GREENWOOD, Neb. (July 23) — All is well in Jonathan Davenport’s world once again.
The reigning Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion snapped out of a nearly two-month slump on the national tour in grand fashion, emerging victorious in Saturday night’s sixth annual 80-lap Silver Dollar Nationals at I-80 Speedway.
Davenport, 32, of Blairsville, Ga., was never headed after advancing from the seventh starting spot to grab the lead from Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, on lap 13, but he had to survive a flurry of caution flags and several strong challenges to claim a $40,000 triumph that gave him his first career win in Nebraska’s biggest Dirt Late Model event. What’s more, he registered his eighth checkered flag of the 2016 Lucas Oil Series but first since a Show-Me 100 preliminary on May 26 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.
“We’ve had a lot of issues,” Davenport said after his 24th career Lucas Oil Series win moved him into sole possession of fifth on the tour’s all-time victory list. “We’ve been downright running like crap, but we finally turned it around.”
After a historically spectacular 2015 campaign and a strong start to ’16, Davenport and his K&L Rumley team had suddenly looked mortal in recent weeks. His weekend at the 4/10-mile oval didn’t begin in a way that seemed to signal better days were in the offing, but his Kevin Rumley-led operation buckled down and came up with a combination for Davenport’s Longhorn Race Car that propelled him to a final victory margin of 1.236 seconds over 58-year-old Hall of Famer Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark.
Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., who started 25th but charged around the outside to briefly climb as high as second with about 20 laps to go, finished third after using a lap-78 caution flag to pick up two spots. Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., finished fourth after running among the top five for most of the distance and 16th-starter Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., came on strong late in the race to complete the top five.
Davenport, whose last win overall came June 9 in a preliminary feature on the night of the Dream XXII weekend at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, wore a very satisfied smile after closing his trip to I-80 with a convincing triumph that just might have gotten his mojo back.
“We’re getting better,” Davenport said. “You ain’t never 100 percent — you can always improve — but that was leaps and bounds from when we got here. Somebody asked me how to sum up the weekend, and that’s pretty much from the ——house to the penthouse really because we was terrible when we got here but I feel like we were the best car tonight.
“It just shows we got a good team and can bounce back from anything. We’ve had a lot of bad luck (this year), but we’ve just run like crap a lot too. When we unloaded here we was terrible again. I pulled in (during Thursday’s first practice session) because we were so bad, but we put our heads together and kept working — these guys about killed themselves out here in this hot weather — and we finally got the piece back to my liking and what’s comfortable for me.
“Me and Kevin, we’ve been at each other’s throat a little bit here lately, but that just shows what kind of personality we got,” he added. “We want to win. We don’t like running mid-pack, we don’t like running last. We know what we can do, and we just got to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Tonight we took huge swings at it and we definitely hit on something. We’re getting back to where we need to be and I just hope it works for a few more racetracks.”
Davenport certainly proved his machine’s versatility once he assumed command. He maintained the top spot through five caution flags that came in the first 20 laps he was in front of the field, and during the long green-flag stretch from lap 33-66 he faced a threat from Dream XXII winner Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., that provided him reason to worry but ultimately couldn’t stop him from reaching victory lane.
Just after the race’s halfway mark, Erb, who started 11th, rose up to pressure Davenport, slipping inside the leader several times and actually coming within inches of leading lap 43.
“Erb was definitely better on the bottom than I was,” Davenport admitted. “I couldn’t really slow down and rotate good enough, so I was a little worried there.”
Davenport was able to repel Erb’s bids, but soon after, on lap 59, the 23-year-old Sheppard sailed around the outside of Erb to seize second place and began closing on the pacesetter. But Davenport sensed that he should change his groove from the inside to the top so he did it on lap 60 — much to his advantage.
“Dennis had got under me a couple times on the bottom, but after I cleared back in front of him I didn’t want to just chop him off so then I moved to the bottom,” Davenport said. “I never could really gain on the lapped cars any, so then, I looked up (at the scoreboard in turn one), and I saw the b5 (Sheppard) was in second … so I knew exactly where he was at (meaning the outside lane). I just went ahead and turned right to get to the top, and that’s pretty much what kept us in front.”
