KNOXVILLE, Iowa (Sept. 25) — Jonathan Davenport and Knoxville Raceway proved to be a perfect combination on Thursday night.
An on-the-gas driver running an on-the-gas track, Davenport cruised to a convincing flag-to-flag victory in the 25-lap preliminary feature that kicked off the 11th annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores.
Davenport, 30, of Blairsville, Ga., surged off the outside pole to grab the lead at the start of the short sprint and never looked back. He dominated the action, racing unchallenged the entire distance to pocket a $7,000 top prize for his first-ever triumph at the famed half-mile oval best know for hosting sprint car competition.
“I grew up driving around bullrings and little short places, but for some reason I definitely like these big, momentum places,” said Davenport, whose only previous visit to Knoxville was for the 2012 Late Model Nationals when he drove for NASCAR star Clint Bowyer. “I guess this place just suits the way I like the car to feel. It definitely suits my style.”
Defending Knoxville Late Model Nationals champion Darrell Lanigan of Union, Ky., who finished a distant second, acknowledged Davenport’s prowess at fast, sprawling tracks like Knoxville.
“That top can get dominant here and that guy’s hard to beat on that cushion,” the 44-year-old Lanigan said of Davenport. “He’s good everywhere when it’s like that.”
Brian Birkhofer, 42, of Muscatine, Iowa, settled into third place after being overtaken by Lanigan on lap 10 and finished in the show position. Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., finished a steady fourth while Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., was the race’s hard charger with a 22nd-to-fifth run that he capped by passing polesitter Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind., on lap 22.
Davenport’s victory was his second in a crown-jewel event preliminary feature at a historic track in the last three weeks. He also captured a tune-up race for the World 100 on Sept. 5 at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.
“It’s cool to win at tracks like Knoxville and Eldora,” said Davenport, who has 21 Dirt Late Model wins (nine in Super Late Model action) this season. “We ain’t won the one that counted yet, though, so hopefully we can get that done on Saturday night (in the $40,000-to-win 100-lap finale).”
Davenport went racing Thursday night without on-site assistance from his K&L Rumley team’s co-owner, Kevin Rumley, who had to miss the weekend’s lidlifter due to work commitments in North Carolina. Rumley will fly in for Friday night’s program and collaborate with Davenport on a plan of attack that will hopefully lead to success in the Nationals headliner.
“We definitely have to improve to run a hundred laps around here,” said Davenport, who drove a Longhorn Race Car that Rumley helped design. “I’m just trying to feel the place out, just learning what to do and what not to do. You put yourself in certain situations and see how the track changes and how to drive it, and doing that, I definitely learned a little bit tonight.
“The track changed a huge amount from when we got here to the end of the night. In the feature it was super, super slick through the center there, and you still had that big cushion that you could almost run wide-open on if you were tight enough to get to it and free enough to get off it. We’ll see what tomorrow and Saturday brings.”
Lanigan, who started sixth in his Club 29 machine, also has his ultimate focus on Saturday’s century grind.
“I think in a 100-lapper we’ll be good,” Lanigan said. “I think we were gaining on him a little bit at the end, so in a 100-lapper we’ll be right there. Our was pretty good and was getting better the longer the race went on.”
Just two caution flags slowed the event. The first was for an aborted original start, and the second came on lap eight for debris that was spotted on the track surface.
Another preliminary program topped by a 25-lap feature paying $7,000 to win will be run on Friday night. Drivers will use their best points night from Thursday or Friday to establish their starting positions in Saturday night’s alphabet-soup last-chance races or the A-Main.
Blog-style updates of Thursday night's action:
The 25-lap feature is lining up in the pit area at 10:30 p.m. CT. … The top three starters in the A-Main — Kent Robinson, Jonathan Davenport and John Blankenship — have never won a feature at Knoxville. … With Lucas Oil Series points only on the line in Saturday night’s 100-lap finale, there are no provisional starting spots for the weekend’s two preliminary features. … Following his wicked heat-race accident, Jimmy Owens unloaded his backup car and ran several shake-down laps far behind the D-Main field.
