KNOXVILLE, Iowa — I don’t care who you are, where you start or how long you’ve been racing at the Sprint Car Capital of the World, when you come to Knoxville Raceway in the second week of August, you have to beat Donny Schatz at his own game in order to win the 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals.
And once again, I’m making this next statement even based on all the racing we’ve seen this week: this year’s Nationals are absolutely Schatz’s to lose.
I don’t care that he’s starting fifth in tonight’s A-main. He’s won this race from the pole (last year, leading all 50 laps) and he’s won it after coming out of the B-main and starting 21st (2013). The man can go to victory lane in this race from any starting position. You just have to give him a fighting chance.
I don’t care that he finished second to Shane Stewart during Wednesday night’s preliminary show. He’s proven that it doesn’t matter what you do on prelim night, it’s what you do on championship night that earns the money … and he’s earned more than a million dollars over the past decade by living out that philosophy and winning nine of the past 10 Nationals A-Mains.
I don’t even care that Daryn Pittman is starting on the pole, hungrier than ever to win his first Nationals, or that each of the top four starters ahead of Schatz have never won the Nationals in their careers before. You don’t get any more motivated than this seven-time champion from Fargo, North Dakota. He just always seems to turn up the wick to a level that no one else can match when it comes time to go for the big bucks on Saturday night.
I get that anything can happen in racing. And believe me, Donny does too. He saw it play out in 2010, when his motor sputtered just before the white flag and Tim Shaffer scooted by to steal his first (and only, to-date) Nationals crown.
But he’s proven so many times before that he can overcome just about anything that’s in his control in order to win. He’s done it nine of the last 10 years and more than 200 times in his storied Outlaws career.
The competition knows who they have to beat. Even four-time Nationals champion Danny Lasoski said as much, after finishing third in last night’s FVP ‘Hard Knox’ Qualifier to transfer into the ‘Big Dance’.
“I’ve seen the 15 (Donny Schatz) win from the back and I’ve gone to the front from the back, so we’re going to see what we can do,” Lasoski said. “Anything’s possible here on any given night, but you always have to look out for that 15 when you’re here and we’re prepared for that.”
Wednesday night winner Shane Stewart even added that it would take a better-performing car than the one they won with to open Nationals week if they wanted a realistic chance of banking the $150,000 winner’s prize after 50 grueling laps.
“I have a great car right now, but I know that we’re going to have to pick it up just a little bit more here to beat that 15 (Schatz),” Stewart admitted. “He’s so good here on the bottom. He’s so good at changing lanes without scrubbing off any speed, so I’ve got to get better at that if I’m going to beat him.”
The competition knows that it will take a lot in order to overthrow the king of Knoxville. They’ve spent 364 days preparing for it.
Even the fans on-site know who the favorite is going into the big night. They’ve taken to booing Schatz every time he wins at the historic half-mile, and the noise has gotten louder with every passing year.
But I’m convinced that booing is going to continue for at least one more Nationals finale.
Yes, he’s starting fifth, but I’m taking Donny Schatz to win his 10th Knoxville Nationals crown in the 56th running of the greatest sprint car race in the world.
The rest of you who are reading this? You can have the field.
And we’ll just see what happens on the race track.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
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 22-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.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Race Chaser Online: email@example.com
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews