Owens Three-Peats, Sheppard Is Big Gator Champion

Owens Three
Jimmy Owens celebrates in victory lane Saturday at Volusia Speedway Park. (Jim DenHamer photo)

BARBERVILLE, Fla. – Volusia Speedway Park’s newest success story, Jimmy Owens, made it three wins in a row to close the 49th DIRTcar Nationals presented by Bozard Ford Saturday night.

The Tennessean came into the week without ever having seen victory lane at the facility, but left with three gator trophies to show for his efforts across the four World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series shows.

“It’s awesome, I’ve never come out of Speedweeks with any kind of confidence,” said Owens. “Being in the top 10 and (getting) a couple top-fives is like ‘whoo-hoo’ for us. To come down here and win like this … we’re making confident decisions in our team, we’re putting our heads together and we’re just jiving well.”

Two-time and defending series champion Brandon Sheppard successfully defended his 2019 Big Gator title with finishes of first, second, first, sixth, fourth, and fifth over the six nights of Late Model Week for his second career DIRTcar Nationals championship.

With those consistent finishes, Sheppard also retains his position atop the World of Outlaws points standings.

He may not have been as dominant at Volusia as he was a year ago, but Sheppard was indeed the rightful champion for his consistency all week. And what a Florida-Georgia Speedweeks he’s had overall, winning five races across two Florida tracks and earning several other top-fives.

It does the Rocket1 Racing team good to know of their accomplishments as they head back home in preparation for next month’s Outlaw races in Tennessee.

Brandon Sheppard won the Big Gator championship on Saturday night. (Jim DenHamer photo)

“We’re still leaving on a good note, even though we didn’t win (on Saturday),” Sheppard said. “Our confidence is up high and we’re looking forward to getting the year rolling.

“The start to our year has been so good, I can’t say enough about it, really. It’s been unreal. We’ve got five wins in Speedweeks, and it’s just been unreal, honestly. It’s probably not going to sink in for a while because it’s been so good.”

As for Saturday night’s 50-lap DIRTcar Nationals finale, DIRTcar UMP Modified regular Kyle Strickler kicked things off with the early lead, which he quickly surrendered to Darrell Lanigan on lap two and faded back to fifth.

Lanigan led until a hard-charging Jonathan Davenport gave him a great run down low to swipe the spot away as they crossed the stripe to complete lap eight.

The two battled back-and-forth for the next few circuits, swapping the lead a few times until the race’s first caution flag waved on lap 10, where Davenport brought it down pit road and did not return to racing – a victim of an apparent internal failure.

Owens entered the picture after the restart, driving around Kyle Bronson on the top for the runner-up spot at the line. Bronson would battle back though, regaining the spot on lap 12 and coming after the leader.

Bronson shot past Lanigan on the top side for the lead on lap 16 and led for the greater portion of the contest. Meanwhile, Owens kept it inside the top three and made a great power move underneath Darrell Lanigan on a lap-25 restart to take second.

Bronson paraded the field around for the next several laps on his usual high line, but was soon slowed up enough for Owens to close the gap in lapped traffic. Into turn three they raced with 11 laps left, before Owens drove it high off the fourth turn and stole the lead.

Bronson said tire wear may have played a factor in his car’s performance in the waning circuits.

“We just got bottled up behind them lapped cars there and got to where I had pushed the right-front tire off and couldn’t steer anymore. I believe them guys had a little bit harder tire on than we did, and it just gave up on us,” he said.

Jimmy Owens (20) passes Kyle Bronson for the win Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park. (Jim DenHamer photo)

As he paced behind Bronson under yellow before the final restart, Owens said he knew the chance to catch and pass the No. 40b was there. He just needed some patience.

“I know he was running pretty hard and pretty aggressive there,” Owens said. “But he was good, he was fast, and I thought I’m just going to calm down and just pace myself, maybe he’ll come to me. He got out there a little bit but then I just slowly started reeling him in and it paid off.”

As Owens crossed the stripe to collect his third-straight win, Ricky Weiss completed his drive back to the podium after starting third.

Weiss had slipped way back as far as ninth at one point before getting back up on the wheel to regain the lost ground. Using the yellows to his advantage, the reigning Rookie of the Year turned it into a positive end to his 2020 DIRTcar Nationals campaign.

Bronson crossed the stripe in third, and Lanigan fended off Sheppard for fourth in the latter half of the race to become one of only a few drivers to record top-10 finishes in each of the Late Model Week shows.

Sheppard also completed the top five as another driver without a finish of 11th or worse all week.

“We left on a good note,” Sheppard said. “We started 11th tonight and got up through there. I thought we were in contention there for a little bit and then the caution came out. I had a bad restart, but our car was a lot better in slick conditions than we had seen it in the past couple nights.”

The finish:

1. 20-Jimmy Owens [2][$10,000]; 2. 7-Ricky Weiss [3][$5,000]; 3. 40B-Kyle Bronson [7][$3,000]; 4. 29v-Darrell Lanigan [4][$2,500]; 5. 1-Brandon Sheppard [11][$2,000]; 6. 8-Kyle Strickler [1][$1,700]; 7. 0-Scott Bloomquist [13][$1,400]; 8. 25-Shane Clanton [9][$1,300]; 9. 39-Tim McCreadie [15][$1,200]; 10. 25z-Mason Zeigler [10][$1,100]; 11. 0M-Chris Madden [23][$1,050]; 12. 2e-Rick Eckert [16][$1,000]; 13. 6T-Tyler Erb [12][$950]; 14. 3s-Brian Shirley [17][$900]; 15. 28-Dennis Erb [14][$850]; 16. B1-Brent Larson [28][$110]; 17. 18-Chase Junghans [19][$770]; 18. 76-Brandon Overton [21][$750]; 19. 12-Ashton Winger [24][$730]; 20. 97-Cade Dillard [18][$700]; 21. 66c-Matt Cosner [26][$110]; 22. 4G-Kody Evans [27][$110]; 23. 99B-Boom Briggs [25][$110]; 24. 5-Mark Whitener [6][$700]; 25. 22-Gregg Satterlee [20][$700]; 26. 157-Mike Marlar [8][$700]; 27. 17M-Dale McDowell [22][$700]; 28. 49-Jonathan Davenport [5][$700]; 29. 6-Blake Spencer [29][$110].

Lap Leaders – Kyle Strickler 1, Darrell Lanigan 2-7, Jonathan Davenport 8, Darrell Lanigan 9-14, Kyle Bronson 15-39, Jimmy Owens 40-50.

Hard Charger: 0M-Chris Madden (+12)