By: Bill Wright
KNOXVILLE, IA – In 2017, Connecticut’s David Gravel scored a perfect 500 score at the Knoxville Nationals and was the odds-on favorite heading into Saturday. That race ended for him with mechanical woes. Two years later, the Watertown, Connecticut, driver is the 59th Annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores champion! In 2016, Jason Johnson scored a remarkable victory in the same race, and Saturday night, the Jason Johnson Racing #41 team celebrated their second such win in a classic case of a team coming together at the right time.
Pole-sitter Aaron Reutzel set the pace early in the 50-lap main event, but Joey Saldana was game as well from row three. The veteran would lead laps two and three, before Reutzel rode the low line back by him on lap four. Dominic Scelzi brought out the first caution of the race when he stopped on lap four. At the time, Reutzel led Saldana, Gravel, Tim Kaeding and Tim Shaffer.
Another yellow flew for Donny Schatz, who came to a stop with mud packed under his throttle. He restarted at the tail. Gravel was on his game, and slid in front of Saldana for second on the tenth circuit. Daryn Pittman was also on the move from his starting spot in row five, moving into the top five.
By lap 13, Pittman passed Kaeding for fourth, while Gravel was sizing up Reutzel for the lead. Gravel slid across Reutzel’s bow in turn four to take command on lap 14. Kaeding and Pittman battled briefly, before Kaeding used the low groove to go by him for fourth on lap 18. A circuit later, Kaeding climbed another spot when he shot under Saldana. Pittman followed him into fourth on lap 20.
The mandatory caution came at the halfway point. It erased a 2.7 second lead for Gravel over Reutzel, Pittman, Kaeding, Brad Sweet, Saldana, Shaffer, Sheldon Haudenschild, a 22nd starting Logan Schuchart and Parker Price-Miller. Pittman and Kaeding both moved by Reutzel into second and third, while Sweet worked his way into fourth.
On lap 30, Schuchart continued his charge into fifth. Gravel was into lapped traffic on the 33rd circuit. Sweet shot around Kaeding for third in a good battle on lap 38, but Kaeding came back at him. Sweet jumped the turn one cushion. He was lucky to keep going and lose only a couple of spots. Meanwhile, Kaeding claimed third ahead of Schuchart, who had the fastest car late.
Gravel had built a big lead and would not be challenged, but Schuchart kept the fans entertained with a pass of Kaeding for third with nine to go. He reeled in Pittman on the last lap to claim the second place $75,000 bounty. Following the lead trio was Kaeding and Reutzel. Sweet, Haudenschild, James McFadden, Schatz and Gio Scelzi rounded out the top ten.
Gravel’s crew chief Phil Dietz was awarded a toolbox from Gear Wrench for “Crew Chief of the Nationals.” The team also won the Best Appearing Car Award ($500) and Best Appearing Crew Award ($500). Bobby Mincer ($250) and Chris Martin ($150) were second and third in Best Appearing Car, while Matt Juhl’s team ($250) and Dominic Scelzi’s crew ($150) were named Best Appearing.
Tanner Thorson was the first ever entry from Nevada, and won Hoseheads.com Rookie of the Knoxville Nationals honors ($1,000). Premier Speedway awarded $1,000 to Carson Macedo, the top finishing participant in the 2019 Grand Annual Classic who didn’t qualify for the A main. James McFadden won the $2,000 Southern Iowa Sprint Week Beaver Drill & Tool Jesse Hockett “Mr. Sprint Car” Award, followed by Aaron Reutzel ($1,250) and Cory Eliason ($750).
“This is awesome!” said Gravel in Victory Lane. “I don’t know what to say. It was a dream week. Brad Sweet killed it last year, and we kind of repeated what he did. To have Jeff Gordon and Axalta keep this team going made it all worth it. I’m numb. I wasn’t that tired in the car, but after the checkered, it sinks in and you feel like you have boulders on your shoulders. It’s surreal really. I was happy to have the lead at the halfway point and control my own destiny. We made an adjustment there at the red and made the car better. We just snugged up a little bit.”
“To start off the week the way we did…you put this team up against the ropes, they come out swinging,” said Schuchart, who came from the B. “That starts at the top with my grandfather (Bobby Allen), and he’s instilled that in this team from the very beginning. I’m really proud of this one. Congrats to David Gravel and the whole Jason Johnson Racing team.”
