WHEEL, Tenn. – The World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series roars back into action this weekend with a waltz through Tennessee, Friday night at Duck River Raceway Park and Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Speedway.
Two-time and defending series champion Brandon Sheppard enters the weekend as the defending Morton Buildings Feature winner at Duck River, and he finished second last year to recent DIRTcar Nationals standout Jimmy Owens at Smoky Mountain.
At this time last year, Sheppard was leading by 16 points in the overall standings after winning four consecutive races at Volusia Speedway Park. This year, Sheppard has doubled that advantage, leading second-place Darrell Lanigan by 32 points. Ricky Weiss sits 54 points behind in third, while the Scott Bloomquist Racing duo of Chris Madden and Scott Bloomquist round out the top five, 90 and 110 points back, respectively.
Sheppard and the Rocket1 Racing team do have a lone tour victory to their credit this season, which they inherited in the first race at Volusia after original winner Dennis Erb Jr. was penalized. However, when glancing back into the history books, it has now been 15 consecutive World of Outlaws races since the last time Sheppard was the first car across the finish line.
This stands as the longest period of time without a natural feature win for 27-year-old Illinoisan since joining the full-time roster in 2017. Back on August 30 of last year, Sheppard won the opening night of action at Sharon Speedway’s Battle at the Border, and he hasn’t crossed the finish line first in an Outlaws race since. Previously, his largest gap between wins as an Outlaw was just five races, in 2018 – May 3 (third win) to June 14 (fourth win).
Despite his absence in Outlaws victory lane over the past few months, he’s managed to expand the points lead he claimed in season-opening event Vado Speedway Park, thanks to an incredible amount of consistency, similar to last year’s domination on the tour.
In Outlaws competition through the first seven races, the Rocket Chassis house car has finished outside of the top-five only once — a sixth in the second race at Volusia. Through the team’s first 17 races so far this year, only two have landed outside of the top-five. The team has yet to finish worse than 10th.
Those numbers are staggering. But if history is any indication, there’s one man in particular who’s proven himself a thorn in the side of Rocket1 over the past few seasons, and he goes by the name of Owens.
Other than Sheppard himself, Owens is currently one of the hottest dirt late model drivers in the country. Three consecutive DIRTcar Nationals victories at Volusia just doesn’t happen every year, let alone to someone who’s never won there before. But Owens did exactly that, outrunning Sheppard and the Outlaws three times last month. Now, he’ll look to do it again Saturday night at Smoky Mountain.
Looking back on historical trends, in Outlaws races since Sheppard’s full-time debut in 2017 where Owens has won, Sheppard has finished second to him three times – including twice just last year.
Sheppard will be aiming to repeat Friday at Duck River, and then do something on Saturday he’s never been able to do, beat Owens at Smoky Mountain.