KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Ricky Thornton Jr. made a last-lap pass for the win on Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway.
Thornton, the current Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series point leader, passed Brandon Overton on the white-flag lap and scored his 18th series win of the season.
It was the first of three nights of racing that will conclude on Saturday night with the 19th annual Lucas Oil Late Model Knoxville Nationals paying $50,000 to win out of a $196,000 purse.
The 25-lap preliminary night feature saw four different race leaders. Daulton Wilson, who led 19 laps, the most during the race, edged out Overton at the finish line for second. Overton was third followed by Devin Moran and three-time Late Model Knoxville Nationals winner Mike Marlar.
Wilson powered to the lead at the start of the $7,000-to-win preliminary feature and opened an advantage over Jonathan Davenport, the defending race winner. Those two ran first and second until Davenport went to the outside on lap 17 to take over the race lead.
Unfortunately, Davenport got to high exiting turn four and got into the front stretch guardrail which sent him hard into the turn one wall ending his night.
When the race resumed Wilson was back out in the lead and would hold the point until lap 21 when Overton, who had started 11th on the grid, moved to second. Overton was one of the fastest cars on the track as he moved by Wilson for the lead on lap 21.
Overton looked to be on his way to his first Knoxville victory as he opened up a three to four car length lead, but Wilson and Thornton started to close the gap and as the trio took the white flag it would be a three-car battle for the win.
Thornton would come from third to second on the white flag lap as then moments later he passed Overton to take his first and only lead of the race to win by 0.517 seconds over Wilson and 0.520 seconds ahead of Overton.
Thornton, whose only previous win at Knoxville was in 2018 in a Harris Clash race for modifieds, went to Lucas Oil Victory Lane for the 23rd time in his career.
The victory was special for Thornton who lived a little over an hour away in Adel, Iowa for a few years.
“It’s awesome to win here at Knoxville, whether it’s a prelim race or not all the best drivers are here so, to be able to do it from eighth, it’s like we never passed any cars,” Thornton said. “I think after tonight it should put us in a good position for Saturday. Hopefully we can do it. I have a lot of wins here in Iowa. I think it’s my second Knoxville win, so we want that big Knoxville win.”
Wilson, who continues to get closer to his first Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series victory, came home in second after leading the most laps. “We got up there in those lapped cars and when you are out front you really don’t know where the racetrack is at,” Wilson said. “I thought that middle looked like it was coming back around. You just can’t leave that bottom; we fell back and then I thought we had a chance for the lead coming to the white and I overshot the corner down there, but we’re hanging around the front, we are learning a lot, getting better, and if we keep putting ourselves in this position maybe we will be up there soon getting our picture taken.”
Overton was third.
“I went with a two compound on the right front and both of them had three’s on the right front. I just worked my right front way too hard to get around Daulton on the top. So, we’ll take it. I didn’t think I was going to get up that far. It was a good run for us. Shoot Ricky’s running good and so is Daulton so just to be up there with them, we’ll take it.”
Feature (25 laps): 1. Ricky Thornton Jr. (8); 2. Daulton Wilson (1); 3. Brandon Overton (11); 4. Devin Moran (3); 5. Mike Marlar (7); 6. Christopher Ferguson (5); 7. Tyler Erb (17); 8. Ryan Gustin (18); 9. Brandon Sheppard (12); 10. Earl Pearson Jr. (2); 11. Chris Simpson (21); 12. Chad Simpson (14); 13. Spencer Hughes (10); 14. Billy Moyer (23); 15. Tim McCreadie (22); 16. Tim Lance (24); 17. Hudson O’Neal (6); 18. Max Blair (13); 19. Kyle Bronson (15); 20. Daniel Hilsabeck (16); 21. Tyler Bruening (20); 22. Chase Junghans (19); 23. Jonathan Davenport (4); 24. Brian Shirley (9).