(Special to Lyndal Scranton)
Images by Lloyd Collins
The official statistics will show that Jonathan Davenport led the final 50 laps, but his drive to victory in the finale of the 13th annual CMH Diamond Nationals Presented by Super Clean was anything but easy.
Davenport, of Blairsville, Georgia, held off a late challenge from veteran Mike Marlar for a nail-biting $15,000 triumph Sunday night at Lucas Oil Speedway, earning his ninth victory of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series season.
“We finally got some speed back in this thing,” the series points leader and reigning series champ said after his second Diamond Nationals win, going with one in 2015. His winning margin over Marlar was three-tenths of a second.
“I have to thank my crew,” Davenport added. “We’ve had a hell of a week so far. We put our heads together last night before the feature and made this thing a whole lot better, parlayed into today and it was really superb.”
Davenport finished fifth on Saturday in the first Diamond Nationals feature, won by Jimmy Owens. That was after back-to-back finishes of 16th and 18th in LOLMDS features at Tri-City Speedway on Thursday and Friday.
“This team is very, very good from the bottom to the top,” Davenport said. “We’ll put our heads together and work hard and maybe we’ll get another championship.”
Marlar – who nearly pulled off a pass for the lead with eight laps to go and another three laps before the finish – was second. Shanon Buckingham was third with Tim McCreadie fourth and Billy Moyer fifth.
Davenport had the fast qualifying time of 15.056 seconds, then won his heat race to earn pole position for the 60-lap feature with McCreadie starting to his outside.
McCreadie jumped to the front at the start and paced the first 10 laps under pressure from Davenport with Scott Bloomquist third and Shannon Babb fourth. Davenport gained his first lead on lap 11, using a crossover move in turn two to slip past McCreadie.
The leaders already were weaving through lapped cars when a caution by lap 15, when Hudson O’Neal went for a spin to bring out a caution.
Davenport sprinted away after the restart and opened a 2.5-second lead over the trio of McCreadie, Bloomquist and Babb when Tony Jackson Jr. slowed to a stop on lap 29, producing the second caution.
Owens, shooting for a Diamond Nationals sweep after his win on Saturday, worked his way into third place by lap 32. But Owens spun between turns three and four on lap 41, and had to restart at the rear of the field. He wound up 17th.
By lap 50, Davenport and Marlar had separated from by about 10 car lengths with Marlar, who started 10th, putting heavy pressure on the leader. Just as Marlar nosed in front as the duo raced off turn two on lap 52, the yellow flag flew when Tyler Erb spun in turn four.
That saved the lead for Davenport and set up an eight-lap shootout.
“I guess that caution did save us,” Davenport said. “Mike’s been really good here lately. He’s been really consistent everywhere he’s been.”
Marlar, of Winfield, Tennessee, nosed underneath Davenport coming off turn four with three to go, but Davenport repelled the challenge. He held on from there and crossed the finish line two car lengths in front.
“I had the pass of the night made right there when that happened and it set me back pretty good,” Marlar said of his near-pass when the late caution came out. “Heck, you know what? As much as I’d like to whine about that, I got paid to drive a race car today and that’s not too bad.”
Buckingham, from Morristown, Tennessee, had a stellar run from ninth to third and appeared to be as strong as the top two at the end.
“I feel like being patient and finesse driving is where we shine,” Buckingham said. “I’m tickled to death. I know it’s now a win, but I’m probably more excited about it than Jonathan is.”
Bloomquist, the defending Diamond Nationals champion, finished seventh. Shannon Scott was the biggest mover, winding up eighth after starting 25th. Lucas Oil MLRA Series points leader Will Vaught of Crane was the top Missouri finisher, earning ninth.