KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Polesitter David Gravel’s misfortune turned into Donny Schatz’s bankroll Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway, as the Fargo, N.D. veteran assumed the lead after Gravel’s motor went south and led the final 28 laps to win his 10th-career 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals title.
Schatz pulled away after the halfway break but had to withstand a late charge by Larson inside the final three laps, working traffic masterfully to take the checkered flag .836 of a second ahead in the end.
“Man, I did everything I could to get by (lapped traffic) and I think some people get up and race when they are in that position. But that’s how it works some days; you just can’t get flustered and you can’t get frustrated by it,” said Schatz in victory lane. “You gotta figure out what to do.”
The eight-time World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion then added he knew Larson, or someone, would be on him before the end.
“I was off the pace for so long, I knew somebody was going to be coming,” Schatz explained. “On that stoppage Kyle was second and he normally finds everything there is in a race car, so you have to stay on your toes with him. He is an awesome sprint car driver; it just sucks that he has got a different career.”
“For him to race with us is incredible. At the end of the day we are all in it for the fun and I’m just glad to be standing here. We just won the Knoxville Nationals again!”
Gravel and Schatz led the field to the green flag from the front row, with Gravel opening up a massive 2.3 second lead in just three laps as Kyle Larson moved from ninth up to seventh early on.
But as the field got into traffic on the sixth revolution, Gravel began to get hung up and Schatz shaved the lead quickly back down to eight tenths of a second in just two laps from there.
With 10 laps in it was Gravel by six tenths of a second over Schatz, with Kerry Madsen, Brad Sweet and Terry McCarl making up the top five.
Brian Brown broke into the top five on lap 13, bringing Larson with him the next time around, but it was up front where the lead battle gt hot and heavy. At lap 15, Schatz pared the gap down to three tenths of a second and a lap later, he was all over Gravel for the point.
Schatz got the lead for a moment on that lap, but Gravel withstood the pressure to hold the top spot.
Just as Gravel started to pull away again, the caution flew with 19 laps complete as Austin McCarl went up in smoke and flames moments after he went a lap down to the leaders.
A single-file restart meant that it was all Gravel when the green flag flew, but his night ended in heartbreak three laps later, as he coasted to a stop in Turn 4 on lap 22 with a failed engine.
The heartbreaking end to Gravel’s Nationals came after he scored a perfect 500 on his qualifying night.
That put the lead into Schatz’s hands, and the driver of the No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance entry took control on the restart, driving away from new runner-up Madsen by 1.1 seconds before the caution flew on the 24th round for Terry McCarl.
McCarl got into the wall and did not stop, but was put to the rear after being charged with the yellow.
That incident was credited as the halfway break, with three minutes allotted to each team in the work area to make adjustments and refuel. Some made several changes, while others like Larson only bolted on fresh rubber and returned to the track with a vengeance.
Continued on the next page…