KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 26) — There came a point in Saturday night’s 100-lap Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store when Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., thought he could win the $40,000 top prize.
“The white flag,” Landers said after the race. “Maybe.”
Indeed, doubt ran through Landers’s mind right until he finally crossed the finish line first in the typically frenetic event at the famed Knoxville Raceway. With the right-rear corner of his car’s body crushed by a late-race run-in with a lapped car shortly after he grabbed the lead from Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., on lap 92, the 33-year-old driver found himself holding on for dear life in the final circuits.
Landers managed to survive Richards’s furious last-ditch attempts to regain command, beating the 27-year-old former World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion by a mere 0.161 of a second to snap a three-year victory drought on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and register the second crown-jewel triumph of his career.
“I’ve done stuff to knock myself out of wins (in the past) and when I got to that lapped traffic (with the finish in sight) I was scared,” Landers said. “I was like, ‘I can’t let them hold me up because I know Josh or somebody’s right there and he’s just waiting to get me.’ So I had to knock (the slower Jason Feger of Bloomington, Ill.) out of the way (on lap 96) and I about cost myself the race anyway.”
The contact Landers made with Feger’s machine in turn four on the 96th circuit left his Sweet-Bloomquist machine with significant right-rear damage and swiftly erased the 1-second edge he had built over Richards, but he brought his handicapped mount home first by less than a car length.
Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., who led laps 44-78 after starting from the outside pole, settled for a third-place finish. Mike Marlar of Winfield, Tenn., placed fourth after pitting to change a tire on lap 31 and 2013 Knoxville Nationals champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., completed the top five.
Landers, who started seventh in a car fielded by his father Lance, spent much of the distance running the inside lane in an effort to stay away from the fast-but-treacherous cushion. After experiencing an early scare — his seatbelts came undone about five laps into the race, prompting him to cool his jets on the bottom of the track in hopes of catching a quick caution flag that would allow him to reattach his restraints (he got one on lap 11) — he slowly inched forward. He cracked the top five on lap 31, moved to fourth moments later when third-place Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., blew a left-rear tire and advanced to third on lap 43 when Lucas Oil Series points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., slowed and relinquished the lead he had held since lap five due to a terminal engine malfunction.
A lap-50 restart allowed Landers to overtake his chassis builder, Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., for second. But before he could challenge Owens, who moved into the lead on lap 44 with Davenport’s departure, the 19th-starting Richards entered the picture, sailing around the outside of Landers to grab second place on lap 65 and then tearing after Owens.
Richards surged into the lead on lap 79, pulling a classic slider on Owens in turn three to assume command. Shortly thereafter, on lap 87, Landers executed a similar maneuver to the inside of Owens in turn one to grab second and then turned up the wick.
“I think it was 12 (laps) to go and I looked up there (at the scoreboard) and I was like, ‘I’m gonna run as hard as I can. I’m gonna quit looking at these gauges and whatever happens, happens,’” Landers recalled. “That’s when I made up the time on everybody. That was the smartest thing I did the whole race.”
Switching to the extreme outside lane, Landers quickly ran down Richards.
“This cushion here in (turns) one and two,” Landers said, “when I could hit it right, this car was awesome.”
The speed Landers gained put him in position to use the same move that Richards had employed to snatch the lead from Owens. He dived hard to the bottom of turn one on the 91st circuit, slid in front of Richards and was in command as lap 92 was scored.
“I watched Josh do it,” Landers said of what was ultimately his winning move. “He taught me how to do it.”
But Landers certainly wasn’t home free. After opening a marginal edge, he gave it all back on lap 96 when he got into Feger’s slower car in turn four.
“I was like, ‘I sure hope I didn’t screw this thing up,’” Landers said. “But I didn’t know how bad it was … it was worse than I thought it was. That wasn’t a smart move on my part, but I have to do something in some race to not be very smart I guess.
“God was on my side,” he added. “I had a lot of failures and that right there could’ve cost me the race, and he just let me have it. My luck was good this time.”
Richards was all over Landers for the final three circuits, but his inside run in turns one and two on the last lap cost him momentum that he couldn’t make up. He wasn’t close enough to pull alongside Landers rounding turns three and four and only pulled up to Landers’s rear bumper at the finish line.
