By GARY THOMAS (WORLD OF OUTLAWS PR)
TULARE, CA – After scoring his first Thunderbowl Raceway World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series win last season Watertown, Connecticut’s David Gravel returned on Friday night and made it back-to-back, earning his first series victory of 2017.
Gravel stalked race-long leader Shane Stewart as the laps wound down and made a beautiful power move to the outside with just a few circuits remaining to claim the victory aboard his CJB Motorsports/ Big Game Tree Stands No. 5 machine.
“I’ve watched Rico Abreu and Kyle Larson a lot here at the Trophy Cup so have definitely learned a thing or two about this place,” said Gravel on the front stretch. “Ever since the first time I came to Tulare it’s been an awesome place for me, and it feels great to win back-to-back here. I had nothing to lose there at the end so I just gave it a shot up top and luckily it worked out for us. My team gave me a great car so I can’t thank them enough. It’s been a crazy road these last few years, and I’m really happy with where I am right now. Hopefully we can come back tomorrow and do it again.”
The 35-lap feature started out with pole sitter Stewart getting the jump over outside front row Donny Schatz, who had won five of six races contested thus far going into Friday. Grass Valley, CA’s Brad Sweet quickly moved into second and tried to track down Stewart, prior to the caution waving for Willie Croft on lap nine. On the restart Carson Macedo then got upside down to bring out the red flag. On the next attempt Sweet challenged Stewart for the lead, but the Bixby, Oklahoma pilot was able to fend him off and motor away out front.
Things began to heat up at this point as the surface began to come in and allowed drivers the chance to dice it up for position on the one-third mile clay oval. Gravel and Sweet proceeded to fight hard for the second position going back and forth during one five-lap stretch. After exchanging the runner spot multiple times Sweet assumed the position and began to close in on Stewart with just 10-laps to go.
Things then came to a halt on lap 27 when Rutherford, CA’s Rico Abreu got upside down in the first and second corners while battling around the top-five.
On the restart Gravel was able to get around Sweet to grab second, before the final caution of the night flew for Terry McCarl on lap 30. After that Gravel stepped up his challenges on the leader when going back green and closed in on Stewart. With just a couple laps left he made the move of the race to go around Stewart and drive off to claim his second career Thunderbowl Raceway triumph by 0.977 seconds.
Stewart crossed the stripe in second to earn his fourth straight runner up finish in World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car competition at Thunderbowl Raceway.
“We had a good car tonight, but the driver just didn’t make the right moves late in the race,” said the pilot of the Larson Marks Racing/ Eneos No. 2 mount. “Sometimes the yellows work for you and sometimes they work against you. Tonight they didn’t quite work in our favor, but that’s how racing goes. Hats off to David Gravel, he drove a great race there at the end and found the faster line. I also have to give a big thanks to Kyle Larson, Justin Marks and all my guys. We have 90 races a year, so you just have to come back and concentrate on the next one. Big thanks to all the fans for coming out to Thunderbowl Raceway tonight.”
After racing near the front of the field for the entire feature Sweet brought home a third place finish at the checkered aboard the Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb/ Napa Auto Parts No. 49 Sprinter. “Running third definitely isn’t the goal, but anytime you can finish on the podium with the World of Outlaws is something to be proud of,” Sweet commented.
“We had a good car tonight and I feel like we’re starting to gel. It’s basically a whole new team this year with Kale working on the 49 car and we are making gains. We’ll come back tomorrow and hopefully improve two more positions. This is one of my home tracks so I’d really like to get a win here.”
Wooster, Ohio’s Sheldon Haudenschild put on an entertaining charge in the feature to come from 19th to fourth and claim the KSE Hard Charger Award. The Rookie of the Year contender was very impressive on the tricky Thunderbowl clay and was reminiscent of his father Jac during the night. Australian James McFadden rounded out the top-five in the main event after putting together a solid night. Completing the top-10 were Hanover, Pennsylvania’s Logan Schuchart, Schatz, Paradise, CA’s Kyle Hirst, Nashville, Tennessee’s Paul McMahan and San Jose, CA’s Tim Kaeding.
The night’s 12-lap Last Chance Showdown was captured by Mount Vernon, Washington’s Jason Solwold, with the Craftsman Club Dash going to Shane Stewart. The four 10-lap heat races were picked off by Owasso, Oklahoma’s Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet, Shane Stewart and Donny Schatz. Rico Abreu started out the night by setting the fastest lap in the 36-car field with a blistering 12.630.
The World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series returns to action tomorrow night at Thunderbowl Raceway to finish off the Tulare weekend.