After three caution flags flew on lap 66 — the last on the second attempt at a restart because second-place Erb slowed in turn one with a flat left-front tire that had been cut by a scrape with Sheppard as they came up to speed in turn four — and Sheppard slid too high in turns three and four on lap 67 and fell to seventh place, Davenport found himself well positioned for victory. He just had to tame the unruly cushion to stay in front.
“Especially from the center of (turns) one and two off, it was just probably a four- to six-inch curb,” Davenport commented. “It was like a concrete curb. You had to hit it just right or you was either gonna be in the fence or something.
“If you hit it soft you would push over, so I just had to make sure I had a little bit of wheel spin when I got to it.”
Davenport drove away to a full straightaway edge over Moyer in less than 10 laps, but a caution flag on lap 78 for Jesse Stovall of Billings, Mo., who had reached third place three circuits earlier but slowed with a blown right-rear tire as he eyeballed a podium finish, gave him one final obstacle to deal with.
“I definitely didn’t want that caution,” Davenport said. “I didn’t really know where everybody was behind me. I mean, the groove moved around so many times after I got the lead, I didn’t really know where to go. We had finally pulled away a little bit before that caution come out so I was praying it didn’t cost us the race.”
Moyer, however, had nothing for Davenport.
“He was pretty good,” said Moyer, who earned $15,000 after starting ninth in his Victory Race Car. “We was gonna give it a shot for sure if I could’ve got position on him to try and get by him, but there at the end it was pretty top-side dominant it seemed like and he knew that so he kept right where he needed to be. I tried the middle a little bit on the one (lap) to go and I just can’t get off the corner.”
“At the end (his car) kind of went away, the front end did anyway, and (Davenport) could run around there in a lot nicer line than I could.”
Sheppard, meanwhile, took advantage of the race’s last of nine caution flags to get on the podium with his Best Performance Motorsports Rocket XR1 car. He was fifth for the restart but snuck by both Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., who finished sixth after starting 18th, and McCreadie to steal third place.
“We knocked the spoiler off at some point in that race,” Sheppard said. “That’s not unusual for me I guess, but I got to where I couldn’t steer getting in and I missed my mark getting into (turn) three one time (on lap 67) and hit the wall and fell back a few spots. I just had to get back up on the wheel and make up a few, and luckily we had a caution with two to go so I could get a couple more.
“We got back to about eighth after I hit the wall. I thought I was kind of out of hope there for a minute, and then it started to come back to me and I started to get in a little bit of a rhythm. We just picked a couple of them off, and then we had a late restart there and luckily the two guys in front of me went to the bottom and cleared my line for me a little bit.
“I feel like we maybe had a better car than where we finished,” he added, “but after how the weekend started (he broke a rearend in the first round of heat action Friday night) we’ll take it.”
The race’s most serious incident came on lap 13 when Tyler Erb of Magnolia, Texas, hit the backstretch wall and collected Jimmy Mars of Menomonie, Wis., who was towed off.
Among the drivers who brought out cautions for relatively minor reasons were Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky. (turn-four spin on lap 12); Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill. (slowed on lap 18); Tyler Erb (stopped in turn four on lap 24); Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas (stopped on lap 28); Clay Daly of Salinas, Calif. (slowed in turn four on lap 33); and Ryan Gustin of Marshalltown, Iowa (stopped with mechanical trouble on lap 66 while running seventh).
Notes: Dennis Erb Jr. returned to the race after pitting for a new tire on lap 66, but he pitted again on lap 78 and was the last driver on the lead lap at the checkered flag in 14th place. … Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., fell short of a third straight Silver Dollar Nationals triumph, finishing a quiet seventh. He never cracked the top five in race that saw him pit on lap 33 to make a tire change. … Chris Simpson, who led laps 10-12, had fallen to fourth place when he pulled off the track due to an overheating engine during a lap-33 caution period. He raced with a deep cut on his hand that he suffered while working on his car before the feature and had to visit a local hospital after the race to have his wound stitch. … Polesitter Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., led laps 1-9 but faded from contention, finishing ninth. … Shane Clanton of Zebulon, Ga., and Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., started from the second but were never factors. Both faded backward with Clanton retiring on lap 18 after nearly falling out of the top 20 and Owens made multiple pit stops and finished 21st.