“On one hand I’m extremely happy and really proud of this Roth Motorsports team for the effort we’ve put in to Knoxville all season long,” said Pittman. “On the other hand, I’m pretty disappointed…by far, that’s the best car I’ve had here and the best chance I’ve had to win this race. I felt like we had the open track speed to run with David. I made a huge mistake when we first got to lapped traffic in three and four. I lost a lot of track position and ground. Honestly, I think (Gravel) was better in traffic.”
Saturday, August 24 is Xtream Powered by Mediacom Season Championship Night! Join us as we crown 2019 champions in all three of our sprint car classes. For tickets and other information, visit www.KnoxvilleRaceway.com!
59th Annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores Results
E main, 10 Laps, 2:47.7: 1. 7JS, Jason Sides, Bartlett, TN (1); 2. 73AF, Joey Moughan, Springfield, IL (2); 3. 33m, Mason Daniel, Springville, CA (3); 4. 19T, Kevin Thomas Jr., Cullman, AL (5); 5. 17wx, Harli White, Lindsay, OK (7); 6. 17XL, Caleb Helms, Findlay, OH (9) / 7. 75, Glen Saville, Razorback, NSW, Aust. (4); 8. 84, Tom Harris, Banbury, OXFD, UK (8); 9. 74, Brodie Tulloch, Upper Caboolture, QLD, Aust. (6); 10. 15M, Bobby Mincer, Burlington, IA (10); 11. J4, John Garvin, Sarver, PA (12); 12. 56, Joe Simbro, Pleasantville, IA (11); 13. 85, Chase Wanner, Ottumwa, IA (15); 14. 2K, Kevin Ingle, Huron, SD (13); 15. 83c, Adam Cruea, Troy, OH (14) DNS – 64, Scotty Thiel, Sheboygan, WI; 5J, Jamie Ball, Knoxville, IA; 11c, Roger Crockett, Broken Arrow, OK; 48, Danny Dietrich, Gettysburg, PA; 40, Clint Garner, Sioux Falls, SD; 3H, Jac Haudenschild, Wooster, OH; 19P, Paige Polyak, Tiffin, OH; 2AU, Andrew Scheuerle, Toowoomba, QLD, Aust.; 2mm, Matt Moro, Polk City, IA; 57, Kyle Larson, Elk Grove, CA; 11T, TJ Stutts, Liverpool, PA; 18M, Lance Moss, Cherryville, NC; 53, Jack Dover, Springfield, NE; 35, Zach Hampton, Plainfield, IN
D main (started), 12 Laps, NT: 1. 56N, Davey Heskin, St. Michael, MN (2); 2. 45, Rusty Hickman, Bendigo, VIC, Aust. (1); 3. 7, Craig Dollansky, Elk River, MN (3); 4. 17w, Shane Golobic, Fremont, CA (4) / 5. 55, Brooke Tatnell, Sans Souci, NSW, Aust. (10) ($1,175 bonus from Trunk Bar); 6. 68, Chase Johnson, Penngrove, CA (8); 7. 99x, Skylar Gee, Leduc, ALB, Can. (9); 8. 3P, Sawyer Phillips, Pleasantville, IA (6); 9. W20, Greg Wilson, Benton Ridge, OH (7); 10. 18R, Ryan Roberts, Aurora, NE (12); 11. 3c, Cale Conley, Vienna, WV (11); 12. 44, Chris Martin, Ankeny, IA (5); 13. 9x, Jake Bubak, Arvada, CO (14); 14. Kevin Thomas Jr. (20); 15. Jason Sides (19); 16. 21P, Robbie Price, Cobble Hill, BC, Can. (16); 17. 29, Willie Croft, Roseville, CA (17); 18. Joey Moughan (18); 19. Mason Daniel (21); 20. Caleb Helms (22); 21. 9JR, Derek Hagar, Marion, AR (15); 22. 20, AJ Moeller, Rockwell City, IA (13); 23. Harli White (23); 24. 28P, Brian Paulus, Mooresville, IN (24) DNS – 2c, Wayne Johnson, Tuttle, OK; 51, Freddie Rahmer, Salfordville, PA