Landers was relieved to see the race’s final, nerve-racking moments come to an end.
“I quit looking for my crew,” Landers said of the stretch run. “I was like, ‘I’m not taking my eyes off this racetrack … whatever happens, happens. I’m pretty good — if I run third, I’m happy — but right now, I’m gonna try to win this race.’”
Landers did just that, authoring an upset that put him in victory lane on the Lucas Oil Series for the first time since March 31, 2012, at Lone Star Speedway in Kilgore, Texas, and gave him his richest win since he pocketed an identical $40,000 check for capturing the 2010 Topless 100 at his hometown’s Batesville Motor Speedway for his first-ever Dirt Late Model triumph.
“To be here is awesome — it’s been a long time,” said Landers, who became the 10th different driver to win the Late Model Knoxville Nationals. “Our first win of the year for $40,000-to-win … it means more to my dad and the crew. We’ve worked out butt off for a couple years here and this is the first win we’ve actually got. We’ve (won) a $3,000-to-win race (an MLRA-sanctioned show on April 11 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.), but this is a real (big-money) race.
“It’s hard to even talk about it. It’ll all set in tomorrow maybe.”
Richards was a disappointed but still upbeat runner-up — the fourth time he’s finished second in the Knoxville Nationals. He thought he might be headed to his first-ever win in the event after passing Owens for the lead, but he couldn’t hold off Landers.
“I was borderline tight the whole race, which everyone was, and if you hit (the cushion) right you could make up some serious ground but if you missed it they’re driving right by you,” said Richards, who previously finished second in 2008, ’10 and ’13. “It’s just one of those things — we were protecting a little bit (once in the lead), but had I done it over you just gotta trust your instincts. We just got beat. He was able to get a run there and make a pass and did a good job.”
Richards had dual reasons to feel good about his performance, however. For starters, it turned around his frustrating weekend, which began with subpar preliminary-night runs that prompted his Rocket Chassis house car team to press their second car into duty on Saturday night. It also came after he missed the 2014 Knoxville Nationals because he hadn’t yet returned to action from the nerve issues in his hands that sidelined him for nearly the entire season.
“The lapped traffic, it could’ve played out a little bit differently and I think we might have had a shot there (in the final laps), but it was what it was,” Richards said. “I’m just thankful to be back racing here. This is an awesome racetrack, and I was thinking that a little over a year ago I thought I never was gonna race again … so I’m just happy to be back racing and doing what I love to do.”
The 43-year-old Owens, meanwhile, fell short of victory again in the Knoxville Nationals. He controlled the middle portion of the feature after Davenport retired but his Club 29 Race Car wasn’t quite good enough to get him to victory lane.
“Tonight the longer the race went, the tighter we got,” said Owens, whose best finish in seven previous Knoxville Nationals A-Main starts was fifth, in 2010 and ’11. “I could run that high side, I could run that middle good, and then it got to where we was pushing but I could push across the middle and keep the car under me and come off the cushion pretty good.
“But those guys got to running the high side and I tried getting up there and I could almost keep up a little bit. I’d just have to go in and tap the brakes and get the car crossed up too much. It was just real hard to keep it from jumping over the cushion. They were just a little freer and could keep the car under them a little better.
“We had a decent car but just couldn’t run the cushion as good as those guys could. We just came up a little short.”
Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, who won Friday night’s preliminary feature, started from the pole position, led laps 1-4 and was still fourth with less than 20 laps remaining, was hampered by an overheated right-front tire and slipped to sixth at the finish. Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, Chad’s younger brother, finished seventh, followed by Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., 27th-starter Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, Ill., and 24th-starter Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky.