Preliminary results and notes:
A huge 35-car field will take the green flag in the feature, which began lining up in the pit area at 11:30 p.m. CST shortly after Rodney Sanders captured the USMTS modified feature's $5,000 top prize. … As the Silver Dollar Nationals starters were rolling toward the track, I-80 promoter Joe Kosiski announced that next year's event will jump to $50,000 to win. Earlier Kosiski had publicly stated that he was looking for a sponsor to add $10,000 to the first-place prize in 2017 and he didn't need much time to secure one — he announced that Imperial Tile will provide the backing to push the winner's check to $50,000 and he would personally put another $10,000 into the remainder of the purse. Kosiski wasn't done, though; before the feature pulled off, he took to the microphone again and announced that he had decided to offer a $53,000 prize for the 2017 Silver Dollar Nationals to match the traditional No. 53 his family's race cars have long carried. The $53,000 payoff will represent the third-largest first-place offering in Dirt Late Model racing after the $100,000-to-win Dream and Dirt Track World Championship events. ... Outside polesitter Chris Simpson experienced mechanical trouble with the car he drove Friday night and has switched to his backup — a Longhorn machine he's raced a handful of times — but Lucas Oil rules for multi-day events permit him to keep his starting spot. Simpson also will run the race with a bandage on his hand after suffering a deep cut that might need stitches while working in the pit area. … Provisional starters include Brandon Sheppard, Don O’Neal, Colton Flinner, Jason Papich, Dave Eckrich, Ben Schaller, Andrew Kosiski and Kyle Berck.
Belt Bash results
Brantlee Gotschall assumed command on lap 13 when Randy Timms slowed with a flat tire and marched on to capture the 20-lap Belt Bash Non-Qualifiers’ Race.
Faced with the choice of taking the $3,000 first-place prize or starting at the back of the feature (which offers $1,600 to start), Gotschall decided to bypass the main event and accept the big winner’s check.
Promoter Joe Kosiski announced before the start of the race that the second- and third-place finishers would also have a choice to make: take the money ($2,500 for second, $2,000 for third) or start at the back of the Silver Dollar Nationals. Both runner-up Tommy Weder and third-place Clay Daly opted to leave the money on the table and move on to the feature field.
Finish: Brantlee Gotschall, Tommy Weder, Clay Daly, Randy Timms, Justin Duty, J.C. Wyman, Chase Junghans, Brent Larson, John Duty, Bob Milander, Matt Buller, Brad Perdue, Jon Hampel, Tad Pospisil, Bryon Allison.
Belt Bash Non-Qualifiers’ Race lineup
Row 1: Clay Daly, Matt Buller
Row 2: Randy Timms, Brantlee Gotschall
Row 3: Brent Larson, Tad Pospisil
Row 4: J.C. Wyman, John Duty
Row 5: Austin Siebert, Tommy Weder
Row 6: Jon Hampel, Chase Junghans
Row 7: Bryon Allison, Austin Smith
Row 8: Brad Perdue, Bob Milander
Row 9: Justin Duty, Cale Osborn
Row 10: Mike Stadel
Darrell Lanigan dominated the first event, running away to a full straightaway edge before the race’s lone caution flag — on lap 17 of the 18-lap distance for Tommy Weder’s half-spin in turns three and four — shrank his final victory margin. … First-time I-80 visitor Austin Smith experienced heartbreak in the first B-Main when his car belched smoked and fell off the pace on lap 16 as he held third place. A trail of oil followed his car back to his hauler. … Mike Marlar threw a slider on Jake O’Neil in a bid to grab second place rounding turns three and four on the final lap of the first B-Main, but he couldn’t complete the pass and settled for third place behind the youngster from Arizona. … Brandon Sheppard pulled off the track five laps into the first B-Main. He will rely on a Lucas Oil provisional to start the A-Main. … Tyler Erb executed a successful slider on Rodney Sanders through turns three and four to grab the lead heading to the white flag in the second B-Main and went on to take the victory. … Don O’Neal also fell back on a Lucas Oil provisional; he retired from the second B-Main during a lap-12 caution period after being a non-factor to that point. … Cale Osborn brought out the caution conditions on lap 12; he was towed off after stopping with damage in turn two. … Kyle Berck slowed to bring out a caution flag on lap six of the second B-Main.
