KNOXVILLE – Jimmy Owens came from the 18th starting position to win an electrifying edition of the Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals at the Knoxville Raceway Saturday night. The win was the Newport, Tennessee driver’s second in a row, and earned him $40,000. The Malvern Bank Late Model Series supported the event and saw Farley Iowa’s Jason Rauen emerge victorious.
Georgia’s Shane Clanton, who won Thursday’s opener, led early in the 100-lap main event, followed by Darrell Lanigan and Friday winner Ricky Weiss. Chad Simpson brought the first of nine caution or red flag periods nine laps in. Clanton led Lanigan, Weiss, Tyler Erb and Brandon Sheppard back to green.
Weiss would advance to second at that point before Frank Heckenast Jr. stopped with a flat right rear tire ten laps in. Lanigan now took second when the green flew, while Chris Madden emerged in fourth. Chris Simpson slowed on lap 22 to bring another yellow flag. At that point, Clanton’s healthy lead came ahead of Lanigan, Weiss, Erb and Madden.
Sheppard took that opportunity to move into the top five, and claimed fourth five laps later. On lap 30, he moved by Tyler Erb for the third spot before a three-car melee involving Josh Richards, Don O’Neal and Tim McCreadie brought the red flag.
Ricky Thornton Jr. found speed at that point, battling with Weiss to get into the top five. Meanwhile, Kyle Bronson was on the move as well, climbing from 20th into the top five by lap 42. Unfortunately, two circuits later, he jumped the turn three cushion, rode with two wheels on the wall and turned over, ending his night. He walked away.
Sheppard jumped by Lanigan to claim second, while Madden drove from sixth to fourth when the green flew again. Madden gained third from Lanigan on lap 46. When the caution flag flew at the halfway point for fuel, Clanton led Sheppard, Madden, Weiss and Lanigan.
The second half of the race went a little smoother. A lap 55 caution for Erb jumbled things up, however. When the green flew, Madden jetted to the point, ahead of Clanton and Lanigan, while Sheppard stumbled back to fifth. Weiss moved into third on lap 58, and Sheppard snagged fourth on lap 59, as both worked by Lanigan.
For the first time in the race, a leader hit lapped traffic with 30 to go. Jimmy Owens steady progress saw him enter the top five at the same time. Sheppard grabbed second from Clanton on lap 72, right before a broken axle ended the latter’s night. It would prove to be the final caution.
Sheppard shot by Madden to lead on the restart, while Hudson O’Neal entered the top five, seemingly from nowhere. O’Neal passed Weiss for fourth on lap 76. Owens used the cushion to gain quickly on Madden and pass him for second on lap 80. Sheppard entered lapped traffic on lap 82, and Owens reeled him in.
On lap 86, the veteran slid in front of Sheppard to take the lead. Sheppard made a last ditch effort in the last corner, pulling beside Owens, but Owens held on for the popular win ahead of Sheppard, Hudson O’Neal, Devin Moran and Bronson. Madden, Stormy Scott, Weiss, Earl Pearson Jr. and Heckenast rounded out the top ten.
Cody Laney won the C main, and Brian Birkhofer claimed the B.
“We had to be married to that top way more than we wanted to,” said a happy Owens in Victory Lane. “Our tires fired up and we got to going real good. We chased Sheppard down there in some lapped traffic and had one opportunity to get by him. We took it as best we could and came home with a good run. I could hear him back there (on the last lap). I figured if he was below me, he couldn’t get by me. I saw him under me coming off of turn four, and I figured it was a drag race. Maybe we could beat him.”
“I just tried to slide a lapped car too early and let (Owens) get a run on me there,” said Sheppard of Owens winning pass. “That was the most fun I’ve had in a racecar in a long time…I’m not going to lie, but I’m disappointed. There are a lot of things I could have done different to win that race. Jimmy did a heck of a job. My hat’s off to him.”
“We weren’t very good early,” said O’Neal. “I think we ran 15th to 20th the whole race there. We made a pit stop right before the fuel stop and I think we made the right changes. We had some good restarts. I think on the last one, we drove by four cars through the middle. Everything has to line up to drive from the back like that and it did.”
Last year’s Malvern Bank Late Model Series winner Tad Pospisil found himself leading early in that 18-lap feature event, with Josh Leonard and Tyler Bruening chasing him. A caution on lap three for a stopped Jason O’Brien closed things up. Leonard used the opportunity to take the point for himself, and pull away from Jeff Aikey and Pospisil.
Jason Rauen emerged as well, moving into third on lap ten before Jason Wallace climbed the turn one wall and turned over to bring the red flag. Rauen jetted to the lead on the restart and never looked back, while Bruening went from fifth to second by the checkers. Leonard, Aikey and Pospisil followed. Ricky Thornton Jr., Chad Simpson, Kyle Berck, Scott Ward and Josh Krug rounded out the top ten.
Leonard set quick time over the 32-car field, and Rauen, Allan Hopp and Thornton won heat races.
Knoxville Late Model Nationals
A main, 100 Laps, NT: 1. 20, Jimmy Owens, Newport, TN (18); 2. 1s, Brandon Sheppard, New Berlin, IL (9); 3. 71, Hudson O’Neal, Morgantown, IN (16); 4. 1D, Devin Moran, Dresden, OH (17); 5. 40B, Kyle Bronson, Brandon, FL (20); 6. 0m, Chris Madden, Gray Court, SC (4); 7. 2s, Stormy Scott, Las Cruces, NM (23); 8. 7w, Ricky Weiss, Headingley, MB, Can. (3); 9. 1, Earl Pearson Jr., Hilliard, FL (15); 10. 99JR, Frank Heckenast Jr., Franfort, IL (21); 11. 32s, Chris Simpson, Oxford, IA (12); 12. 29, Darrell Lanigan, Union, KY (2); 13. 49, Jonathan Davenport, Pelzer, SC (24); 14. 0, Scott Bloomquist, Mooresburg, TN (10); 15. 1T, Tyler Erb, St. Mary’s, OH (5); 16. 50, Shanon Buckingham, Morristown, TN (22); 17. 28, Dennis Erb Jr., Carpentersville, IL (14); 18. 16T, Tyler Bruening, Decorah, IA (8); 19. Chase Junghans (28); 20. Brian Birkhofer (25); 21. 25, Shane Clanton, Zebulon, GA (1); 22. 32P, Bobby Pierce, Oakwood, IL (19); 23. Shannon Babb (27); 24. 20RT, Ricky Thornton Jr., Adel, IA (6); 25. 14, Josh Richards, Shinnston, WV (11); 26. 5, Don O’Neal, Martinsville, IN (7); 27. Tim McCreadie (26); 28. Billy Moyer (30); 29. 1C, Chad Simpson, Mt. Vernon, IA (13); 30. Billy Moyer Jr. (29). Lap Leaders: Clanton 1-55, Madden 56-72, Sheppard 73-85, Owens 86-100. Hard-charger: Owens.