KNOXVILLE, Iowa—Jimmy Owens became just the second driver in the history of the Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals to win the $40,000 event in back-to-back years. The 47-year-old Tennessee veteran did the trick on Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway.
Owens joins fellow Volunteer State driver Mike Marlar as the only drivers in the 16-year-history of the crown jewel event to win in consecutive years.
Owens took the lead from Brandon Sheppard on lap 86 and held off one final charge from Sheppard coming off of turn four to take the win. Sheppard finished in second with Hudson O’Neal charging from the back after making two pit stops to Owens and Sheppard on the podium. Devin Moran, in his first start in the Knoxville finale, finished in fourth with Kyle Bronson coming from his 20th starting position to round out the top five drivers.
Polesitter, Shane Clanton grabbed the lead at the start of the event with fellow front-row starter Darrell Lanigan running in second. Those two ran 1-2 for the first 44 laps of the race until Sheppard was able to get by Lanigan after a lap 44 caution.
Clanton led the first 55 circuits of the race until a restart on lap 56 allowed Chris Madden to become the first car to lead other than Clanton. Madden was seeking his first Knoxville win after being absent from the speedway for nearly twelve years.
Once in front, Madden started to pull away from Clanton. Clanton slowed on lap 72 with a broken axle, bringing his night to an end. On the restart, Sheppard became the third different leader of the race as he zipped around the top to take over the lead from Madden.
Like Madden did before him, Sheppard was pulling away from the field. However, the race for the top spot was far from over. Owens took second on lap 80 from Madden in swift fashion but was still several car lengths behind Sheppard. With 20 laps remaining, Owens found the momentum he was looking for, and with that rally he began slicing into Sheppard’s huge lead.
The laps were winding down in rapid-fire fashion, and Owens was ready to pounce. He darted under Sheppard with fourteen laps to go and wrestled the lead away from the fellow Rocket Chassis driver. Sheppard was not done though. Owens had to battle traffic in front of him and Sheppard was able to make one last-lap ditch effort to steal the win from Owens, but came up just short at the finish line.
Owens started 18th and made history in event as no other driver has ever started that deep in the pack and managed a victory. “We had a really good car. We had to be married to that top way more than I wanted to, but our tires fired up and we got going really well. We chased Sheppard down in lapped traffic and we had one opportunity to get by him, so we took it the best we could. On that last lap I could hear him [Sheppard]. I didn’t know if he was above me or below me. I figured if he was below me, he couldn’t get around me so I just scooted down the track a little bit to kill his line coming off of turn four and I thought, well heck if it’s going to be a drag-race, maybe we can beat him to the line.”
Sheppard once again felt the disappointment of coming up just short of his and car owner Mark Richards’ first win at Knoxville. “That was the most fun I have had in a race car in a while. Jimmy did a heck of a job and my hat is off to him. He was there when he needed to be. There were a few things during the race that made me run harder than I wanted to. I am just disappointed; we had a really fast race car.”
Hudson O’Neal came home with his best career Knoxville Nationals finish. “We were somewhere around 15th-20th place for most of the race. We made a pit-stop before the fuel-stop and I think it really brought the car to life. It definitely got the car a whole lot better because it was more maneuverable. I had some good restarts, and I think on that last one, we drove past four cars through the middle. Everything has to line up to drive from the back like that.
The winner’s Ramirez Motorsports-owned, Rocket Chassis is sponsored by: Rhino Ag, Boomtest Well Service, Reece Monument Company, Tommy Pope Construction, FK Rod Ends, Sunoco Race Fuels, Red Line Oil, Hypercoil Springs, Integra Shocks, and Midwest Sheet Metal.
Completing the top ten were Chris Madden, Stormy Scott, Ricky Weiss, Earl Pearson Jr., and Frank Heckenast Jr.