By MIKE MALLETT
Jason Johnson came into the week as the defending winner of the Knoxville Nationals. The Eunice, La., driver experienced the ultimate high as he picked up his first Nationals win and the $150,000 last August. On Thursday night, things didn’t go nearly as well as he was involved in a crash at the start of the A-Main. He finished last in the feature and missed out on locking himself into Saturday night’s main-event.
Friday night Johnson recovered and put it into the show. Johnson dominated the 25-lap feature to earn the 17th starting position on Saturday while also dominating the 20-lap World Challenge for another hefty payday. If you are going to get back on track, that’s how you’ve got to do it.
“After last night, the preliminary night didn’t go as good as planned so all you can do is come back tonight with as much momentum as you can and as much confidence,” mentioned Johnson. “The thing about last night is we had a really fast Maxim car. My guys were confident all day long that we had good speed. It was just about hitting my marks, doing my job and it’s really a credit to the race team that’s working on this No. 41.”
At the Knoxville Nationals it can be a roller coaster. Drivers can experience the highest of highs before facing the lowest of lows. Johnson felt that on Thursday before regrouping Friday night to lock in. Unlike last year where he started on the front row, he’ll now have the challenge of coming through the field from the inside of the ninth row. That forces a change in how you approach the race.
“I think it’s just a mindset,” he said. “On the qualifying night you want to get yourself in that position. You want to start on the front row or as close to the front as possible, just like last year and have a legitimate shot at it. Once you get through last night, and it didn’t go as planned, you just got to sit down with yourself and realize it’s going to be a different outcome. To do that, all you can do is make the most of opportunity. The best thing we could do tonight was try and win the race, start 17th and it might make it more challenging and a lot more fun to drive that thing to the front for tomorrow. The A-Main is pretty stacked up tomorrow. It’s going to be super, super tough.”
Johnson admitted that the team learned a lot about what to do and what not to do as a result of running both A-Mains. They treated it as the two parts of the 50-lap feature on Saturday night. They tried some things, some worked and some didn’t.
“We were hoping to make the A-Main then run the Challenge race right after with the same car,” commented Johnson. “We kind of treated it like the two segments of tomorrow. Last year we made some changes at the halfway point and obviously, we got really good. I think that was the defining moment that we actually gave Donny (Schatz) a run for his money. This A-Main we actually started off the way finished that second segment last year. Then for the World Challenge we went step more to see how far we can go. I didn’t feel as comfortable. I wasn’t quite as good in the Challenge as I was in the A-Main. We we’ll have talk about it. The track conditions give us a really good judge of where we need to be off the time of the race track. I’m sure after we debrief we’ll have it sorted out what the game plan is going to be.”
Blown Motor to the Show for Schuchart
Logan Schuchart knew he had a stout piece coming into the 2017 edition of the Knoxville Nationals, unfortunately it didn’t even make it to time trials on his qualifying night. The team regrouped and got it done when they had to. Schuchart came from 11th on Friday night to finish second, good enough for 18th in the A-Main on Saturday.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season,” cited Schuchart. “I’m happy for my team. The last couple weeks we’ve started to get back on track. We’ve been really good on half-miles this year. We were decent here in the spring time, but didn’t really come here with what we needed. I had confidence coming in here the other night for our qualifying night. Unfortunately we blew up a motor in hot laps. Confidence went down, it was kind of a bummer. I still felt like we had a fast race car and if we could put it all together tonight we’d have a good shot at doing really well tonight. I felt good about my car.”
Reutzel Not Muffled on Friday
Aaron Reutzel lost a muffler during his qualifying night which negated his heat race finish. He would have been in the A-Main on his preliminary night and more than likely been locked into Saturday’s feature. Instead he missed out and was forced to run the Friday night program. He was able to finish third to secure his place in field in the finale of the 57th Knoxville Nationals.
“It’s definitely huge,” stated Reutzel. “This is what we showed up for, to make the Nationals. The muffler deal was really bad deal. We qualified decent and put it in the show. Those are the steps of making the A-Main. We just didn’t give up. The team did a great job. Everyone stayed positive. We knew tonight was going to be a different night and we knew that we’ve had speed here when we’ve come here. On the weekly shows we’ve been fast. We tried to stay as positive as we could. Everyone worked together and I just can’t say enough about my team.”