C main (started), 15 Laps, NT: 1. 71BC, Tyler Courtney, Indianapolis, IN (1); 2. 91, Cale Thomas, Fairland, IN (4); 3. 21, Brian Brown, Grain Valley, MO (8); 4. 27, Carson McCarl, Altoona, IA (2) / 5. 83J, Lynton Jeffrey, Prairie City, IA (9) ($100 bonus from Big River Garage Doors); 6. 21K, Thomas Kennedy, Winnipeg, MB, Can. (7); 7. 15H, Sam Hafertepe Jr., Sunnyvale, TX (3); 8. 35P, Skylar Prochaska, Lakefield, MN (6); 9. 99x, Brady Bacon, Broken Arrow, OK (12); 10. 49J, Josh Schneiderman, West Burlington, IA (11); 11. 1, Travis Rilat, Heath, TX (5); 12. 7x, Justin Henderson, Tea, SD (10); 13. 18s, Jason Solwold, Mt. Vernon, WA (15); 14. Shane Golobic (24); 15. 39M, Anthony Macri, Dillsburg, PA (13); 16. Davey Heskin (21); 17. Rusty Hickman (22); 18. 10, RJ Johnson, Tampa, FL (18); 19. 7sw, Jeff Swindell, Bartlett, TN (14); 20. 92, Sye Lynch, Apollo, PA (17); 21. Craig Dollansky (23); 22. 14M, Marcus Dumesny, Sydney, NSW, Aust. (16); 23. 1x, Don Droud Jr., Lincoln, NE (20); 24. 70x, Justin Peck, Monrovia, IN (19)
B main (started), 22 Laps, NT: 1. 71, Gio Scelzi, Fresno, CA (2); 2. 15, Donny Schatz, Fargo, ND (4); 3. 9, James McFadden, Warrnambool, VIC, Aust. (1); 4. 24, Rico Abreu, St. Helena, CA (3) / 5. 2, Carson Macedo, Lemoore, CA (8); 6. 13, Mark Dobmeier, Grand Forks, ND (5); 7. 70, Brock Zearfoss, Jonestown, PA (9); 8. 28, Scott Bogucki, McLaren Vale, SA (6); 9. 2KS, Austin McCarl, Altoona, IA (11); 10. 1a, Jacob Allen, Hanover, PA (10); 11. 11K, Kraig Kinser, Bloomington, IN (15); 12. Brian Brown (23); 13. 39, Sammy Swindell, Lakeland, TN (14); 14. K4, Chad Kemenah, Alvada, OH (19); 15. 7TAZ, Tasker Phillips, Pleasantville, IA (20); 16. 17BX, Bill Balog, Hartland, WI (16); 17. Tyler Courtney (21); 18. Carson McCarl (24); 19. 11, Hunter Schuerenberg, Sikeston, MO (17); 20. 88, Tanner Thorson, Minden, NV (7); 21. Cale Thomas (22); 22. 17B, Josh Baughman, Odessa, TX (13); 23. 5H, Spencer Bayston, Lebanon, IN (12); 24. 4, Terry McCarl, Altoona, IA (18)
A main (started), 50 Laps, NT: 1. 41, David Gravel, Watertown, CT (2); 2. 1s, Logan Schuchart, Hanover, PA (22); 3. 83, Daryn Pittman, Owasso, OK (10); 4. 7s, Tim Kaeding, San Jose, CA (7); 5. 87, Aaron Reutzel, Clute, TX (1); 6. 49, Brad Sweet, Grass Valley, CA (6); 7. 17, Sheldon Haudenschild, Wooster, OH (15); 8. James McFadden (19); 9. Donny Schatz (18); 10. Gio Scelzi (17); 11. 2m, Kerry Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust. (21); 12. 5, Shane Stewart, Bixby, OK (23); 13. 26, Cory Eliason, Visalia, CA (13); 14. 12N, Joey Saldana, Brownsburg, IN (3); 15. 18, Ian Madsen, St. Mary’s, NSW, Aust. (14); 16. 71P, Parker Price-Miller, Kokomo, IN (5); 17. 19, Brent Marks, Myerstown, PA (9); 18. 09, Matt Juhl, Tea, SD (12); 19. 44s, Trey Starks, Puyallup, WA (11); 20. 13x, Paul McMahan, Nashville, TN (8); 21. 49x, Tim Shaffer, Aliquippa, PA (4); 22. Rico Abreu (20); 23. 69K, Lance Dewease, Fayetteville, PA (16); 24. 41s, Dominic Scelzi, Fresno, CA (24). Lap Leaders: Reutzel 1, Saldana 2-3, Reutzel 4-13, Gravel 14-50. MPI Hard-charger (steering wheel): Schuchart. SprintCarUnlimited.com $2,000 Pole Sitter: Reutzel. Gear Wrench Crew Chief of the Nationals: Phil Dietz (toolbox)