KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 14) — Charging from the 18th starting spot, Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., slid ahead of ninth-starting Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., out of turn four to take the lead on lap 86 and turned back Sheppard's furious late-race challenges to capture Saturday night's 16th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway.
Owens, 47, survived a last-lap bid by Sheppard to beat the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series regular to the finish line by a slight 0.388 of a second for his second straight Knoxville Nationals triumph. He became the second consecutive back-to-back winner of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series event's $40,000 top prize, joining 2016-17 victor Mike Marlar.
“We had a really good car there,” Owens said in victory lane. “We had to be married to that top way more than I wanted to but our tires fired up and we got to going real good. We chased (Brandon) Sheppard down there and had one opportunity to get by him and we took it as best we could and come home with a good run.”
Starting outside the front row, Owens worked his way through the field, powering around the high side to overtake second-running Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., on the 80th circuit. As the frontrunners worked through lapped traffic, Owens closed in on Sheppard, pulling ahead six laps later and fighting off Sheppard’s final-corner charge for his 64th career Lucas Oil Series victory.
“I could hear him back there,” Owens said. “I didn’t know if he was below me or above me. But I figured as long as he was below me, he couldn’t get around me. So I just scooted down the track a little bit to kind of kill his line. I seen him under me coming off turn four there and I thought, ‘Well heck, it’s a drag race. Maybe we can beat him.’”
The weekend’s top points earner, polesitter Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., shot to the lead at the drop of the green flag, maintaining his spot at the front of the field through the race’s lap-50 fuel stop. It was just past the restart that Sheppard made his first challenge for the lead, his bids to get by Clanton halted by a pair of lap-55 cautions.
When the green flag waved once again, it was the fourth-starting Madden powering ahead of Clanton, working the low groove in turns one and two to lead the 56th lap and eventually hold more than a 3-second advantage out front. But despite getting shuffled all the way back to fifth, Sheppard wasn’t finished. Gaining momentum from a lap-72 restart, the Rocket house car driver charged around the outside to assume the point on the following circuit.
Overtaking Sheppard late-race, Owens made history, becoming the first driver to win the Knoxville Nationals after starting so deep in the field. His victory marked his seventh of the 2018 season, his first since a July 24 World of Outlaws triumph at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway.
“It seems like the yellow flags helped me,” Owens said of the caution-plagued distance. “I kept firing back off a lot better. After the long green-flag run, if I wasn’t aggressive with my tires, they’d just seal over. You get to looking at everybody’s and they were as shiny as the track was. So I figured we’d just get up top and beat that cushion down and it’d keep our tires fired up.”
After leading laps 73-85, Sheppard finished a narrow runner-up, with Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., rallying from the 16th starting spot to run third. Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, advanced from the 17th starting position to finish fourth, with 20th-starting Kyle Bronson of Brandon, Fla., rounding out the top five. Madden, who led laps 56-72, finished sixth, while Clanton was forced to retire early with a broken rear-end after leading the first 55 circuits.
“I just tried to slide a lapped car too early and just let (Owens) get a run on me there,” Sheppard said. “That was probably the most fun I’ve had in a race car for a long time. But I’m definitely disappointed. There’s definitely a lot of things I could have did different there to win that race. But Jimmy did a heck of a job there. He was there when he needed to be.
“There was quite a few things there throughout the race that made me run a lot harder than I wanted to run. Once I could get some clean air I could drive really straight around the top and really make a lot of speed. … I’m just disappointed. But we had a really fast race car all weekend. The invert kind of hurt us as far as the prelim nights, but I knew we’d be good in the 100-lapper.”
Pitting just before the fuel stop, O’Neal’s team made adjustments that helped propel the 19-year-old driver to the front of the field late-race. Sidelined by shoulder surgery during last year’s Knoxville Nationals, the former Lucas Oil Series Rookie of the Year made just his second-ever start in the crown jewel event.
“We weren’t very good,” O’Neal said. “I think we ran like 15-20 the whole race. We made a pit stop there right before the fuel stop and I think that really brought it to life. We definitely made the right changes and definitely got the car a whole lot better and drivable. We just made the right moves and had some good restarts. That last restart, we drove by like four cars through the middle. Everything has to line up to drive from the back like that and they all did.”
