*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.
The latest edition of the Turn 2 Blog is presented by the American All-Star Pro Late Models Presented by PPM Racing Products
Did you foresee this type of a season from Ricky Thornton Jr.?
Richard: I’m going to be honest here and say that I did not really see THIS type of season coming. Thornton has always shown obvious talent and his Anthony Burroughs-led team is certainly a good one so the potential is clearly there. But to be honest, if I had been told that, going into the Show-me 100, a driver would be leading the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings and would have five victories on the tour, I would have guessed that driver would be Jonathan Davenport, Tim McCreadie or Hudson O’Neal.
I did go back and look and in the two separate ‘Turn 2 Blog’ pieces we did in which we projected the 2023 season for the Lucas Oil Series, we both had Thornton listed as a serious title contender, but I don’t know that we saw him as such a dominant front runner.
And more than just winning features, Thornton has shown remarkable consistency and the ability to turn a mediocre night into a good one. The SSI Motorsports team has had very few mechanical issues so far this season and the No. 20RT seems to work its way into the top-5 by the end of the race even when qualifying and the heat races haven’t gone they way they might have liked.
While I am not shocked that Thornton is doing what he is doing, I do count myself as a little surprised.
Michael: I don’t know how surprised I am. He’s been coming into his own the last couple of years. While he wasn’t racking up the wins, he was in contention in a lot of those races.
I think Thornton is hitting his stride when a lot of really talented open wheel drivers do when they switch to Dirt Late Models. I remember when Jimmy Owens started racing Late Models full time and people kept asking when was he going to win a lot and win big. A few years into it and he finally did. I feel like Thornton is in that spot in his career.
Did you foresee this type of season from Jonathan Davenport?
Richard: More surprising to me than the the fact that Ricky Thornton Jr. is having a great season is the fact that Jonathan Davenport is not. Early in the year it looked as if the No. 49 was going to carry what he did in 2022 right into 2023. ‘Superman’ scored three early wins at Vado Speedway Park almost looking like he could win every event he entered but those early impressions have not held true.
Amazingly, Davenport has only won once since Vado and he has not won at all since January.
I picked the Blairsville, Georgia native to be the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champion for 2023, and with the Chase format that series is employing, he still very well could earn that crown. But recent performances have not really shown the ability to make it to the final round where four drivers will participate in a runoff that will result in one of them winning the title at the end of the Dirt Track World Championship at Eldora Speedway.
We all know what Davenport and his team are capable of because we have seen it in the past. The question is how long will it take to find whatever it is that they are missing.
Michael: We all wondered when the season started if he would come back to the pack by losing crew chief Jason Durham. I think many people expected a bit of a fall off, but not to this degree.
It will be interesting to see how Davenport performs when Eldora comes around. He’s dominated that place the last several years. If he’s not very competitive there, then people will wonder what’s going on. Keep in mind that when someone figures out what a team is doing and dominating, it’s not long before everyone else catches up. I feel that may be the case here.
Is Jimmy Owens in the process of turning things around?
Richard: Whenever one of the chassis brands seems to catch fire the prevailing thought is that every driver should switch to that type of car. But for whatever reason, some chassis don’t fit some drivers. That appears to be the case with Jimmy Owens and Longhorn Chassis.
I have never driven a race car in my life but those who have tell me that there definitely is a difference. Each chassis brand provides a different feel which calls for drivers and teams to find what suits them best. Since his Koehler Motorsports crew switched to Rocket Chassis recently, Owens has found more speed which has shown itself in qualifying and heat races.
A warning flag went up for me and others when Owens was largely uncompetitive in the races he entered earlier this season at 411 Motor Speedway, a track where he has been dominant in recent years. Not running well there was indictive of him struggling at other places.
Now that he seems to be back in a more comfortable situation, I look for his results in feature races to become more like what we have come to expect from ‘The Newport Nightmare ‘.
Michael: I always considered Owens to be one of those that could drive anything and be successful. I have often joked he could win driving a school bus. Well, that’s not the case when he gets into a Longhorn.
I don’t know if it’s feel or something else, but there’s something about the Longhorns that do not suit what he’s looking for. Considering this was his second stint driving one of those cars, I can’t imagine him ever going back.
One thing that could help is by driving a Rocket on the Lucas Oil series, that driver has immediate access to Mark Richards. Maybe Owens likes the feedback better from Richards than what he was getting from the Longhorn camp. Owens has already looked more competitive since the switch. I expect him to only get better as long as his team is giving him what he needs.
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