KNOXVILLE, Iowa — For 22 laps in Saturday’s 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals championship A-Main, David Gravel appeared to be the man destined to cash the $150,000 winner’s check in victory lane.
And then, in one instant entering Turns 3 and 4, everything changed and the air was sucked out of the Watertown, Connecticut driver’s sails.
Gravel went from leading perennial Knoxville dominator Donny Schatz by more than a second to coasting to a stop at the top of the final corner, leaving fans and peers alike stunned at the turn of events for the most dominant car of the race’s first half.
As the car was taken back to the pit area, Gravel could only shake his head in disbelief with the change in luck that robbed him of a chance to contend for the win. Once back at the trailer, a broken motor was confirmed to be the culprit.
“Something was vibrating down the backstretch and I entered turn three and something let go,” Gravel explained. “I tried to go more, but it was all done.”
The No. 5 GoMuddy.com/CJB Motorsports sprinter held more than three seconds over Schatz and the rest of the field at times during the first half of Saturday night’s main event, unsurprising considering Gravel scored a perfect 500 on his qualifying night.
That feat hadn’t been accomplished since 1992, and Gravel thought perhaps he could be the first driver since Schatz in 2015 to lead every lap of the championship feature.
At the very least, he knew he had a car capable of doing just that.
“We had a badass car,” Gravel said. “We had the fastest car all week and we just don’t have anything to show for it.”
“I knew in clean air, I was really good. Obviously Donny poked his nose (on us) in lap traffic. I thought I answered his call every time he threw something at me. I was happy with that. I liked our chances, I think … worst-case scenario is we would have run second. But it is what it is; we’ll come back next year.”
With 12 points-paying wins, plus Thursday’s non-points qualifying night win, to his credit this year, Gravel has been the only driver able to keep pace with Schatz on a regular basis in the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series field.
But Saturday night wasn’t about just Schatz. It was about proving a point to the sprint car community at large.
Gravel said emphatically that he felt like he proved that point.
“They knew we were here and we will come back next year and kick more ass,” he said. “The best things in life don’t come easy and obviously, (winning) this one is not going to come easy.”
“Hopefully we can do the same thing again next year to put ourselves in position and see if we can get it done.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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