Notes: Landers recorded his fourth career win on the Lucas Oil Series. The 2010 Topless 100 was his first victory on the tour, followed by a June 3, 2011, score at Tazewell (Tenn.) Speedway and his 2012 success at Lone Star. … Landers’s best finish in four previous Knoxville Nationals starts was 12th, in 2011. … Marlar’s fourth-place finish fell one spot short of his career-best run of third last year. … Davenport, who wasn’t seriously challenged while leading laps 5-43, feared that his 29th-place finish would cost him much of his 140-point lead in the Lucas Oil Series standings. But Bloomquist, who sat in second place at the time of Davenport’s retirement, was credited with a 23rd-place finish after he stopped on lap 74 due to a broken pinion shaft while running sixth, keeping Davenport’s edge exactly the same with three points races remaining on the schedule. … Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., was in contention for a top-five finish when his car ran out of fuel in the race's final laps. ... Seven caution flags slowed the event. … A.J. Diemel of Elk Mound, Wis., brought out the first caution on lap 11 when he spun between turns one and two. … Chris Brown of Spring, Texas, who ran as high as fourth early in the race, spun to a stop on the inside of turn one on lap 30 after sustaining nosepiece damage at the other end of the track. … O’Neal triggered caution flags on lap 31 (blown left-rear tire) and 50 (stopped in turn four). … Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., slowed in turn one on lap 57 and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., did the same in turn four on lap 60. … Bloomquist’s mechanical trouble caused the race’s last caution flag.
2014 Lucas Oil Knoxville National order of finish
(Pos. Driver (car no.), hometown, chassis, earnings)
1. Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., Sweet-Bloomquist, $40,000
2. Josh Richards (1), Shinnston, W.Va., Rocket, $20,000
3. Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., Club 29, $10,000
4. Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., Capital, $8,750
5. Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., Club 29, $7,500
6. Chad Simpson (25), Mt. Vernon, Iowa, Victory Circle$7,000
7. Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, Club 29, $6,500
8. Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., Rocket, $6,000
9. Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., Club 29, $5,500
10. Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., Barry Wright, $5,000
11. Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., Victory, $4,500
12. Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., Longhorn, $4,000
13. Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., Warrior, $3,500
14. Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., Black Diamond, $3,400
15. Ricky Weiss (7W), Headingly, Manitoba, Rocket, $3,300
16. Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, Club 29, $3,200
17. Earl Pearson Jr. (1P), Jacksonville, Fla., Black Diamond, $3,100
18. Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., Hustler, $3,000
19. Joel Callahan (40), Dubuque, Iowa, MasterSbilt, $2,900
20. Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., Club 29, $2,800
21. Chris Brown (21b), Spring, Texas, Club 29, $2,700
22. Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., Club 29, $2,600
23. Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., Sweet-Bloomquist,$2,500
24. Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., Rocket, $2,500
25. Billy Moyer Jr. (21Jr), Batesville, Ark., Longhorn, $2,500
26. Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., Rocket, $2,500
27. Don O’Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., Barry Wright, $2,500
28. Matt Westfall (54), Pleasant Hills, Ohio, Rocket, $2,500
29. Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., Longhorn, $2,500
30. Jimmy Mars (28), Menomonie, Wis., MB Customs, $2,500
31. A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., MB Customs, $2,500
32. Spencer Diercks (29), Davenport, Iowa, Black Diamond, $2,500
Thursday’s preliminary feature winner: Davenport
Friday’s preliminary feature winner: Chad Simpson
C-main winner: Chris Spieker
B-main winner: Jimmy Mars
Provisional starters: Spencer Dierks, Joel Callahan
Preliminary lineups and results:
Lap 100: Despite sporting a torn-up right-rear corner, Landers holds off Richards's bids to win by 0.161 of a second over the West Virginia driver. It's Landers's first-ever Knoxville triumph. Owens finished third, followed by Marlar and Lanigan.
Lap 96: Landers slides into Feger turn four, tears up right-rear sheet metal ... Richards closes in.
Lap 92: Ater pulling slider under Richards in one and two, Landers grabs the lead.
Lap 87: Landers pulls slider on Owens in one and two to take second.
Lap 85: Richards leads Owens by 2 seconds ... followed by Landers, Marlar, Babb, Chad Simpson, Lanigan, Chris Simpson, Heckenast and Sheppard.
Lap 79: Richards takes lead after pulling slider on inside of turns three and four on Owens ...
Lap 74: Caution for Bloomquist, who stops on inside of turn four after slowing for a lap (he was sixth). He's pushed to pits ... Owens leads Richards, who is battling hard to turn good laps on the cushion ... Landers sits third, followed by Chad Simpson, Babb, Marlar, Zeigler, Lanigan, Chris Simpson and Heckenast.
Lap 65: Richards outside Landers to second off turn four.
Lap 60: Caution for McCreadie, who slows in turn four. Owens leads Landers, Richards, Chad Simpson, Zeigler, Babb, Bloomquist, Marlar, Lanigan and Francis.