16th Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals
Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings
1. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., Rocket, $40,000
2. Brandon Sheppard (1), New Berlin, Ill., Rocket, $20,000
3. Hudson O’Neal (71), Martinsville, Ind., Longhorn, $10,000
4. Devin Moran (1), Dresden, Ohio, Rocket, $8,750
5. Kyle Bronson (40B), Brandon, Fla., Rocket, $7,500
6. Chris Madden (0M), Gray Court, S.C., Bloomquist, $7,000
7. Stormy Scott (2s), Las Cruces, N.M., Bloomquist, $6,500
8. Ricky Weiss (7), Headingley, Manitoba, Bloomquist, $6,000
9. Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., Black Diamond, $5,500
10. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., Rocket, $5,000
11. Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, Rocket, $4,500
12. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., Club 29, $4,000
13. Jonathan Davenport (49), Blairsville, Ga., Longhorn, $3,500
14. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., Bloomquist, $3,400
15. Tyler Erb (1T), New Waverly, Texas, Rocket, $3,300
16. Shanon Buckingham (50), Morristown, Tenn., Longhorn, $3,200
17. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., Rocket, $3,100
18. Tyler Bruening (16), Decorah, Iowa, Capital, $3,000
19. Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., Rocket, $2,900
20. Brian Birkhofer (15B), Muscatine, Iowa, Rocket, $2,800
21. Shane Clanton (25), Zebulon, Ga., Capital, $2,700
22. Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., Pierce, $2,600
23. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., Rocket, $2,500
24. Ricky Thornton Jr. (20RT), Chandler, Ariz., Club 29, $2,500
25. Josh Richards (14), Shinnston, W.Va., Rocket, $2,500
26. Don O’Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., Rocket, $2,500
27. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., Longhorn, $2,500
28. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., Black Diamond, $2,500
29. Chad Simpson (1c), Mount Vernon, Iowa, Black Diamond, $2,500
30. Billy Moyer Jr. (21jr), Batesville, Ark., Longhorn, $2,500
Lap leaders: Clanton 1-55; Madden 56-72; Sheppard 73-85; Owens 86-100.
Thursday’s preliminary feature winner: Clanton
Friday’s preliminary feature winner: Weiss
B-main winner: Birkhofer
C-main winner: Cody Laney
Feature updates and results:
Lap 100: Owens edges Sheppard at the checkerd flag to win his second straight Knoxville Nationals.
Lap 95: With lapped cars racing in front of Owens, Sheppard attempts to slide back ahead of the race leader in turns one and two. Owens holds the advantage.
Lap 86: As the frontrunners work through lapped traffic, Owens closed in on Sheppard, sliding ahead out of turn four to take the lead.
Lap 80: After starting 18th, Jimmy Owens begans charging the high side to overtake second-running Madden.
Lap 73: Rolling around the top side, Sheppard takes the lead on the restart.
Lap 72: With Sheppard charging the high side to reel in Madden, third-running Clanton slows in turn three to draw a caution.
Lap 67: As Madden approaches the tail of the field, he holds a 3.690-second lead.
Lap 56: Slipping under Clanton in turns one and two, Madden takes the lead. Sheppard is shuffled back to fifth.
Lap 55: Just as Sheppard had a run on the outside on the restart, another yellow flag waves when Bobby Pierce slows in the bottom of turn one.
Lap 55: Erb slows to draw a caution. Sheppard had slipped under Clanton in turn two, with Clanton holding the advantage at the line.
Lap 50: The yellow flag waves for the fuel stop. Clanton leads Sheppard, Madden, Weiss and Lanigan.
Lap 45: Overtaking Lanigan, Sheppard moves to second on the restart, with Madden powering back to fourth.
Lap 44: A red flag falls when fourth-running Ricky Thornton Jr. slipped over the cushion in turns three and four, climbing the wall and rolling his car. He climbed out uninjured. Clanton will lead Lanigan, Sheppard, Kyle Bronson and Erb.
Lap 33: A yellow flag waves for a tangle involving Josh Richards, Don O'Neal and Tim McCreadie. Richards rolled to a stop in turn four, while O'Neal and McCreadie each sustained heavy damage to their cars in the top of turn three.
Lap 30: As Brandon Sheppard overtakes Erb for third, Lanigan begins closing in on Clanton.
Lap 22: Chris Simspon slows to draw a caution. Clanton leads Lanigan, Weiss, Erb ad Madden.
Lap 20: Clanton continues to show the way out front, as Tyler Erb and Chris Madden swap the fourth-place spot.
Lap 10: A yellow flag waves when Frank Heckenast Jr. slows in turn four with a flat tire. Clanton leads Weiss, Lanigan, Tyler Erb and Chris Madden. Weiss overtook Lanigan on the restart. Jonathan Davenport heads to the hot pit under the caution.
Lap nine: Chad Simpson slows off to draw the first caution. Second-running Darrell Lanigan was closing in on Clanton in lapped traffic when the yellow flag waved.With Ricky Weiss running third, the top three cars had distanced themsleves from the field.
