TAZEWELL, Tenn. (May 7) — A visit to familiar turf helped Jimmy Owens end a long absence from victory lane in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series competition.
Tazewell Speedway — the closest Lucas Oil Series track to Owens’s home in Newport, Tenn. — proved to be a soothing balm for the 45-year-old star, who romped to a flag-to-flag victory in Sunday night’s Toyota of Knoxville 50 to snap a nearly year-long 40-race winless streak on the national tour.
The $10,000 triumph was the 55th of Owens’s career on the Lucas Oil Series but first since he scored his lone win of 2016 in the May 28 Show-Me 100 at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo. He captured his fifth Lucas Oil checkered flag at the high-banked, third-mile Tazewell oval, adding to his previous successes in 2005 (his first-ever Lucas Oil win), ’07, ’09 and ’14.
“It’s Tazewell,” Owens after dominating an event that was postponed by rain from its originally scheduled Friday-night date. “The track’s a little different, but, considering the weather, it was a great race track.
“I especially want to thank my crew,” he added. “They have worked their butts off and I feel I have let them down at times this year. I am glad to finally get to victory lane.”
Owens shot off the outside pole to grab the lead at the initial green flag from front-row mate Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., and never looked back in his Ramirez Motorsports XR1 Rocket machine. He stretched his edge to almost 4 seconds during a green-flag stretch from laps 8-35 and easily handled three restarts over the final 15 circuits to clinch the triumph by 1.972 seconds over Don O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who overtook Lanigan for second on a lap-35 restart and chased Owens for the remainder of the distance.
Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., finished third after slipping into the position when Lanigan faltered on the lap-35 restart. Sixth-starter Shannon Buckingham of Morristown, Tenn., was the highest finishing driver who doesn’t race regularly on the Lucas Oil Series with a solid fourth-place run and Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., salvaged a night that began in frustrating fashion — he started at the rear of a heat and failing to log an official qualifying lap — by battling forward from the 12th starting spot to place fifth.
Steve Francis of Bowling Green, Ky., was the race’s biggest mover, finishing sixth after taking the green from the 23rd and final starting position.
The slump-busting triumph was a definite relief for Owens, a three-time Lucas Oil Series champion who has seen his win rate slow to a trickle since splitting with long-time car owner Mike Reece following the 2014 season. His victory was just his third in the circuit’s last 114 events.
“We have had a lot of ups and downs,” said Owens, who became the 10th different winner in 16 Lucas Oil Series features this season. “We have a good car here, but I haven’t shown it any justice. Once we get our ducks in a row maybe we can come home with a few more wins.”
O’Neal, 52, acknowledged that Owens was the class of Tazewell’s field, but the veteran was pleased with his performance in the Clint Bowyer Racing Club 29 Race Car.
“It was good solid weekend for us — we had top fives both nights,” said O’Neal, who finished fourth in Saturday’s Lucas Oil Series stop at Florence Speedway in Union, Ky. “The car is good and has been for a while now. Anthony Burroughs (his crew chief) and everybody is working hard and now we have the finishes to show for it.”
Lucas Oil Series points leader Scott Bloomquist of Mooresburg, Tenn., who won last year’s stop at Tazewell, was never a serious factor in the feature. He was running at the back end of the top 10 when pitted on lap 39 and went on to finish 10th.
Josh Richards of Shinnston, W.Va., who entered the night third in the points standings, settled for an eighth-place finish after a flat tire on lap 35 knocked him out of the top five, while Lanigan also experienced a flat tire at that time and finished ninth.
Five caution flags slowed the event, including the first, on lap three, for a multi-car tangle involving Francis, Dakotah Knuckles, Steve Smith, Brian Smith, Michael Chilton, Colton Flinner and Robby Moses. Subsequent cautions flew on lap eight for Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill.; lap 35 for Richards; lap 39 for Bloomquist; and lap 44 for rookie contender Hudson O’Neal of Martinsville, Ind., who started eighth and was running at the back end of the top 10 when he fell off the pace.
Notes: Owens and Don O’Neal finished one-two in a Lucas Oil Series feature for the first time since July 5, 2014, at 201 Speedway in Sitka, Ky. … Owens’s victory ran his streak of winning at least one Lucas Oil Series A-main to 11 years in a row. The only driver with a longer streak is Bloomquist, who has won at least once in all 14 years of the tour’s existence. … Gregg Satterlee of Indiana, Pa., advanced from the 14th starting spot to finish seventh in his first-ever Tazewell start, moving him within five points of Hudson O’Neal in the battle for the Lucas Oil Series Rookie of the Year award. … Thirteen cars were running at the finish of the feature with 12 on the lead lap.