From Lyndal Scranton | Lucas Oil Speedway
DAVENPORT PROVES SUPER AGAIN, WINNING CAMPING WORLD SRX THURSDAY NIGHT THUNDER FINALE AT LUCAS OIL SPEEDWAY IN FRONT OF BIG CROWD
WHEATLAND, MO. (Aug. 17, 2023) - One of the biggest motorsports events in Ozarks-area racing history came to Lucas Oil Speedway on Thursday night and it did not disappoint - with a familiar face taking a trip to victory lane.
Jonathan Davenport, putting on a display worthy of his nickname of "Superman," led all 90 laps to capture the Camping World SRX Thursday Night Thunder season finale in front of an estimated 8,000 roaring fans and countless others watching on ESPN.
Davenport, one of the world premier Dirt Late Model drivers, won for the fifth time at Lucas Oil Speedway in 2023 adding to four Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series/Lucas Oil MLRA wins. The Blairsville, Georgia, native emerged from a thrilling battle with Clint Bowyer after a restart with 10 laps remaining that had the big crowd on its feet.
Brad Keselowski rallied to finish second with Ken Schrader third and Ryan Newman, the 2023 Camping World SRX champion, taking fourth.
"I'm speechless. This is awesome," said Davenport, a five-time World 100 winner and three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion. "I was just out there pacing myself, trying to keep the edges on the tires and do dirt-guys stuff.
"Man, this is an awesome experience. Thanks so much to SRX for giving me this opportunity and a chance to come out here and race with some of my heroes, legends and superstars. I'm just an ol' country boy from Georgia that runs dirt cars."
The race was a battle between front-row starters Davenport and Bowyer throughout. Several times, after caution flags, Bowyer pulled underneath Davenport but could never make the pass.
Just 10 laps from victory, the battle for the lead between those two was hot when a yellow flew for a spinning Ernie Francis Jr. That set it up for a sprint to the finish with a restart to remember featuring a wild sequence as Bowyer went full-send, tried to use a slide job to get around Davenport.
Crossing in front of Davenport twice but without enough room to fully clear, Davenport gave Bowyer a bump off turn two and again off turn four. The second time saw Davenport regain the lead and cars going three and maybe four-wide as Bowyer lost momentum.
"I didn't know Clint was gonna slide me up there or I'd have let go on across, but I hit him at the right time. I was already on the gas," Davenport said. "I knew he was gonna come back again, so I just lifted and somebody took us three-wide. At that point, with not many laps left, I'd done saved long enough."
Keselowski, Schrader and Newman took advantage of the situation and got around Bowyer. But the drama wasn't over. With three laps to go, Bobby Labonte spun to bring out a caution and set up one more restart for Davenport to navigate.
The 39-year-old took away the mystery and drove away for the win, beating former NASCAR Cup Series champ Keselowski by about five car lengths as the checkers flew, fireworks lit the sky and the enormous crowd cheered.
"This has got to be way up there, just the versatile field that was here," Davenport said of where the win ranks on his lengthy list of dirt-track accomplishments. "I can't say enough about how many times I've watched these guys. Some are legends and some are gonna be superstars.
"It's been a wonderful experience. I never dreamed that I would be up here winning a race. I just wanted to compete and put on a great show for these awesome fans."
Davenport started up front after a strong showing in the two heats earned him the pole. He had a four-car-length lead over Bowyer when caution waved on lap 12.
During a lengthy green-flag run, Davenport lapped Keselowski on lap 29 as he opened a two-second lead over Bowyer. It was well back to Andretti and Labonte in third and fourth when a competition caution on lap-34 slowed the action.
As it turned out, Keselowski said he was saving his tires and expected a bigger drop off in grip than wound up occurring.
"Once it got to the halfway point, I said 'I'd better go,'" Keselowski said. "Then Clint tried to pull the slide job and that didn't quite work out.
"I thought for a minute there I might have something for Davenport, but I'm glad to be here and I want to thank everybody for coming out tonight."
As the race hit the halfway mark on lap 45, Bowyer pulled alongside the leader off turn four but was unable to make the pass. Davenport kept fending off Bowyer and was able to gradually open up some breathing room when a lap-50 caution appeared.
The Davenport-Bowyer duel resumed with the green as the pair were three seconds clear of the field. Helio Castroneves spun on lap 61 to bring out a caution and Bowyer fell back to fourth on the restart, with Andretti taking second. But Bowyer nudged his way around the defending series champ to regain second on lap 66.
The battle for the lead between those two again heated up before a lap-75 yellow for Ernie Francis Jr., who spun in turn four. That set it up for a sprint to the finish with 10 to go when green-flag action resumed.
What a wild sequence it was over the next two laps as Bowyer tried to slide job to around Davenport, but the leader was able to hang on with three-wide action bringing the fans to their feet. Meanwhile, Keselowski, Schrader and Newman took advantage of the situation and got around Bowyer.
Newman clinched the series championship before the feature race went green. He entered the night with a 39-point lead and finishing 45 in front of the defending champ Andretti and Keselowski who tied for second.
"It means a lot," Newman said of the championship. "Any kind of championship in any series and the Superstar Racing Experience, what can you say? Guys like TOny Stewart. Jonathan Davenport, who's won everything on dirt. Racing against Kenny Schrader, Kenny Wallace, it's just a whole lot of fun. Castroneves, an Indy Car champion and four-time winner. It's very special."
LUCAS OIL SPEEDWAY UNOFFICIAL RESULTS (Aug. 17, 2023)
Camping World SRX Thursday Night Thunder
Feature - 1, Jonathan Davenport. 2, Brad Keselowski. 3, Ken Schrader. 4, Ryan Newman. 5, Clint Bowyer. 6, Marco Andretti. 7, Tony Stewart. 8, Kenny Wallace. 9, Helio Castroneves. 10, Hailie Deegan. 11, Ernie Francis Jr. 12, Bobby Labonte.
Heat 1 - 1, Jonathan Davenport. 2, Ken Schrader. 3, Clint Bowyer. 4, Marco Andretti. 5, Brad Keselowski. 6, Hailie Deegan. 7, Ernie Francis Jr. 8, Ryan Newman. 9, Kenny Wallace. 10, Tony Stewart. 11, Bobby Labonte. 12, Helio Castroneves.
Heat 2 - 1, Bobby Labonte. 2, Clint Bowyer. 3, Kenny Wallace, 4, Jonathan Davenport. 5, Marco Andretti. 6, Ernie Francis Jr. 7, Ryan Newman. 8, Tony Stewart. 9, Brad Keselowski. 10, Hailie Deegan. 11, Ken Schrader. 12, Helio Castroneves.
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Photo's: Lucas Oil Speedway | Todd Boyd |