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DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

Dispatches: Davenport wins in new Longhorn

March 31, 2023, 11:45 pm
From series, track and staff reports
Jonathan Davenport headed to victory. (Todd Boyd)
Jonathan Davenport headed to victory. (Todd Boyd)

The latest notes and quotes from Dirt Late Model special and sanctioned events during the March 31-April 1 weekend, including Schaeffer's Spring Nationals action in Alabama, the season-openning Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Racing Association doubleheader at Lucas Oil Speedway and more:

Fleet new car

Jonathan Davenport’s Double L Motorsports crew didn’t sit idle while unruly spring weather kept them away from the racetrack for the past two weeks. They used the down time very constructively.

In fact, after Davenport cruised to a dominant flag-to-flag victory worth $10,000 in Saturday night’s 40-lap Lucas Oil Midwest LateModel Association Spring Nationals finale at Lucas Oil Speedway, the 39-year-old superstar from Blairsville, Ga., pointed directly to his boys in the pits for his success.

“First and foremost, I gotta thank my crew on this one here,” Davenport said. “Vinny (Guliani) and Cory (Fostvedt) and Michael (Bixby) …this is a new car that they built in the past week.”

The Lance Landers-owned team debuted a fresh Longhorn Chassis at the 3/8-mile oval in Wheatland, Mo. Davenport registered a relatively quiet third-place finish in Friday’s Spring Nationals opener won by Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz. — he started 10th in the 40-lapper because he was put behind in qualifying by a track surface that became quicker after he made his laps — but was flawless on Saturday as he set fast time and won a heat before racing unchallenged in the caution-free headliner.

“We got two practice sessions with (the new car) and then we got to race last night,” Davenport related. “It likes a little bit different stuff but my guys put their heads together and really hit on something tonight.”

Aside from some brief moments in lapped traffic when his steady edge of over three seconds on Chad Simpson of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, shrank in half, Davenport was in a league of his own. Even Simpson acknowledged J.D.’s speed after finishing second, 2.918 seconds behind the victor.

“You always feel like you got a little bit of a shot when you can gain on him a little bit,” said Simpson, the defending MLRA points champion who was driving a new Longhorn by Wells car. “But I knew once he got back out to clean traffic he was just a little bit better car than we were.”

The victory brought a sense of normalcy back to Davenport’s efforts, which have been hampered by tough breaks and called-off races since he opened the 2023 season with four victories during the month of January. Until Saturday he was winless since a Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series score on Jan. 30 at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Fla.; his best finish in a modest seven feature starts since that triumph was a fifth in Feb. 8’s Lucas Oil Series A-main at East Bay Raceway Park in Gibsonton, Fla.

“It just feels really good to win,” Davenport said. “We’ve had a lot of bad racing luck. We’ve had fast cars, so this just builds the confidence back up in the team and myself.”

And Davenport’s victory lane appearance sends him into a very special Easter weekend on a high note.

“I’m pretty much going into the biggest weekend of my career racing next week,” said Davenport, who will carry the Dirt Late Model world’s honor as he drives for Kaulig in the April 8-9 NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. “I’m definitely looking forward to going to Bristol next week.”

National exposure

MLRA's regional racers are accustomed to battling national touring drivers, particularly during co-sanctioned events with the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. But for the Missouri-based tour's season-opening MLRA Spring Nationals presented by Arizona Sport Shirts? Not so much.

But with inclement weather throughout the late winter and early spring spoiling national tour races — neither the Lucas Oil Series nor the World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series have been in action since mid-February's Florida Speedweeks action — plenty of national touring teams were eager to get some laps during MLRA's doubleheader weekend at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Mo.

In fact, five of the top six finishers are drivers who plan on following national touring schedules in 2023, including two with touring titles. Ricky Thornton Jr. of Chandler, Ariz., one of the hottest national touring drivers during Speedweeks, captured the race after overtaking rookie upstart Dillon McCowan on the 14th lap and racing to a $5,000 payday, the second of his career on the MLRA circuit.

"We were really good there," Thornton said in victory lane after making his first start since Feb. 18. "We practiced really good yesterday. I was super comfortable ... I just waiting for the track to slow down a little bit and then it really kind of took off. It kind of shows how hard our guys work."

Thornton was impressed with McCowan early in the race, but after patiently outdueling Earl Pearson Jr., Thornton closed in on the leading McCowan and took command.

"I knew he'd be really good. He was (fast) there in his heat race, too. He's got a lot of laps here, but he got out front and I think he really just didn't know where he exactly needed to be on the track," Thornton said. "The middle was really good early and then I found out the top in (turns) one and two was really good and then I can kind of do whatever I wanted there in (turns) three and four."

Thornton, the Lucas Oil Series points leader, was followed across the stripe by Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who plans a WoO bid in 2023. Three-time Lucas Oil champ Jonathan Davenport improved seven positions to finish third while expected WoO regular Tanner English of Benton, Ky., was fourth. McCowan rounded out the top five while Pearson, a Jacksonville, Fla., driver with four Lucas Oil Series titles in sixth.

The night's impressive 48-car field featured other national touring regulars including Brandon Sheppard, Garrett Alberson and Brian Shirley. Thornton hopes he can outrun them — and the MLRA standouts that include reigning series champ Chad Simpson — in Saturday's $10,000-to-win weekend finale.

"Overall, we had really good speed, didn't tear anything up tonight, tires still look good," Thornton said. "Hopefully we can be as good tomorrow."

Buckshot dominator

If you're wondering where victory lane is at Buckshot Speedway in Clanton, Ala., just check with Joseph Joiner. The Milton, Fla., driver is a frequent visitor at the 3/8-mile oval that first opened late in 2021 and has developed into a host of significant Super Late Model special events.

Staying perfect in three visits to the track, Joiner led all 40 laps of Friday's Schaeffer's Spring Nationals event for a $7,553 payday and his first-ever victory on the Ray Cook-promoted tour that drew a solid 32-car field in its debut at the Alabama oval.

Joiner's Longhorn Chassis was "really, really good tonight," Joiner said in victory lane. "You know, this is our third time coming here and our third win. So I'm liking Buckshot pretty good these days.

"You know, this is the first time coming here with this Longhorn car. I didn't really know exactly how to leave the shop (with his car's setup). I kind of put it close to the baseline with a little bit of tweaks that I've known from coming here in the Capital (Race Car). It was really good there qualifying and it was really good there in the feature."

Joiner, who started outside the front row, got the jump on surprising polesitter Haiden Cowan and raced to victory, taking the checkers 1.944 seconds ahead of home-state driver Dillon Tidmore while Ross Bailes and Cowan finished third and fourth.

Joiner, who also gave credit to his Randy Clary Racing Engine, was able to put his Longhorn Chassis where he needed.

"I could move around. I could move around where I wanted to go and really had (a solid) lead down the straightaway and off the turns," Joiner said. "Just a really good night of racing. A really good group of cars showed up here. We knew when we got here it was going to be a really tough one, but we was able to get it done."

DirtonDirt.com Dispatches

In continuing to streamline our race coverage, we’ve added DirtonDirt.com Dispatches to our list of regular features on the site. The idea of the new feature is to spotlight key storylines of the weekend (and sometimes during the week), putting notes, quotes and accomplishments in context to provide subscribers a quick-hitting read on all the latest from tracks around the country. Bear with us as the new feature evolves. Our intention is to have a single file that’s regularly topped by the latest news, so check back throughout the weekend.

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