Lap one: Polesitter Shane Clanton leads the opening lap.
10:12 p.m.: Feature cars began rolling out for pace laps.
10:05 p.m.: With the Malvern Bank event wrapping up, feature cars make their way to the frontstretch. Because of the rain delay, there will be no driver introductions.
16th annual Knoxville Nationals lineup
Row 1: Shane Clanton, Darrell Lanigan
Row 2: Ricky Weiss, Chris Madden
Row 3: Tyler Erb, Ricky Thornton Jr.
Row 4: Don O’Neal, Tyler Bruening
Row 5: Brandon Sheppard, Scott Bloomquist
Row 6: Josh Richards, Chris Simpson
Row 7: Chad Simpson, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 8: Earl Pearson Jr., Hudson O’Neal
Row 9: Devin Moran, Jimmy Owens
Row 10: Bobby Pierce, Kyle Bronson
Row 11: Frank Heckenast Jr., Shanon Buckingham
Row 12: Stormy Scott, Jonathan Davenport
Row 13: Brian Birkhofer, Tim McCreadie
Row 14: Shannon Babb, Chase Junghans
Row 15: Billy Moyer Jr., Billy Moyer
The front-row starters racing side-by-side out of turn four, Billy Moyer Jr. crossed the line inches ahead of Shannon Babb to lead the opening lap. Babb ran a close second to Moyer early on, with fifth-starting Tim McCreadie challenging Babb for position on the fourth circuit. With Moyer extending his lead as he entered lapped traffic on lap seven, Brian Birkhofer overtook McCreadie for third. Both McCreadie and Birkhofer were able to roll past Babb on the ninth circuit when the second-place car slipped over the berm in turn two. After making slight contact with Moyer when the race leader attempted to pass the lapped car, Mike Fryer got into the wall in turns three and four, drawing a red flag with heavy damage to his car.
The race was stalled by a roughly 40-minute rain delay, with cars beginning to pack the track at 9 p.m. Central. Birkhofer challenged Moyer on the restart, the pair crossing the line door-to-door on lap 11. Pulling ahead down the backstretch, Birkhofer assumed the point on the following circuit, with Moyer falling back to third. Stretching his lead, Birkhofer approached the rear of the field on the 16th circuit, as Babb attempted to reel in second-running McCreadie. Birkhofer won the consolation, with McCreadie and Babb rounding out the podium. Billy Moyer edged out Johnny Scott at the line for the sixth and final transfer spot.
Finish (top six transfer): Brian Birkhofer, Tim McCreadie, Shannon Babb, Chase Junghans, Billy Moyer Jr., Billy Moyer, Johnny Scott, Jeremy Grady, Mike Mataragas, Jason Feger, Dave Eckrich, Jake Neal, Brent Larson, Spencer Diercks, Jeremiah Hurst, Nick Marolf, Cody Laney, J.C. Wyman, Dustin Nobbe, Reid Millard, Mike Fryer. Scratched: Jimmy Mars, Charlie McKenna.
Heavy rain started falling around 8:25 p.m. Central, one lap shy of the halfway mark in the B-main. Cars returned to the pit area, with the wet weather expected to move out shortly.
Finish (top four transfer to B-main): Cody Laney, J.C. Wyman, Mike Fryer, Reid Millard, Junior Coover, Brian Harris, Corey Zeitner, Charlie McKenna. Scratched: David Webster, Chad White, Jonathan Brauns, Tim Simpson, Jared Landers.