B-Main (15 laps; top 6 transfer to A-Main): Chad Simpson, Jared Landers, Steve Francis, Brandon Sheppard, Jason Rauen, Tim McCreadie, Wendell Wallace, Dennis Erb Jr., Jason Papich, Jesse Stovall, Gregg Satterlee, Morgan Bagley, Scott James, Denny Eckrich, Tim Lance, Donny Schatz, Mark Dotson, Don O’Neal, Mason Zeigler, Ray Guss Jr., Terry Phillips, Billy Moyer Jr.
C-Main (12 laps; top 4 transfer to B-Main): Terry Phillips, Scott James, Tim McCreadie, Donny Schatz, Ryan Gustin, Brian Shirley, Chris Spieker, Brian Harris, Rodney Sanders, Shannon Babb, Rich Bell, Jay Johnson, Jason Utter, Charlie McKenna, Jake Meier, Chris Simpson, Jonathan Brauns, Dave Eckrich, Jorday Yaggy, John Duty, Greg Kimmons, Lyle Zanker.
D-Main (10 laps; top four 4 transfer to C-Main): Chris Simpson, Jonathan Brauns, Shannon Babb, Ryan Gustin, Rob Moss, Matt Furman, Justin Duty, Skip Frey, Mike Fryer, Steve Lance Jr., Roger Brickler, Todd Frank, Dustin Walker, Jimmy Owens.
(15 laps; top 6 to A-Main)
Row 1: Dennis Erb Jr., Chad Simpson
Row 2: Steve Francis, Jared Landers
Row 3: Wendell Wallace, Don O’Neal
Row 4: Jesse Stovall, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 5: Jason Rauen, Denny Eckrich
Row 6: Jason Papich, Brandon Sheppard
Row 7: Morgan Bagley, Mason Zeigler
Row 8: Gregg Satterlee, Mark Dotson
Row 9: Tim Lance, Jake Meier
Row 10: Ray Guss Jr, C-Main winner
Row 11: C-Main 2nd, C-Main 3rd
Row 12: C-Main 4th
(12 laps; top 4 to B-Main)
Row 1: Donny Schatz, Terry Phillips
Row 2: Dave Eckrich, Scott James
Row 3: Jay Johnson, Rodney Sanders
Row 4: Brian Harris, Tim McCreadie
Row 5: Brian Shirley, Chris Speiker
Row 6: Rich Bell, Jason Utter
Row 7: John Duty, Charlie McKenna
Row 8: Greg Kimmons, Jordan Yaggy
Row 9: Lyle Zanker, Chris Simpson
Row 10: Jonathan Brauns, Shannon Babb
Row 11: Ryan Gustin
(10 laps; top 4 to C-Main)
Row 1: Jimmy Mars, Jason Hughes
Row 2: Tyler Bruening, Jimmy Owens
Row 3: Shannon Babb, Jason Feger
Row 4: Andy Eckrich, Jonathan Brauns
Row 5: Rob Moss, Todd Frank
Row 6: Skip Frey, Chris Simpson
Row 7: Steve Lance Jr., Mat Furman
Row 8: Curt Schroeder, Ryan Gustin
Row 9: Roger Brickler, Mike Fryer
Row 10: Billy Moyer, Justin Duty
Row 11: Junior Coover, Al Humphrey
Row 12: Spencer Diercks, Dustin Walker
Row 13: Jordan Heiman
Rick Eckert steered clear of the mayhem behind him to capture the victory over Scott Bloomquist and Darrell Lanigan. Young Mason Zeigler fell one spot short of transferring in his first Knoxville appearance, while Brandon Sheppard rallied from a lap-two pit stop to change a flat tire for a fifth-place finish.
Finish: Rick Eckert, Scott Bloomquist, Darrell Lanigan, Mason Zeigler, Brandon Sheppard, Ray Guss Jr., Jake Meier, Charlie McKenna, Chris Spieker, Dustin Walker, Jimmy Owens, Jason Feger, Jason Hughes.
