KNOXVILLE, Iowa – A crash on his preliminary night did nothing to dampen defending champion Jason Johnson’s enthusiasm for the 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals, weathering his ‘Hard Knox’ to capture the win on FVP Qualifying Night and lock into Saturday’s championship A-Main as a result.
Johnson led 24 of 25 laps in a dominating performance to put his No. 41 Mesilla Valley Transportation/Priority Aviation sprinter into the big show, as he chases back-to-back Nationals wins.
“Last night didn’t pan out the way were looking for it,” Johnson said. “It was phenomenal to watch David last night and that inspired me tonight. In our own way, we kind of did the same thing tonight. We won our heat and won the feature.”
“You have to find the best of every situation even when you find a situation when we were down. We did that tonight.”
After a false start on the initial green, Jacob Allen and Jason Johnson brought the field up to full song from the front row, with Allen grabbing the early advantage from the pole position and leading the opening lap.
However, it was the next time by that Johnson hauled around the outside of Allen off Turn 2, taking the point on lap two and quickly opening up a 1.2 second advantage before the red flag was displayed on lap four for a flipping Lynton Jeffrey in Turn 4.
When green conditions returned, Johnson quickly reopened a one second lead over Allen by the time seven laps were on the board, with Allen’s teammate Logan Schuchart working his way to fifth on lap eight and passing Joey Saldana for the fourth and final lock-in spot one lap later.
But Schuchart wasn’t done. Continuing to be the man on the move, be drove around both Aaron Reutzel and Allen on lap 12 to claim the runner-up spot and set his sights on Johnson out front.
Though Schuchart was faster than Johnson in traffic, Johnson’s near-four second lead was simply too much to overcome.
The defending Knoxville Nationals champion ultimately crossed the line 4.535 seconds ahead at the checkered flag, putting a qualifying night crash behind him and locking into the 17th position for Saturday night’s championship A-Main.
Schuchart’s drive from 11th to second was the talk of the night, with a heroic effort putting the Shark Racing driver into his second-straight Nationals. He will start 18th on Saturday night.
“We have a little ways to go,” Schuchart said. “There are a lot of good cars tomorrow night. We started back in the pack and I just kept running as hard as I could to try to catch Jason and I just couldn’t catch him. I wish there had been a yellow flag at the end … but we’re happy to be able to put it in the show.”
Aaron Reutzel finished third to make his first-ever 410 Nationals feature, with Cory Eliason holding off a valiant charge from Chad Kemenah to nail down the fourth and final transfer into Saturday’s A-Main.
Chad Kemenah rallied from the B-Main to complete the top five, driving through the field from 20th but coming up one spot short of where he needed to be.
Allen was the night’s overall fast qualifier, posting a time of 15.691 seconds in the first qualifying flight. Sheldon Haudenschild, Brooke Tatnell, Joey Saldana, Jason Johnson, Sammy Swindell and Kraig Kinser all won heat races.
Jason Kendrick led all 10 laps of the C-Main to take the win over Paige Polyak.
Jeffrey wired the first 12-lap B-Main, leading every circuit despite two hard flips back in the pack that resulted in red flags during the race.
Chad Kemenah completed a similar performance in the second B-Main, beating Jac Haudenschild by 4.452 seconds while James McFadden passed Dale Blaney with two to go for the third and final transfer spot into the main event.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…