ROSSBURG, Ohio - With the band back together, Jonathan Davenport and his crew played one of their greatest hits.
The Blairsville, Georgia driver, with former crew chief Kevin Rumley and company rejoining the 33-year-old Davenport in his new G.R. Smith-owned ride, dominated Saturday’s 47th annual World 100 for a $50,000 payday at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, winning the sport’s most prestigious race for the second time in three years.
The third-starting Davenport blew into the lead from the outset and ran virtually unchallenged in becoming the first World 100 winner in 14 seasons to go flag-to-flag at the Tony Stewart-owned half-mile oval.
Outside front-row starter Gregg Satterlee notched his first-ever Eldora finish with a runner-up performance while Mike Marlar was third in his best finish. Dale McDowell of Chickamauga, Georgia, who started 25th, and two-time preliminary race winner Darrell Lanigan rounded out the top five in front of a record-setting Eldora crowd.
Brandon Overton of Evans, Georgia, who held the second spot from lap 60-89, had two slipups after a restart with 11 laps remaining and dropped from contention, finishing 11th.
Davenport’s victory would’ve seem unfathomable just a few months ago as the driver who swept Eldora’s Dream and World 100 in 2015 during a career season with the K&L Rumley Enterprises team was winless in Super Late Model competition through the first half of 2017.
Leaving the Barry Wright Race Cars house car team the first week in August, Davenport ended up connecting with North Carolina transplant G.R. Smith, kicking off their partnership with back-to-back victories. Davenport added a $25,000 Hillbilly 100 triumph just seven days ago at West Virginia’s Tyler County Speedway, and the team headed to Eldora with help from his former car owners — Kevin Rumley and his Hall of Fame engine-building father Lee Roy — joining in to help along with crew member Bryan Liverman.
The obvious hashtag — #TheBandisBackTogether — became the team’s theme of the weekend, and they struck a winning tune Saturday with Davenport’s dominating performance while buoying G.R. Smith’s operation.
“I’ve just gotta thank G.R. Smith. If you only know our past, man, it’s so cool,” Davenport said with a laugh in victory lane. “Probably the first time we met one another, we was racing and, you know, I guess, I don’t know, I ran over him, and he ran over me, and we had a little altercation there. But anyway, it’s so cool for him to step out (of the car) …”
Davenport, the weekend’s overall fast qualifier who finished second to Lanigan in Thursday’s opening preliminary feature, had a hard time believing he was standing on Eldora stage after his 2017’s struggles.
“Just the year that I had … you know, I love Barry and Lance (Wright) to death. Things just didn’t work out over there,” Davenport said “I have all the respect for them in the world, but man, just to be almost in the gutter for a half a year, then come here and win the biggest race there is, it’s an amazing turnaround.”
Davenport’s ride appeared flawless all race long. His only real scare came on lap 66 when the ailing car of 2016 winner Bobby Pierce slowed abruptly in front of him in turn two. Davenport steered away from that danger as a yellow flag appeared.
He faced his most serious racing challenged when a caution appeared for debris with 11 laps remaining after Davenport — as he did most of the race — was enjoying a comfortable lead. Overton took his best shot on the restart, briefly pulling alongside, but he ended up pushing the issue so hard that he twice slipped up, slapping the wall and fading from contention while Davenport edged away from Satterlee the rest of the way.
“That’s a damn good race car is what you saw right there,” Davenport said in victory lane. “This place has changed … I finally figured out what I needed before we (teams were allowed to) cut tires and everything. I could get a good line up by the wall and I was really comfortable. And I kept watching videos, kept watching videos, and it always seemed to go to the bottom, so I just really set my mind (for) the first 25 or first 30 (laps), I just wanted to run around the bottom and see where it went.”
Top, middle or bottom, Davenport seemed to have the field covered wherever he wanted to race — starting just a moment after the green flag dropped.
“He didn’t even give me and (polesitter) Hudson (O’Neal) a chance — he went by us that first corner and just never looked back,” Satterlee said.
Despite vainly chasing Davenport the rest of the way, Satterlee was “extremely happy” with his “awesome car” in improving from his previous best World 100 finish — eighth place in 2014.
“Hopefully I want to get up there someday and see what it feels like,” Satterlee said, glancing up at Davenport’s photo session on the victory stage. “It’s good to get a top-three here. This is by far the best finish I’ve ever had hear, so we’ll take it, and I guess this is one step closer to hopefully getting up on that stage.”
Marlar likewise had his best World 100 run in his seventh start in the race, improving on the ninth-place run 12 years earlier.
“It was a good run for us. It’s the best run I’ve had up here. I’ve been in the top 10, not in the top five. I’m glad to see the front up here for a change, so it was a fun night for us,” Marlar said. “It’s just a testament to my crew, my car owner Ronnie Delk. You don’t come to a stage this big without the best equipment that you can have.”
Six cautions slowed the race, the most significant when eighth-running Scott Bloomquist and seventh-running Tim McCreadie got briefly hooked together in turn three as McCreadie was slowing with a left-rear flat tire on lap 29.
Pierce, who faded quickly after starting in the fourth row, slowed to draw cautions on laps 59 and 66 with damage to the right-rear corner of his car.
Earlier yellows appeared when Jeep Van Wormer had a lap-four flat tire and another yellow flew on lap 16. A lap-25 yellow appeared for a slowing Kyle Bronson.
Eldora Speedway – Rossburg, OH
World 100 – September 9, 2017
1. 49-Jonathan Davenport
2. 22S-Gregg Satterlee
3. 157-Mike Marlar
4. 17M-Dale McDowell
5. 14-Darrell Lanigan
6. 44-Chris Madden
7. 17D-Zack Dohm
8. 21-Billy Moyer
9. 32S-Chris Simpson
10. 1-Brandon Sheppard
11. 116-Brandon Overton
12. 39-Tim McCreadie
13. 1P-Earl Pearson, Jr.
14. 20-Jimmy Owens
15. 99JR-Frank Heckenast, Jr.
16. 9-Devin Moran
17. 28-Dennis Erb, Jr.
18. 71-Hudson O’Neal
19. 7R-Kent Robinson
20. 15H-Jon Henry
21. 83-Scott James
22. 32P-Bobby Pierce
23. 55-Jeep VanWormer
24. 0-Scott Bloomquist
25. 28M-Jimmy Mars
26. 1R-Josh Richards
27. 25-Jason Feger
28. 25C-Shane Clanton
29. 40B-Kyle Bronson
30. 5-Don O’Neal