In 14th Try, Garner Tops 360 Knoxville Nationals

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Clint Garner celebrates after winning the 360 Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway on Saturday night. (Paul Arch photo)

KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Clint Garner, one of the top 360 pilots to ever compete at Knoxville Raceway, finally broke through and won the 27th Annual Knoxville 360 Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank on Saturday night.

Garner, of Sioux Falls, S.D., held off the field to top the 25-lap, $15,000-to-win event at Knoxville in his 14th try at the event.

In a fairy tale evening for the seven-time Knoxville 360 track champion, the win is not only his first in the Knoxville 360 Nationals, but his first with the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series presented by the MAVTV Motorsports Network.

“It did get to the point where it was the ‘win it or wear it’ moment,” said an emotional Garner, who started from the pole and led all 25 laps. “I ran the heck out of it. It’s just a guessing game out front. You have no clue where everyone else is going and what’s happening. I wish I could say it’s easy, but it’s so hard to do.”

“This is definitely the biggest win of my career,” he added. “I’m so happy, and there are so many people here. A lot of these guys race for a living and they know how hard I try to keep up with them. They know when I can beat them, it is special.”

With the addition of Garner to the record books, 140 drivers have taken home a win on the National Tour.

“I’m proud to be a working man that races on the weekend,” he emphasized. “I’m more proud that I just beat a bunch of professionals. I think we were 12th quick in hot laps and there were a lot of questions flying. There was a gear change that we had to make. I’m so proud of my guys.”

Before a lap could be completed, Friday’s preliminary winner, Greg Hodnett spun in Turn 1 to bring out the caution flag. He would restart at the tail, while up front, Garner took the point ahead of two-time event winner Wayne Johnson and Aaron Reutzel. Jamie Ball maneuvered by Reutzel for third on lap two.

Garner used the low side, as he and Johnson separated themselves from the field and entered lapped traffic on the 10th circuit. A lap later Brian Brown, who started 12th, broke into the top five.

The last caution came with 13 laps in the books, as Calvin Landis slowed to a stop without brakes.

Garner led Johnson, Ball, Reutzel, and Brown back to green flag racing. Johnson got a run under Garner at the cone but was shut down into Turn 1. That sent him up the track, and Ball got by him for second.

Clint Garner takes the checkered flag to win Saturday night’s 27th annual 360 Knoxville Nationals. (Paul Arch photo)

Meanwhile, Brown jumped by Reutzel into fourth, as Johnson used the low side to shoot back by Ball.

Brown would slide in front of Ball on lap 16 to take third, while Garner continued his mastery up front on the cushion. Johnson bobbled in the marbles on lap 19, and Brown reeled him in.

As Garner continued to sail away up front, Brown took second with four laps to go, but he had no time to try and run down the eventual winner.

The win was Garner’s 33rd career triumph at Knoxville in the 360 class, second on the all-time list only to David Hesmer.

Brown came home second as the hard charger of the night, ahead of Johnson, Reutzel, and Ball.

“Clint has been coming here a lot of years,” said Brown. “He has a true sprint car family. His brother, his Dad … I’m envious of him. That’s what racing’s all about. If I can’t win it, I’m glad he was able to. He should have won it three times by now.”

“It was a great effort by our team. I was hoping for one more yellow. Twelfth to second is nothing to hang our head about.”

Christopher Bell, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Jeff Swindell, Tim Shaffer and Hodnett — who recovered from the tail — rounded out the top 10.

Dusty Zomer led the way in the non-stop 15-lap B-Main, while Joey Saldana had an impressive drive to win the C. Lee Grosz won the D-Main.

The C-Main saw the most incidents. Scott Bogucki came to a stop in Turn 1 and collected Matt Egel, who got upside down. Cody Ledger, who had a minor fire after the D-Main, was also a flip victim in the C. No one was injured.

Defending event winner Sammy Swindell and three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart’s nights both ended in the B-Main. Swindell finished 11th and Stewart was 17th.

Eric Bridger won the 15-lap 305 sprint car main event.

Full race results can be viewed on the next page…

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