Sixth heat: Owens flips wildly
Three-time Lucas Oil Series champion Jimmy Owens rode out a vicious series of flips entering turn one on the third lap after an apparent scrape with Jason Feger, who subsequently pitted with nose damage.
Owens’s heavily-damaged car came to rest upside down, but he slithered out of the cockpit with assistance from the safety crew. He was uninjured but extremely angry, stomping away from the scene of the accident to return to his trailer.
While walking, Owens was intercepted by pay-per-view reporter Ben Shelton, who asked Owens for his take on the accident. The superstar let out an expletive over the p.a., saying, “---- idiots … they don’t know how to drive.”
Moments earlier, on lap two, Jason Hughes escaped another red-flag-inducing wreck without injury. His car slammed head-on into the turn-three wall.
Mike Marlar dominated most of the distance, but he barely held off a last-lap challenge from Brian Birkhofer, who passed Denny Eckrich for third entering turn one, took second from Frank Heckenast Jr. in turn three and nearly slipped by Marlar as well. Heckenast settled for third after running second most of the race. A caution flag flew on lap nine when Scott James spun between turns three and four while battling with Birkhofer.
Finish: Mike Marlar, Brian Birkhofer, Frank Heckenast Jr., Don O’Neal, Denny Eckrich, Chad Simpson, Rodney Sanders, Scott James, Jordan Yaggy, Todd Frank, Justin Duty, Matt Furman, Ryan Gustin.
Jonathan Davenport pulled off the move of the night so far, passing A.J. Diemel off turn four the final lap to emerge victorious after starting sixth. Diemel, who passed Mark Dotson for the lead on lap seven, settled for runner-up money and eighth-starter Eddie Carrier Jr. placed third.
Finish: Jonathan Davenport, A.J. Diemel, Eddie Carrier Jr., Mark Dotson, Jared Landers, Billy Moyer Jr., Terry Phillips, Jason Utter, Tim McCreadie, Chris Simpson, Jonathan Brauns, Al Humphrey, Mike Fryer.
Sixth-starter Brandon Overton was impressive in his first Knoxville start, charging around the outside to take the lead from Vic Coffey on lap seven and pull away to victory. Earl Pearson Jr. slipped underneath Coffey on lap 11 to finish third, leaving Coffey third at the checkered flag. WoO star Donny Schatz wasn’t a factor, fading from the fifth starting spot to an eighth-place finish.
Finish: Brandon Overton, Earl Pearson Jr., Vic Coffey, Morgan Bagley, Wendell Wallace, Jason Rauen, Brian Shirley, Donny Schatz, Dave Eckrich, Rob Moss, Steve Lance Jr., Roger Brickler, Spencer Diercks.
John Blankenship dominated the action after hustling forward from the seventh starting spot, rolling to a half-straightaway victory over ninth-starter Will Vaught. Chase Junghans showed smoke for the final laps but held on to finish third. The race was red-flagged at the start for a multi-car tangle on the homestretch that sent Andy Eckrich flipping near the flagstand. Eckrich came to rest upside down while Tyler Bruening spun backward into the inside wall in turn one, but neither driver was injured. Jimmy Mars was also involved and retired after only two laps.
Finish: John Blankenship, Will Vaught, Chase Junghans, Dennis Erb Jr., Gregg Satterlee, Tim Lance, John Duty, Greg Kimmons, Lyle Zanker, Jimmy Mars, Andy Eckrich, Tyler Bruening.
Brady Smith surged off the outside pole to lead the entire 12-lap distance, but fifth-starter Kent Robinson reached second on lap five and stayed within a few car lengths of Smith to the finish. Eighth-starter Dale McDowell slid into third on lap eight and stayed there to grab the final transfer spot. Shannon Babb, who started fourth and briefly ran second, dropped out on lap nine.
Finish: Brady Smith, Kent Robinson, Dale McDowell, Steve Francis, Jesse Stovall, Jason Papich, Jay Johnson, Brian Harris, Rich Bell, Skip Frey, Shannon Babb, Curt Schroeder.
Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Ga., turned a lap of 17.635 seconds near the end of Group 1, giving him the fastest overall circuit of the split qualifying session.
Eddie Carrier Jr. of Salt Rock, W.Va., was fastest in Group 2 with a lap of 17.836 seconds.
One of the notable casualties during qualifying was Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., whose car slowed on his opening lap. He did not log a time.
A 79-car field is signed in for the evening’s action. It’s up seven cars from a year ago and is the third-largest turnout in the event’s 11-year history, following the 97 cars that entered in 2004 and 80 that were on hand in 2012. … The field has been split into two qualifying groups. Drivers in Group 1 will compete in heats 1-3 and those in Group 2 will race in heats 4-6. … An 8-car invert will be used for the heat races.
The 11th annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores kick off Thursday night with the first of two preliminary nights at the famed Knoxville Raceway, a half-mile fairgrounds oval best known for hosting sprint car racing.
Tonight’s racing card features a complete program with time trials, six heat races, D-main, C-main, B-main and 25-lap A-Main paying $7,000-to-win. Drivers accrue points based on performances each time they hit the track that will help set the lineups for Saturday's action.
Friday's program is identical to Thursday's. Drivers will use their better points night — not combined points — to see where they stand for Saturday’s alphabet soup of features, which are topped by the 100-lap A-Man paying $40,000 to win.
For full details of the weekend’s format, refer to our Fast Facts page.
(10 laps; top three transfer)
Row 1: Jay Johnson, Brady Smith
Row 2: Jason Papich, Shannon Babb
Row 3: Jesse Stovall, Kent Robinson
Row 4: Steve Francis, Dale McDowell
Row 5: Brian Harris, Rich Bell
Row 6: Skip Frey, Curt Schroeder
Row 7: Billy Moyer
Row 1: Tim Lance, Gregg Satterlee
Row 2: Andy Eckrich, Chase Junghans
Row 3: Tyler Bruening, Jimmy Mars
Row 4: John Blankenship, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 5: Greg Kimmons, Lyle Zanker
Row 6: Junior Coover
Row 1: Vic Coffey, Dave Eckrich
Row 2: Morgan Bagley, Jason Rauen
Row 3: Donny Schatz, Brandon Overton
Row 4: Wendell Wallace, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 5: Brian Shirley, Rob Moss
Row 6: Steve Lance Jr., Roger Brickler
Row 7: Spencer Diercks
Row 1: Jonathan Brauns, Mark Dotson
Row 2: A.J. Diemel, Billy Moyer Jr.
Row 3: Jared Landers, Jonathan Davenport
Row 4: Terry Phillips, Eddie Carrier Jr.
Row 5: Tim McCreadie, Chris Simpson
Row 6: Jason Utter, Mike Fryer
Row 7: Al Humphrey
Row 1: Rodney Sanders, Mike Marlar
Row 2: Scott James, Denny Eckrich
Row 3: Don O’Neal, Frank Heckenast Jr.
Row 4: Brian Birkhofer, Chad Simpson
Row 5: Todd Frank, Matt Furman
Row 6: Ryan Gustin, Justin Duty
Row 7: Jorday Yaggy
Row 1: Rick Eckert, Jason Feger
Row 2: Mason Zeigler, Brandon Sheppard
Row 3: Jimmy Owens, Scott Bloomquist
Row 4: Jason Hughes, Darrell Lanigan
Row 5: Jake Meier, Chris Spieker
Row 6: Charlie McKenna, Ray Guss Jr.