First B-Main finish (18 laps; top 3 transfer): Darrell Lanigan, Jake O’Neil, Mike Marlar, Clay Daly, Randy Timms, Brent Larson, J.C. Wyman, Bill Leighton Jr., Tommy Weder, Chase Junghans, Austin Smith, Bob Milander, Colton Flinner, Brandon Sheppard, Andrew Kosiski, Dave Eckrich.
Second B-Main finish (20 laps; top 3 transfer): Tyler Erb, Rodney Sanders, Frank Heckenast Jr., Matt Buller, Brantlee Gotschall, Tad Pospisil, John Duty, Austin Siebert, Jon Hampel, Bryon Allison, Brad Perdue, Justin Duty, Don O’Neal, Cale Osborn, Ben Schaller, Kyle Berck, Mike Stadel, Jason Papich.
The hot, sultry conditions continue with temperatures once again in the high 90s. A steady breeze, however, has helped make the day a bit less uncomfortable. … Outside polesitter Shane Clanton found an easy way to avoid the boiling afternoon: he didn’t unload his car until just after 6:35 p.m. CST, less than half an hour before the drivers’ meeting. He did the prep work on his car during the cooler late-night hours and just needed to wipe down his machine before the start of Saturday’s action. … Reigning Lucas Oil Series champion Jonathan Davenport is winless since a Dream preliminary victory last month at Eldora Speedway and hasn’t won a Lucas Oil feature since May 26 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo., but he feels like a turnaround in his fortunes might be at hand. “We’ve gotten in a little slump but we’ve made a lot of changes this weekend and hopefully we’ll get back on track,” said Davenport, who starts seventh in the Silver Dollar Nationals. … Shannon Babb, who starts 18th in the feature, said he’s glad he decided to make his first-ever trip to I-80 this weekend. “I really like the place,” he commented. “It’s wide and slick, especially during the second set of heats. I hope it’s like that for the feature.” …
I-80 Speedway’s annual Silver Dollar Nationals weekend concludes Saturday with consolation races and the 80-lap, $40,000-to-win main event for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series and Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association. United States Modified Touring Series competitors are also in action completing a two-day, $5,000-to-win program.
Friday night’s racing program included 12 total races for the 58 Late Model competitors and action for the USMTS modifieds No time trials were used for Late Models; lineups for the two rounds of heats were set by draws, and combined passing points from the prelims determined the 18 transfers to Saturday night’s 80-lap finale.
Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., is scheduled to start on the pole of Saturday’s main event with Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, alongside. The two drivers earned the most passing points in Friday’s heats — Landers was the only driver to win both of his prelims, while Simpson captured his first-round heat from third and advanced from eighth to finish second in Round 2.
Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and Rodney Sanders of Happy, Texas, start on the pole of Saturday night’s pair of 12-lap B-Mains, will transfer three additional drivers from each to the A-Main.
Saturday's card, which also includes the $3,000-to-win Belt Bash for Late Model non-qualifiers, is scheduled to get underway with hot laps at 7:30 p.m. CST.
(Top 3 transfer to feature)
Row 1: Darrell Lanigan, Austin Smith
Row 2: Jake O’Neil, Clay Daly
Row 3: Brandon Sheppard, Brent Larson
Row 4: Tommy Weder, Mike Marlar
Row 5: Randy Timms, Bill Leighton Jr.
Row 6: Dave Eckrich, Andrew Kosiski
Row 7: Chase Junghans, Al Humphrey
Row 8: J.C. Wyman, Colton Flinner
Row 9: Mark Dotson, Bob Milander
Row 10: Junior Coover, Heath Clausen
Row 1: Rodney Sanders, Matt Buller
Row 2: Jason Papich, Justin Duty
Row 3: Frank Heckenast Jr., Tyler Erb
Row 4: Ben Schaller, Kyle Berck
Row 5: Don O’Neal, John Hampel
Row 6: Bryon Allison, Cale Osborn
Row 7: Tad Pospisil, Brad Perdue
Row 8: Austin Siebert, Josh Most
Row 9: John Duty, Brantlee Gotschall
Row 10: Mike Stadel