MACON, Ill. (April 30) — A trip to the smallest track on the 2015 Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series schedule brought an end to the good-natured ribbing Jimmy Owens had been receiving from his new car owner about his absence from victory lane on the national tour.
After capturing Thursday night’s St. Louis U-Pic-A-Part 100 at the fifth-mile Macon Speedway, Newport, Tenn.’s Owens finally had very good news for his boss Bryan Rowland.
“He’s been hounding my butt a little bit,” a smiling Owens said of Rowland, who during the off-season bought the equipment Owens had been campaigning for Mike Reece and added the three-time Lucas Oil Series champion to his team. “He said, ‘You can start winning any time now.’”
Owens, 43, did Rowland proud at the high-banked bullring, making the 13th Lucas Oil Series event of 2015 his first triumph of the season. He used a big break — the almost simultaneous flat right-rear tires on the first- and second-place cars driven by Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., and Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark. — to assume command during a lap-58 caution period but needed no help to stay in front for the remainder of the distance.
Calmly handling six restarts over the race’s final 42 circuits, Owens rolled to the $12,000 top prize without facing a single serious challenge. He kept a pair of Illinois stars — first Shannon Babb of Moweaqua and later Jason Feger of Bloomington — at arm’s length to register his 53rd career win on the Lucas Oil Series.
Feger, 36, wrestled second place from the 41-year-old Babb on lap 83 and stayed there to the finish, taking the runner-up spot several car lengths behind Owens. Rising 20-year-old Devin Moran of Dresden, Ohio, came on strong during the race’s second half to finish third after starting 17th in his first-ever start at Macon, leaving the 12th-starting Babb to settle for fourth after racing in second for laps 61-82 and Ryan Unzicker of El Paso, Ill., placed fifth after climbing as high as third from the ninth starting spot.
Owens, who started third in his Club 29 Race Car, chased leaders Pierce and Moyers for more than half the distance. He was still in that spot when the feature’s complexion changed dramatically moments after Brandon Sheppard of New Berlin, Ill., slowed with a flat right-rear tire to bring out a caution flag on lap 58.
When the 18-year-old Pierce, who led laps 1-20 and 32-58, and the 57-year-old Moyer, who led laps 21-31, headed to the pit area with right-rear flats during the caution period, Owens vaulted into the lead for good.
While Owens never had to outduel Pierce or Moyer, he felt he was ready for a showdown.
“I hate it for them guys, but we had a pretty good car,” said Owens, who entered the evening ranked fourth in the Lucas Oil Series points standings despite his slow start in the checkered-flag department. “We was biding our time. Lapped traffic’s always an issue here, so I was just trying to save my tires there to the end. We was able to take it easy and cruise a little bit and keep the car under us and not worry too much.”
Owens’s only real scare came on lap 65 when he slid a bit too high rounding turns three and four and bounced off the outside wall. His edge was large enough that the miscue didn’t hamper him, however, and he negotiated the treacherous top-side through those corners the rest of the way.
“Well, you wait for a good ‘scotch,’” Owens said of the technique necessary to slide through Macon’s third and fourth turns. “You go in yonder and slide clear up to the wall there and you catch, and then you come on off there.”
Owens was victorious in just his second career Dirt Late Model start at Macon. He showed his ability to tame the tough track in his full-fender debut there last year, advancing from the 24th starting spot to finish fourth.
“We just missed a few things last year,” said Owens, whose only other appearance at Macon was in an open-wheel modified earlier in his career. “We had a flat in our heat, a little bad luck, but was able to come home with a good finish, and this year we got the win.”
Feger, meanwhile, showed no disappointment over falling one position short in the final rundown. After engine problems during hot laps forced him to run his backup Hustler Race Car, a runner-up finish was just the tonic he needed to right an uneven season.
“We’ve been struggling pretty bad this year and haven’t been able to to put together a finish in a feature,” said Feger, who started sixth. “We had a rough night, had to get out the backup car … I had bad luck there, but I had a little good luck in the heat race with J.D. (Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga.) and (Dennis) Erb (Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., tangling) and the flat tire deal (in the feature) — there must have been something on the track that took out the top two there.