Storm clouds skirted just north of Knoxville Raceway early in the afternoon and dark skies remained visible beyond the backstretch as the start of hot laps approached, but forecasts appear to show a low chance of rain until around midnight. Lucas Oil Series and Knoxville officials did decide to move the start of practice up half an hour, to 6:15 p.m. CT, in acknowledgement of the precipitation probably increasing later. … Drivers who have scratched from Saturday’s action include Jared Landers, Tim Simpson, Jonathan Brauns and Chad White. … The 100-lap feature will again include a fuel stop at lap 50. The five-minute break will see drivers park on the homestretch with two crew members per car permitted on the track to top off the tanks with up to 10 gallons of fuel; teams will not be allowed to make any adjustment (including tire pressure) or remove mud from the cars (under penalty of restarting at the rear), but drivers can swap helmets if they are out of tearoffs. … Five former Knoxville Nationals winner are locked into the feature: polesitter Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., outside polesitter Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind. (seventh), Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn. (10th) and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn. (18th). Past race champions still looking to transfer include Brian Birkhofer of Muscatine, Iowa, Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. … Fourth-starter Chris Madden of Gray Court, S.C., is making his third career Knoxville Nationals feature start but first since 2007 when he finished 26th. … Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., is confident of his chances in the 100-lapper after a solid third-place finish in Friday’s feature helped him lock up the 11th starting spot, giving him hope that his close-but-no-cigar history in the big race will end. “I don’t know how many times I’ve run second,” said Richards, who has four runner-up finishes (2008, ’10, ’13 and ’15). “Ran out of fuel running second once. Blew a right-front tire running second. Led till lap 90 I don’t know how many times. Lost on the last lap to McCreadie, Darrell (Lanigan). It would be so awesome to finally win. I’ve been coming here so long and it’s so much fun, but you can’t sit and hide (after running well). We’ve got to work on our car to make it a little bit better to not run the cushion, but right now I feel pretty good.” … Three months after Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., gave his car owner, Mark Richards, a long-awaited first crown jewel victory at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, by winning the Dream, he’s hoping to snap Richards’s — and his own — multiple near-misses in the Knoxville Nationals. A powerful march from the 21st starting spot to an eighth-place finish in Friday’s non-stop 25-lapper made B-Shepp very bullish about his chances in the century grind. “The more laps we ran, the better we got,” Sheppard said. “I could still steer whenever them guys weren’t, so that made me feel good. I think if get the right tire on the right front (for the 100-lapper) we’ll be even better.” … Billy Moyer Jr. of Batesville, Ark., switched cars for Saturday’s finale after riding out a rough turn-one crash in a Friday heat. “I kind of missed the bottom a little bit (at the start) and Jimmy (Owens) got underneath me,and I kind of was trying to creep my way up to the top,” said Moyer Jr., who was clipped in the right-rear corner by Charlie McKenna. “Down the backstraightaway I was turned sideways and it messed my body up. Then I thought I was about to race Jimmy a little bit and I teetered down here (in turn four) and I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I thought I just got over the cushion, but then when I went into one (the tire) just exploded and backed me into the fence. I come around and hit the nose. I thought for a second I was gonna flip it this way, but it didn’t luckily.” Moyer Jr. said the hard lick left him with a sore neck and bent the rear clip of his Longhorn car, but his front frame rails escaped damage as the nosepiece absorbed the impact. … Tyler Bruening of Decorah, Iowa, who starts eighth in the 100-lapper after prelim finishes of sixth and fourth, is pulling double-duty this evening with his participation in the companion Malvern Bank Super Late Model Series invitational. He said the extra workload won’t be as difficult as when he ran two cars in July’s Silver Dollar Nationals. “It’s about a hundred degrees cooler than at I-80 (Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.),” he quipped, “so we’ll be all right.”
(20 laps; top six transfer)
Row 1: Shannon Babb, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 2: Brian Birkhofer, Mike Mataragas
Row 3: Tim McCreadie, Jeremiah Hurst
Row 4: Jason Feger, Chase Junghans
Row 5: Johnny Scott, Jimmy Mars
Row 6: Dave Eckrich, Spencer Directs
Row 7: Jeremy Grady, Billy Moyer
Row 8: Jake Neal, Dustin Nobbe
Row 9: Brent Larson, Nick Marolf
(15 laps; top four transfer to B-main)
Row 1: Charlie McKenna, Brian Harris
Row 2: Cody Laney, Mike Fryer
Row 3: Corey Zeitner, Chad White
Row 4: J.C. Wyman, Jonathan Brauns
Row 5: Tim Simpson, Reid Millard
Row 6: David Webster, Junior Coover
Row 7: Jared Landers
The 16th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals wrap up Saturday night with the 100-lap, $40,000-to-win finale. Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., is the defending race winner.
The lineups for Saturday’s program were determined by using each driver’s best points night from the pair of preliminary programs. Winning Thursday’s 25-lap preliminary feature, Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., earned the pole for Saturday’s main event. Friday’s prelim winner Ricky Weiss of Headingley, Manitoba, will start third in the 100-lapper.
A total of 24 cars are already locked into Saturday’s feature based on preliminary performances. The top four cars from the night’s C-main will transfer to the B-main, with the top six B-main finishers transferring to the 100-lapper. Lucas Oil Series provisionals will make up the final row of the feature lineup.
5:30 p.m.: Drivers meeting
6:15 p.m.: Hot laps/qualifying
- Malvern Bank hot laps
- C-main hot laps
- Malvern Bank qualifying
- B-main hot laps
- Malvern Bank heat races (eight laps)
- C-main (15 laps)
- A-main hot laps
- B-main (20 laps)
- Malvern Bank feature (22 laps)
- Knoxville Nationals finale (100 laps)