TAZEWELL, Tenn. (June 3) — Scott Bloomquist received a major scare from fellow Tennessean Jimmy Owens, but it didn’t stop the Hall of Famer from reaching victory lane in Friday night’s Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series-sanctioned Toyota Knoxville 50 at Tazewell Speedway.
Though Bloomquist, 52, of Mooresburg, Tenn., officially led the entire distance to record his fifth triumph of 2016 on the national tour, he lost the top spot briefly to Newport, Tenn.’s Owens on lap 38. The 44-year-old Owens dived to the bottom of turn one and slid ahead of Bloomquist between the corners, bringing what was called the largest crowd in the history of the high-banked, third-mile oval to its collective feet.
Seconds later, however, Bloomquist ducked underneath Owens off turn two to regain command and never looked back en route to a $10,000 payday. Owens settled for a runner-up finish, several car lengths behind Bloomquist.
Steve Francis of Bowling Green, Ky., finished third, advancing from the 12th starting spot to register his best outing of 2016 on the Lucas Oil Series. Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., was steady throughout and placed fourth while outside polesitter Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., rallied to finish fifth after pitting to change a flat tire on lap 10.
Bloomquist turned the tables on Owens, who won the previous week’s Show-Me 100 presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., over his long-time home-state rival.
First Bloomquist defeated Owens to win the night’s first heat race, giving him the pole position for the feature in his Sweet-Bloomquist machine. Then he repelled Owens’s big bid to grab his second straight Lucas Oil Series victory on lap 38.
“We were just trying to be really careful through traffic there,” Bloomquist said. “Jimmy went for it (on lap 38) … a little bit too much of a slide, though. He had to spend the whole entrance gathering it up and catching the car, and we just turned under him and went on.
“The car was really good, the Andy Durham engine ran great … everything was pretty smooth tonight. We didn’t qualify as good as we wanted — we were a little too tight — but we came back and adjusted the car for the feature and this thing feels good.”
Owens felt his R&W Motorsports Barry Wright Race Car was fast enough to win, but getting by the indomitable Bloomquist proved to be too difficult of a task.
“We had the car to beat tonight but we just didn’t get it done,” said Owens, who tallied his fourth consecutive top-five finish on the Lucas Oil Series after logging just three such placings in the season’s first 19 events. “We could run Scott for a little bit, but he was able to just run good and steady and not mess up and it was real tough to get around him … so we’d heat our tires up and fall off a little bit, and I could get back up on it and chase him back down. I was hoping lapped traffic would play out for us, but every time we got to it we had debris or something on the track.
“It was our only opportunity there,” he added of the slider he tossed at Bloomquist on lap 38. “Scott was pretty good in the middle of the racetrack and I could run high or low …. just Scott had the catbird’s seat there and it was my job to get around him. I really felt like we had one of the better cars here tonight … I just let Scott beat us in the heat race (for starting position in the feature).”
Bloomquist was a very happy winner. His series-leading 67th career Lucas Oil triumph came close to his home, after all.
“My wife, daughter and mother are here tonight,” Bloomquist said. “We don’t get to race around here much anymore so it’s enjoyable when we do.”
Even Bloomquist’s primary backer, former Owens car owner Mike Reece, made a racetrack appearance with the circuit coming to his hometown.
And Bloomquist got good news in his pursuit of the Lucas Oil Series title after points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., pulled up lame on lap 47 to draw a caution flag and didn’t finish the race. Davenport ran second early and regained the spot on lap 38 when Owens slid high, but on lap 47 the defending series champion slapped the turn-four wall and slowed with a right-rear flat tire and other suspension damage, leaving him 15th in the final rundown.
“That didn’t hurt my feelings either,” Bloomquist said with a laugh when asked about the fate of Davenport, whose points lead shrank to 160 points over Bloomquist. “We had a bad weekend a couple weeks ago and that got us a little bit behind, but we’re planning on coming back and we’re gonna plan on getting this championship this year.”
Francis, 48, didn’t challenge Owens for second over the race’s final three laps but was extremely satisfied to finish third. He ran most of the second half with little to no braking power in his Tim Logan-owned Black Diamond machine.
“We lost the brakes about the last 20 laps there and had to keep pumping ‘em,” Francis said. “I had to really be careful around everybody else and make sure we didn’t get into anybody because everything happens so fast here.
“We just found a good line there to run around the top and every once in a while I’d miss a little bit and about drive ‘er into the fence, so we just kind of got out there and cruised around. We finally got a good finish. Hopefully we’ve turned the corner with this thing now.”
Six caution flags slowed the event. The first came on lap 10 when O’Neal developed a flat tire. Subsequent cautions flew on lap 11 for Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y. (left-rear damage after a scramble); lap 18 for Jeff Wolfenbarger of Clinton, Tenn. (rearend damage); lap 19 for debris; lap 26 for Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who was running fourth when he slowed with problems and didn’t return; and lap 47 for Davenport.