“But the car felt really good. I felt like we were just as good as anybody. I thought I was better at the beginning and it felt like it went away a little bit towards the end, but the way we’ve been going this year we needed the money so it feels good.”
Moran was arguably the story of the race, making his way forward to earn a podium finish. The son of Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Donnie Moran might have had the fastest machine in the final laps.
“We struggled early in the night and had to start in the back, but the way this place races, we came up through,” Moran said. “It was just an awesome night. It was so much fun.
“I really wasn’t wanting them last couple cautions,” he added, noting the race’s final slowdowns on laps 95 and 97. “I wanted get in a little bit of lapped traffic. Everybody else was up against the wall and I felt like I could maneuver around a little bit … but a third-place finish from where we started, I’ll take it any day.”
The century grind lasted over an hour and was slowed by eight caution flags in addition to Sheppard’s on lap 58. Terry Babb of Decatur, Ill., drew the first caution with a spin on lap 22. Steve Francis of Ashland, Ky., forced yellows with spins on lap 53 and 80; Pierce slowed on lap 66; Erb spun on lap 84 after contact while racing for sixth with Chris Brown of Spring, Texas; and Jared Landers of Batesville, Ark., brought out three cautions, suffering a flat tire on the lap-58 restart, finding the turn-two wall on lap 95 and tagging the turn-three wall on lap 97.
Notes: A big crowd filled Macon’s grandstands on a clear, cool evening. … Pierce, who won last year’s Lucas Oil Series 100 at Macon, recovered from pits stops on laps 58 and 66 to finish eighth, while Moyer returned to the track after pitting on lap 58 but retired once a caution flag flew on the ensuing restart. … Sheppard battled with Owens for third early in the distance but fell back after his car’s right-side door was damaged significantly when he banged together with Moyer in turn four during the scramble following Terry Babb’s lap-22 spin … The top two drivers in the Lucas Oil Series points standings — Davenport and Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla. — were never factors in the feature. Davenport struggled to an 11th-place finish after his heat-race scrape with Erb forced him to qualify through a B-Main, and Pearson labored to a 14th-place finish after using a provisional to start the headliner. … The Lucas Oil tour moves to Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., on Friday for a $10,000-to-win event. DirtonDirt.com will once offer pay-per-view coverage.
Preliminary results and lineups:
The $12,000-to-win feature will be 100 laps and should take the green flag about 9:20 p.m. Central. ... Earl Pearson Jr. and Mike Benedum will receive Lucas Oil Series provisionals with Greg Kimmons earning Macon's track provisional. ... Last year's race winner Bobby Pierce will start second. ... Lucas Oil points leader Jonathan Davenport will start 18th after winning the caution-plagued second consolation. ... Cory Daugherty won the UMP modified feature.
Consolation race finishes
First consolation: Devin Moran, Chris Brown, Ryan Little, Greg Kimmons, Kyle Logue, Earl Pearson Jr., Chuck Mitchell.
Second consolation: Jonathan Davenport, Dennis Erb Jr., Terry Babb, Andrew Barnes, Mike Benedum, Chris Dick, Dennis Vandermeersch.
Consolation race lineups
(Top three transfer)
Row 1: Chris Brown, Devin Moran
Row 2: Ryan Little, Earl Pearson Jr.
Row 3: Greg Kimmons, Chuck Mitchell
Row 4: Kyle Logue
Row 1: Jonathan Davenport, Dennis Vandermeersch
Row 2: Chris Dick, Terry Babb
Row 3: Dennis Erb Jr., Mike Benedum
Row 4: Andrew Barnes
Heat race notes
Polesitter Billy Moyer overtook fellow front-row stater Kevin Weaver in the closing laps to win the first heat. ... Jimmy Owens led the second heat wire-to-wire, with Eddie Carrier Jr. holding off Don O'Neal for second. ... Making some contact, Bobby Pierce slid past Jonathan Davenport in the first corner early in the third heat and went on unchallenged to victory. ... Davenport was later involved in an incident with Dennis Erb Jr. after the duo battled with Jason Feger for second, drawing a caution. ... Brandon Sheppard topped Jared Landers in a thrilling side-by-side battle to win the final heat, with Shannon Babb also making a late charge. ... Mike Benedum brought out a caution in the final heat after grabbing the turn-one wall.
