Jimmy Owens Prevails at Smoky Mountain Speedway

Series Announcer Rick Eshelman called his name for the redraw, and the packed grandstands on Saturday night at Smoky Mountain Speedway emitted the loudest roar of applause heard at the track in a long time. Jimmy Owens was most definitely among the core of his large home-state Tennessee fanbase, and he cashed in big, winning the 13th World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series Feature of his career and first since June 2 of last year.

“It’s awesome,” said an elated Owens, who hails from nearby Newport, TN. “When you come home and hear all your people cheering for you in your home state, it’s really humbling. It never gets old.”

Owens was almost flawless the entire night, laying down a solid qualifying lap, winning his Drydene Heat Race and redrawing the outside pole. The only man standing in his way in the Morton Buildings Feature was the man gunning for a record-tying six wins in-a-row, Brandon Sheppard.

Right from the drop of the green, Owens took command, hugging the low line and gradually pulling away from Darrell Lanigan and Sheppard. It was Lanigan’s six-race win streak Sheppard was trying to tie on Saturday night, and it was lap 17 when Sheppard made his move underneath Lanigan to steal second and start running down Owens. Sheppard closed the gap in under five laps and immediately showed Owens just how close he was, getting under the #20 several times before a number of yellow flags restacked the field.

While Sheppard was so strong on the low side, Owens was able to hold him off racing one groove higher. Owens consistently hit his marks to lead all 60 laps en route to a $12,000 prize in the 6th annual Tennessee Tip-off. It wasn’t easy, as he was under attack and forced to defend his lead almost the entire race.

“It got a little bit more bottomed-out than what we like to see,” Owens said. “But in the end, it was just a pretty good run all night long.”

Sheppard tried all three lanes to make a pass, but his efforts went unrewarded. However, that doesn’t mean Owens didn’t feel the pressure.

“I could hear him under me and behind me,” Owens said. “I just knew it was going to take a real good car to get around us on the outside because it wasn’t really rubbered-up or anything like that, I was just riding around the bottom and that just seemed to be the better line to go.”

Despite Sheppard’s best efforts to keep the win streak alive, it just wasn’t in the cards for the Rocket1 Racing team. He did all he could with the great car he had, and holds his head high, despite falling just one race short of Lanigan’s win streak record.

“We had a really good racecar,” Sheppard said. “We’re definitely really happy to be in second and fortunate to keep this thing up front. The team’s working hard and everything’s clicking right now, we’re definitely not disappointed with a second-place run.”

Sheppard also acknowledged the fast bottom lane, but moved up for a few laps at one point to try and get around the leader on the top side. Owens is from around these parts, however; perhaps that home-track experience played the biggest factor in his successful defense of the lead.

“You could run kind of wherever you wanted to on the racetrack, but there weren’t any lines that were faster than the others, unless the guy in front of you messed up,” Sheppard said. “This is Jimmy’s home turf, so it’s not like he’s going to mess up here.”

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