Row 7: Dustin Walker
Dale McDowell (17M), Chickamauga, Ga., 17.635
Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 17.845
Earl Pearson Jr. (44), Jacksonville, Fla., 17.884
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 17.885
John Blankenship (23), Williamson, W.Va., 17.902
Wendell Wallace (1x), Batesville, Ark., 17.912
Kent Robinson (7R), Bloomington, Ind., 17.926
Jimmy Mars (28M), Menomonie, Wis., 17.953
Brandon Overton (5), Appling, Ga., 18.077
Jesse Stovall (00), Billings, Mo., 18.101
Tyler Bruening (50), Decorah, Iowa, 18.112
Donny Schatz (15), Fargo, N.D., 18.148
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 18.152
Chase Junghans (18), Manhattan, Kan., 18.161
Jason Rauen (98), Farley, Iowa, 18.211
Jason Papich (91P), Arroyo Grande, Calif., 18.259
Andy Eckrich (56), Oxford, Iowa, 18.318
Morgan Bagley (14M), Tyler, Texas, 18.319
Brady Smith (2), Solon Springs, Wis., 18.373
Gregg Satterlee (22), Indiana, Pa., 18.38
Dave Eckrich (58), Cosgrove, Iowa, 18.392
Jay Johnson (93), W. Burlington, Iowa, 18.462
Tim Lance Jr. (48), Brimfield, Ill., 18.59
Vic Coffey (32c), Caledonia, N.Y., 18.635
Brian Harris (15R), Davenport, Iowa, 18.655
Will Vaught (1W), Crane, Mo., 18.674
Brian Shirley (81), Chatham, Ill., 18.728
Rich Bell (21b), Sheffield, Ill., 18.828
John Duty (5), Portland, Ore., 18.985
Rob Moss (1M), Iowa City, Iowa, 19.035
Skip Frey (3x), Ely, Iowa, 19.039
Greg Kimmons (27), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 19.052
Steve Lance Jr. (25), Cuba, Ill., 19.205
Curt Schroeder (15c), Ames, Iowa, 19.72
Lyle Zanker (9), Rockford, Ill., 19.91
Roger Brickler (82), Springfield, Ill., 20.669
Junior Coover (10), Norfolk, Neb., N/T
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., N/T
Jordan Heiman (38), Sioux Falls, S.D., N/T
Spencer Diercks (29), Davenport, Iowa, N/T
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 17.836
Chad Simpson (25), Mt. Vernon, Iowa, 17.842
Darrell Lanigan (29), Union, Ky., 17.922
Terry Phillips (75), Springfield, Mo., 17.925
Brian Birkhofer (15b), Muscatine, Iowa, 17.945
Jason Hughes (12), Watts, Okla., 17.991
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 18.022
Frank Heckenast Jr. (99Jr), Frankfort, Ill., 18.022
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 18.077
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 18.083
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 18.089
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 18.102
Billy Moyer Jr. (21), Batesville, Ark., 18.16
Denny Eckrich (50), Tiffin, Iowa, 18.172
Brandon Sheppard (b5), New Berlin, Ill., 18.203
A.J. Diemel (58), Elk Mound, Wis., 18.215
Scott James (83), Bright, Ind., 18.219
Mason Zeigler (25z), Chalk Hill, Pa., 18.226
Mark Dotson (85d), Cameron, Mo., 18.227
Mike Marlar (157), Winfield, Tenn., 18.323
Jason Feger (25), Bloomington, Ill., 18.384
Jonathan Brauns (22b), Muscatine, Iowa, 18.386
Rodney Sanders (21), Happy, Texas, 18.462
Rick Eckert (1), York, Pa., 18.508
Tim McCreadie (39), Watertown, N.Y., 18.651
Todd Frank (21F), Mellen, Wis., 18.654
Jake Meier (20), Tipton, Iowa, 18.682
Chris Simpson (32), Oxford, Iowa, 18.759
Matt Furman (51), Columbus, Ohio, 18.93
Chris Spieker (56), Massena, Iowa, 18.961
Jason Utter (31), Columbus Junction, Iowa, 19.016
Ryan Gustin (19R), Marshalltown, Iowa, 19.024
Charlie McKenna (22), Clear Lake, Iowa, 19.029
Mike Fryer (5m), Freeport, Ill., 19.222
Jordan Duty (15D), Portland, Ore., 19.255
Ray Guss Jr. (58), Milan, Ill., 19.302
Al Humphery (6), Giltner, Neb., 19.371
Jordan Yaggy (77), Rochester, Minn., 19.492
Dustin Walker (14W), Peculiar, Mo., 19.668