Heat race finishes
First heat: Billy Moyer, Kevin Weaver, Ryan Unzicker, Steve Francis, Chris Brown, Ryan Little, Greg Kimmons. DNS: Kyle Logue.
Second heat: Jimmy Owens, Eddie Carrier Jr., Don O'Neal, Daryn Klein, Devin Moran, Earl Pearson Jr., Chuck Mitchell.
Third heat: Bobby Pierce, Jason Feger, Scott Bloomquist, Jake Little, Jonathan Davenport, Chris Dick, Dennis Erb Jr., Andrew Barnes.
Fourth heat: Brandon Sheppard, Jared Landers, Shannon Babb, Levi Kissinger, Dennis Vandermeersch, Terry Babb, Mike Benedum.
Heat race lineups
(Top four transfer)
Row 1: Billy Moyer, Kevin Weaver
Row 2: Ryan Unzicker, Steve Francis
Row 3: Greg Kimmons, Ryan Little
Row 4: Chris Brown, Kyle Logue
Row 1: Eddie Carrier Jr., Jimmy Owens
Row 2: Devin Moran, Don O'Neal
Row 3: Earl Pearson Jr., Daryn Klein
Row 4: Chuck Mitchell
Row 1: Bobby Pierce, Jonathan Davenport
Row 2: Jason Feger, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 3: Scott Bloomquist, Jake Little
Row 4: Chris Dick, Andrew Barnes
Row 1: Brandon Sheppard, Jared Landers
Row 2: Mike Benedum, Levi Kissinger
Row 3: Shannon Babb, Dennis Vandermeersch
Row 4: Terry Babb
Time trial results
Driver (car no.), hometown, time in secs
Billy Moyer (21), Batesville, Ark., 10.228
Eddie Carrier Jr. (28), Salt Rock, W.Va., 10.577
Kevin Weaver (B12), Gibson City, Ill., 10.661
Jimmy Owens (20), Newport, Tenn., 10.723
Ryan Unzicker (24), El Paso, Ill., 10.750
Devin Moran (99m), Dresden, Ohio 10.795
Steve Francis (15), Ashland, Ky., 10.888
Don O'Neal (5), Martinsville, Ind., 10.897
Greg Kimmons (27), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 10.899
Earl Pearson Jr. (1), Jacksonville, Fla., 10.914
Ryan Little (38), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 11.000
Daryn Klein (10), Collinsville, Ill., 11.015
Chris Brown (21b), Spring, Tex., 11.137
Chuck Mitchell (134), Jacksonville, Ill., 11.154
Kyle Logue (94), Cisco, Ill., 11.461
Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 10.558
Brandon Sheppard (B5), New Berlin, Ill., 10.837
Jonathan Davenport (6), Blairsville, Ga., 10.881
Jared Landers (777), Batesville, Ark., 10.952
Jason Feger (25f), Bloomington, Ill., 11.031
Mike Benedum (25), Salem, W.Va., 11.051
Dennis Erb Jr. (28e), Carpentersville, Ill., 11.062
Levi Kissinger (8k), Mount Vernon, Ill., 11.063
Scott Bloomquist (0), Mooresburg, Tenn., 11.112
Shannon Babb (18), Moweaqua, Ill., 11.125
Jake Little (38j), Pleasant Plains, Ill., 11.237
Dennis Vandermeersch (25v), Springfield, Ill., 11.299
Chris Dick (22), Deland, Ill., 11.303
Terry Babb (91), Decatur, Ill., 11.348
Andrew Barnes (36), Assumption, Ill., 11.945
DirtonDirt.com's pay-per-view coverage from Macon is under way. Click here for more information. ... Billy Moyer of Batesville, Ark., set a new track record during qualifying. ... Macon opens a three-race weekend that continues at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., and Paducah (Ky.) International Raceway. ... At a fifth-mile, Macon is among the smallest dirt ovals in the country that regularly hosts Super Late Models. ... Don O'Neal of Martinsville, Ind., was the winner of the most recent series event last Friday at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex in Markleysburg, Pa.