Lap 57: Caution flies for slowing Carrier in turn one ... Owens held short lead over Landers, with Richards wrestling third from Simpson on lap 56 ... Simpson fourth, Zeigler up to fourth and Bloomquist runs sixth.
Lap 51: Owens leads Landers, Bloomquist, Chad Simpson and Richards ....
Lap 50: As a caution flag flies for O'Neal stopping in turn four, Owens leads Bloomquist, Landers, Babb, Simpson, Zeigler, Richards, Lanigan, Weiss and Francis.
Lap 43: Davenport into traffic with 1.4-second lead over Owens.... but then blows heavy smoke in one and two, slows on backstretch and pulls off, handing the lead to Owens.
Lap 31: Caution for O'Neal, who blows left-rear tire in turns one and two just after losing second to Owens.
Lap 30: Caution flies for Chris Brown, who spins on the inside of turn one after falling from top five. Davenport had held just over a 1-second edge over O'Neal; Owens sits third, followed by Bloomquist, Lanigan, Landers, Chad Simpson, Babb, Richards and Robinson.
Lap 20: Davenport enters lapped traffic with 2-second lead over O'Neal, followed by Owens, Brown and Bloomquist.
Lap 11: Caution for Diemel spinning in turns one and two ... Davenport leads O'Neal, Owens, Bloomquist, Brown, Lanigan, Chad Simpson, Marlar, Landers and Babb.
Lap 5: After Scott Bloomquist and Jonathan Davenport split Owens on the homestretch, Davenport surged past Simpson for the lead into turn three.
Lap 1: Chad Simpson leads over Jimmy Owens.
8:50 p.m. CT: The command to fire engines was given to the 32-car field.
Pre-race ceremonies for the 100-lapper are slated to start at 8:25 p.m. CT. … With all Lucas Oil Series regulars qualifying for the A-Main, the two provisional spots went to the drivers ranked highest in the Knoxville Nationals points who didn’t make the cut: Spencer Diercks and Joel Callahan. … The 32-car starting includes 13 different chassis brands (12 including Club 29 and Black Diamond as the same manufacturer). Club 29 has the most starters with eight (11 including three Black Diamond-designated cars).
Jimmy Mars slid by Frank Heckenast Jr. for the lead on lap 17 and pulled away to take the win, keeping his perfect record of starting every Knoxville Nationals A-Main since 2004 intact. Morgan Bagley finished second after overtaking Heckenast on lap 19, while Heckenast, who led laps 10-16, settled for third. Jason Feger, Ricky Weiss, who led laps 1-9, and Eddie Carrier Jr. rounded out the transfers. Caution flags flew on lap one (Rich Bell spun into wall between turns three and four); lap two (Jason Utter slowed in turn four); lap eight (Spencer Diercks hit the outside rail between turns three and four while running fifth); and lap 16 (Mitch McGrath spun between turns one and two).
Finish (top 6 to A-Main): Jimmy Mars, Morgan Bagley, Frank Heckenast Jr., Jason Feger, Ricky Weiss, Eddie Carrier Jr., Chase Junghans, Ryan Gustin, Rich Bell, Denny Eckrich, Joel Callahan, Tim Lance Jr., Jason Papich, Charlie McKenna, Mitch McGrath, R.C. Whitwell, Ray Guss Jr., Rob Moss, Dave Eckrich, Spencer Diercks, Justin Kay, Jason Utter, Brian Shirley, Chris Spieker.
Chris Spieker dominated the action, leading from flag-to-flag to win by a full straightaway over Dave Eckrich, who survived a lap-one scrape with his brother Denny that sent both drivers sideways on the homestretch. Mitch McGrath finished third, with Denny Eckrich, Brian Shirley and R.C. Whitwell completing the transfers to the B-Main.
Finish (top 6 to B-Main): Chris Spieker, Dave Eckrich, Mitch McGrath, Denny Eckrich, Brian Shirley, R.C. Whitwell, Jim Shereck, Rob Moss, Charlie McKenna, Kerry King, Ray Sveeggen, Skip Frey, Mike Fryer (DNS) Jay Johnson, Sonny Findling.
