich
Row 2: Billy Moyer Jr., Josh Richards
Row 3: Brandon Sheppard, Justin Kay
Row 4: Jonathan Davenport, R.C. Whitwell
Row 5: Charlie McKenna, Greg Cox
Jason Papich (91P), Nipomo, Calif., 17.414
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 17.544
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 17.699
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 17.91
Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., 17.923
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 17.978
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 17.985
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 18.053
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 18.075
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 18.083
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 18.1
Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 18.117
Ricky Weiss (7), Headingly, Manitoba, 18.126
Donny Schatz (15), Fargo, N.D., 18.187
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 18.242
Jim Shereck (17), St. Charles, Mo., 18.273
Rob Moss (1M), Iowa City, Iowa, 18.274
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 18.294
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., 18.392
Joel Callahan (40), Dubuque, Iowa, 18.395
Wendell Wallace (6M), Batesville, Ark., 18.446
Brian Harris (21H), Davenport, Iowa, 18.475
Rich Bell (21M), Sheffield, Ill., 18.482
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 18.496
Chris Spieker (56), Massena, Iowa, 18.575
Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 18.628
Brian Shirley (3s), Chatham, Ill., 18.764
Paul Glendenning (33), Mt. Ayre, Iowa, 18.772
Skip Frey (3x), Ely, Iowa, 18.953
Jay Johnson (93), W. Burlington, Iowa, 19.034
Jason Utter (31), Columbuc Junction, Iowa, 19.684
Denny Eckrich (50), Tiffin, Iowa, N/T
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 17.28
Chad Simpson (25), Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 17.398
R.C. Whitwell (6), Tucson, Ariz., 17.645
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 17.779
Chris Brown (21b), Spring, Texas, 17.837
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 17.86
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 17.862
Matt Westfall (54), Pleasant Hills, Ohio, 17.884
Justin Kay (15K), Wheatland, Iowa, 17.933
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 17.982
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.011
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 18.116
Ray Guss Jr. (58), Milan, Ill., 18.144
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 18.155
Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., 18.228
Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, 18.235
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 18.235
Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., 18.258
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 18.354
Chase Junghans (18c), Manhattan, Kan., 18.414
Dave Eckrich (58), Oxford, Iowa, 18.643
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 18.684
Tim Lance Jr. (48), Brimfield, Ill., 18.693
Spencer Diercks (29), Davenport, Iowa, 18.725
Mike Fryer (54), Freeport, Ill., 18.771
Kerry King Sr. (KB1), Delmar, Del., 19.013
Charlie McKenna (22), Clear Lake, Iowa, 19.34
Austin Theiss (7d), Hockley, Texas, 19.554
Sonny Findling (8), Kirksville, Mo., 19.556
Greg Cox (62), Kellogg, Iowa, 20.751
Ray Sveeggen (R21), Hartford, S.D., 21.044
The 12th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store kick off Thursday night with the first of two preliminary nights at the famed Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile fairgrounds oval best known for hosting sprint car racing.
Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:45 p.m. CT, followed by time trials and the evening's racing action.
Tonight’s racing card features a complete program with time trials, six heat races, D-Main, C-Main, B-Main and 25-lap A-Main paying $7,000 to win. Drivers accrue points based on performances each time they hit the track that will help set the lineups for Saturday's action.
Friday's program is identical to Thursday's. Drivers will use their best points night — not combined points — to see where they stand for Saturday’s alphabet soup of features, which are topped by the 100-lap A-Man paying $40,000 to win. Twenty-four drivers will be locked directly into Saturday night’s headliner at the conclusion of Friday’s action, with the remainder positioned in Saturday’s D-, C- and B-Mains.
For full details of the weekend’s format, refer to our Fast Facts page.