KNOXVILLE NATIONALS: Donny Schatz Takes Seventh Knoxville Crown

Jacob Seelman Featured, Midwest, Sprints & Midgets 0 Comments

August 14, 2013 – By Jacob Seelman for Speed 77 Radio and RaceChaser Online – Knoxville, Iowa – In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few days, here’s all you need to know: Donny Schatz is the unbridled king of Knoxville.

Schatz, who coming into Saturday night’s 53rd FVP Knoxville Nationals had won six of the last seven runnings of the “Grandaddy of them All”, had dug himself quite the hole going into Championship night after failing to accumulate enough points to qualify through Wednesday or Thursday’s preliminary events (won by David Gravel and Brian Brown). The five-time World of Outlaws champion was therefore relegated to racing his way in through the B-main event on championship night.

But it wasn’t even Schatz who was in the toughest predicament for championship night. That honor would go to Sammy Swindell, who, after dismal luck on his qualifying night, would have to race his way through the “Alphabet Soup” from the E-main. The former World of Outlaws champion would make a valiant effort, winning the E-main and finishing in third in the D-main to transfer to the C. But it was there where the Outlaw’s luck would run out, as Slammin’ Sammy would only get as high as seventh in the C-main, missing the transfer cutoff by three positions and having to sit on the sidelines for the second consecutive year at the Nationals.

The B-main would showcase another high-drama battle to make the 25-car starting field for the championship feature, and battles for the third and fourth transfer spots was fierce throughout the 22-lap last chance race. Up front though, it was Donny Schatz who put on a show as he led the way to the checkered flag on a last-lap, last-turn pass and earned a 21st place starting position for the A-main, seven positions deeper when Steve Kinser (1995) and Jerry Richert Jr. (1962) won the Nationals. Knoxville regulars Lynton Jeffrey, Dusty Zomer and Ian Madsen also qualified for the championship feature in the LCS.

And with that the field was set. Due to high finishes in Wednesday and Thursday’s qualifying features, Joey Saldana and Brian Brown started on the front row for the most prestigious sprint car event of the year. Once the green flag dropped Brian Brown immediately asserted his dominance out front, but two early cautions in the first 3 laps, for Stevie Smith’s violent flip in Turn 1 and a spin by Cody Darrah, were welcomed by Knoxville’s hottest driver since Steve Kinser.

And once the field got a long green flag run, Schatz was a man on a mission. By Lap 18, when Ian Madsen brought out the third caution, Schatz had worked his way from 21st to 6th, and he wasn’t done. As Brian Brown continued to lead up front, Donny Schatz had stormed to 5th by the time the red flag came out at halfway for a mandatory fuel stop. Teams changed tires and made adjustments, hoping for any edge they could get to win the historic event.

On the restart, Brian Brown again slipped away from the field, but Schatz began chipping away at the cars ahead of him, passing Justin Henderson for third at Lap 29 and Joey Saldana for second two laps later. While all this was going on, Brown, nephew of four-time Nationals champion Danny Lasoski and a bridesmaid twice-over, had built a lead of more than three seconds up front.

But that lead wouldn’t matter, as traffic combined with a determined Donny Schatz would erase that three-second margin in a matter of three laps. At Lap 34, Schatz was breathing down the back bumper of the FVP machine of Brown for the lead, and for the next seven laps, a spirited Brown would hold off the advances made by Schatz.

On Lap 41, though, it was settled as Schatz took the lead coming off Turn 4, and never looked back, leading the final 10 laps for the victory in the 53rd Knoxville Nationals and the $150,000 that came along with it.

“It was a fun run,” said Schatz, of Fargo, N.D., who also turned 36 on Saturday. “We went where we had to, we go to the top, or the bottom, but we couldn’t really make the bottom work. I just can’t say enough for the STP Gas Booster guys. We tried to win the Speed Sport News World Challenge on Friday night, but we also tried something new with the car to see what we could find. We wanted to get locked in. It put a lot of doubt in a lot of minds because I usually run well on the World Challenge night, but when you’re not that good you have nothing to lose testing. I’d rather crash than run 20th or fifth.”

For Schatz, it was his seventh Knoxville Nationals title in the last 8 years, and his seventh win in 16 overall appearances. That win total sits second only to Steve Kinser, who has 12 career Nationals wins.

Brian Brown finished runner-up for the third straight year in the Knoxville Nationals, and Justin Henderson ran a strong third. Outlaw regulars Paul McMahan and Chad Kemenah completed the top-five on sprint car racing’s biggest night.

The championship shifts into high gear beginning on Tuesday night at Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Neb. Because of the unique format, drivers at the Nationals were awarded a flat 75 points in the championship standings, meaning Daryn Pittman continues to lead over Schatz by 71.

PHOTO CREDIT: hardcoreracefans.com

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