Turn 2 Blog: National Points Runaways & Southern Nationals Preview


The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American Crate All-Star Series.

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideDirtRacing.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the dirt racing topics of the day from east Tennessee and beyond.

Richard: Now that we have reached July, the racing season has essentially hit the halfway point. Over the past two years when we have reached this stage of the season we have seen at least one of the two national series embroiled in a tight points battle. However, that does not appear to be the case in 2019.

Currently, each series seems to have one driver that is very much in control of the standings.

Jonathan Davenport holds a big lead in the Lucas Oil standings

Following the weekend associated with Independence Day, Jonathan Davenport holds a commanding 405 point advantage over Earl Pearson, Jr. and 415 points over Tyler Erb in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings. The No. 49 Longhorn Chassis as scored six points-paying victories so far this season. And more, ‘Superman’ went all the way until June 28th at Tazewell Speedway before he posted a finish outside the top-10.

Davenport followed that poor result at Tazewell with a win at Florence Speedway the following night.

The Lucas Oil Series awards 200 points to each feature winner with second place receiving 180, third getting 170, fourth earning 160 and then a five point drop off for each position back through the remainder of the finishing order. With those gaps within the order, it would be conceivable for Davenport to lose his lead but it is not likely that a team such as his would fall on such hard times as to give others an opportunity to catch up.

On the other side of things, Brandon Sheppard is putting up record numbers on the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. The driver of the Rocket Chassis house car holds a 150 lead over Darrell Lanigan. The No. 1 machine has scored an unbelievable 11 wins and 18 top-5 finishes in 19 series features.

Sheppard and his Mark Richards-owned team are setting an incredible pace and do not look as if they will be slowing down.

Brandon Sheppard has dominated the WoO Late Models tour in 2019

The WoO Late Models Series hands 150 points to each feature winner and 146 to the runner-up. From there, a two-point drop off per position occurs throughout the rest of the field. Just like with the LOLMDS, a comeback by another driver is not inconceivable but also not very likely.

All of that said, this season does not look like it will come to the same type of conclusion as 2017 when Josh Richards won a close fight with Tim McCreadie and Scott Bloomquist on the LOLMDS tour that was not settled until the final weekend of the season. Or, there does not appear to be a similar circumstance as in 2018 when Mike Marlar edged Brandon Sheppard and Chris Madden on the final weekend of the WoO Late Models campaign.

So my question to you is whether or not a points battle is necessary for a season to be considered a great one?

Michael: I guess it depends on what one’s focus is. I think in Dirt Late Model racing, wins still trump any kind of points battle for fans and drivers. The exception is whether you, as a driver or a fan, have something to gain from a championship battle.

One thing I do not want to see happen is any Dirt Late Model series go to a “playoff” type format to decide a championship like NASCAR has done. I think it cheapens the championship. Just imagine if either Lucas or World of Outlaws had something like that in place this year and someone other than Davenport or Sheppard won the respective titles.

There are always some seasons that are runaways like these appear to be or close battles going all the way until the end. It’s hard to predict. I think it’s better to play out over a whole season.

Richard: I could not agree more with both of your points.

First, the idea of having a playoff to determine a champion is complete nonsense, in my opinion. NASCAR does it simply for the purpose of appeasing the television networks because they seem to value season-long championships more than individual race wins.

And that brings me to your second point, which is in fact the value of individual race wins.

I go to races to see who will win on that particular day. Points battles are only sidebar stories until the season is about to come to a close. And that is the reason for this discussion. The past two seasons have seen remarkable battles for championships that were allowed to play out naturally without the aid of a playoff system which is why they were so intriguing.

Now back to the original message. The fact that both Davenport and Sheppard are so far ahead on their respective tours results from the fact that both are having incredible seasons. To me, it is amazing that one driver in each series can do what these two are doing because anytime either series contests an event there are no fewer than eight, ten, or even more drivers who could be counted as serious threats to win that particular race.

That makes what each is doing all the more remarkable considering the level of competition in the sport these days, doesn’t it?

Michael: Oh, I would agree with that. You look at the teams that are on the Lucas side and you would think the points would be much closer. But it certainly seems other drivers have had their share of misfortunes. To this point, Davenport has only had 2 finishes outside of the top 10 in Lucas races. I haven’t examined Sheppard’s stats, but I would imagine his would be similar.

I think the one thing that has helped Sheppard this year is the two drivers he battled last year are not running the entire schedule. Mike Marlar cut back his schedule and has since reunited with Ronnie Delk to run select races. Chris Madden was not having his typical season and has since left that team. Sheppard is also back to his 2017 form where it seemed like he was winning every race. It’s hard to beat someone that gets on that kind of roll.

Richard: Let’s now turn our attention to another type of series racing. The Schaeffer’s Oil Southern Nationals are set to begin this upcoming weekend with the opener at Wythe(VA) Raceway on Saturday night and then on to Cherokee Speedway in Gaffney, SC on Sunday. A total of 11 races that will take drivers and teams through five states over the course of 14 days will be contested.

This has always been one of my favorite times of the racing season as there is a lot of action jammed into a relatively short period of time. And to the credit of promoter Ray Cook and all the tracks and sponsors that put this mini-series together, it has really grown over the past few years.

Initially, Cook used his No. 53 car number to establish a purse structure in which races either paid $3,500 or $5,300-to win. Now, five of those 11 races on the schedule are set to pay $10,000 to the victor.

The Southern Nationals have really become quite a happening, haven’t they?

Casey Roberts(101) won the Southern Nationals title in 2018 but Brandon Overton(76) won the most races

Michael: It’s hard to believe this is the 15th edition of the Southern Nationals. The purses have really grown and we have seen some higher caliber drivers make runs at the title in recent years.

I’m glad Ray started this 15 years ago because it gives those of us in the South a chance to see something similar to the Summer Nationals that take place in the Midwest, even if it’s for only 2 weeks. My favorite moment each year is the finale at Tazewell Speedway where we see the drivers that run the whole tour celebrated and a champion crowned. Some of the races have been highly entertaining.

I’m interested to see who plans to run the entire schedule this year. We don’t see the number of East Tennessee drivers in it as we have in the past despite 4 of the 11 races in East Tennessee. I don’t know if it’s because of the commitment it takes to run it or because some have chosen to focus to run the Spring Nationals, which is spread out over a couple of months.

Richard: One of the interesting aspects of the Southern Nationals to me is that you often get the ‘Regulars’ vs the ‘Drop-ins’ throughout the tour. And with all of those $10,000 races in the mix there will no doubt be even more of that this year.

The series also features a nice variety of tracks with big, wide-open type facilities such as Wythe, Cherokee and Smoky Mountain along with tighter and more technical venues such as Screven, Tazewell and 411.

The series offers up a little something for everyone doesn’t it?

Michael: Yes it does. I know some fans complain about the format of the $3,500 to win races where the top cars are locked in through qualifying. People have to keep in mind the midweek races need to be as condensed as possible seeing how most fans and even some of the drivers have to go to work the next day. Getting out at 10:00 is so much better than getting out at 11:30 knowing work awaits early the next morning.

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