Six of the nine former Knoxville Nationals winners are locked into the 100-lap feature. The group includes Scott Bloomquist (starts third), Don O’Neal (fifth), Darrell Lanigan (ninth), Tim McCreadie (12th), Billy Moyer (16th) and Steve Francis (24th). … The only past event champion still looking to gain entry to the A-Main is Brian Shirley, who starts sixth in the C-Main. two other past winners — Brian Birkhofer and Brady Smith — haven’t raced this season after retiring from competition last year. … Birkhofer is reportedly at the track tonight spectating from a suite. … Francis will compete tonight after switching to his backup car. His primary machine was heavily damaged in a heat-race accident on Friday night. … Thursday-night feature winner Jonathan Davenport installed a backup motor after a broken rod sidelined him during Friday night’s B-Main. Friday marked the first time this season that Davenport failed to qualify for a feature. … B-Main starter Jimmy Mars will attempt to keep his perfect record of starting every Late Model Knoxville Nationals A-Main intact. The only other driver who started the first 11 editions of the event is Brady Smith. … Chris Simpson didn’t qualify for Friday night’s feature after sustaining a broken axle during heat action but is locked into the 15th starting spot for the 100-lapper. … Iowa’s Jason Rauen stopped on the homestretch during hot laps for B-Main cars with heavy smoke and flames emitting from his machine. … Scratches from the evening’s last-chance races are Donny Schatz, whose World of Outlaws Sprint Car commitment at Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., prevented him from returning, and Wendell Wallace, who backed into the wall hard on Friday night.
The 12th annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store concludes Saturday night with two last-chance races and the 100-lap headliner at the famed Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile fairgrounds oval best known for hosting sprint car racing.
The lineups for all three of Saturday night’s events — 15-lap C-Main, 20-lap B-Main and 100-lap A-Main — were determined using each driver’s best points night from the pair of preliminary programs. Chad Simpson’s 496-point total on Friday night earned him the pole position for the 100-lapper that offers a $40,000 top prize.
Hot laps are scheduled to begin at 6:45 p.m. CT with the C-Main slated to start the evening’s action at 7:15 p.m. CT.
Saturday Knoxville Nationals lineups
(Position; driver; best points night total)
(100 laps; $40,000 to win)
1. Chad Simpson - 496
2. Jimmy Owens - 492
3. Scott Bloomquist - 490
4. Jonathan Davenport - 487
5. Don O'Neal - 484
6. Chris Brown - 484
7. Jared Landers - 483
8. Mike Marlar - 483
9. Darrell Lanigan - 481
10. Kent Robinson - 480
11. Earl Pearson Jr. - 476
12. Tim McCreadie - 463
13. Dennis Erb Jr. - 462
14. Shannon Babb - 460
15. Chris Simpson - 460
16. Billy Moyer - 456
17. Billy Moyer Jr. - 455
18. Mason Zeigler - 449
19. Josh Richards - 444
20. A.J. Diemel - 443
21. Brandon Sheppard - 442
22. Matt Westfall - 441
23. Dale McDowell - 441
24. Steve Francis - 438
(20 laps; top 6 transfer to A-Main)
1. Ricky Weiss - 437
2. Frank Heckenast Jr. - 434
3. Jason Feger - 433
4. Spencer Diercks - 432
5. Jimmy Mars - 430
6. Joel Callahan - 422
7. Morgan Bagley - 419
8. Chase Junghans - 418
9. Rich Bell - 415
10. Jason Papich - 406
11. Ray Guss Jr. - 401
12. Jason Rauen - 397
13. Eddie Carrier Jr. - 386
14. Justin Kay - 384
15. Ryan Gustin - 382
16. Brian Harris - 370
17. Jason Utter - 369
18. Tim Lance Jr. - 367
(15 laps; top 6 transfer to B-Main)
1. Chris Spieker - 363
2. Denny Eckrich - 362
3. Dave Eckrich - 360
4. Brian Shirley - 359
5. Charlie McKenna - 351
6. Mitch McGrath - 350
7. Skip Frey - 350
8. R.C. Whitwell - 339
9. Rob Moss - 330
10. Jim Shereck - 315
11. Mike Fryer - 310
12. Ray Sveeggen - 296
13. Jay Johnson - 296
14. Kerry King Sr. - 294
15. Sonny Findling - 286