Randall Dukes it Out with Donny, Haudenschild’s Drive, and more from Knoxville – DTD Exclusive

By Mike Mallett

He sure didn’t look like a rookie!

He may be 18 years old and competing in his first Knoxville Nationals, but Chase Randall gave Donny Schatz everything he could muster in the closing laps of Wednesday night’s opening event of the 62nd running of the Knoxville Nationals.

Schatz went by, but Randall stuck to his guns and drove back around the 11-time champion. The pass was short-lived, but he put up a fight. He’d come home second.

“I feel pretty good about it,” said Randall. “I feel like It’s hard to be mad about it, finishing second like that after being so close, but I’m really proud of it. How we did and how the team kind of made the right decisions throughout the night to set us up and put ourselves in position to be that close It just shows how much hard work they’ve been putting in to get better each and every week running here. We’ve had some really good speed here this whole year, and to be running up front on our prelim night the Knoxville Nationals on my first try is pretty cool. So, I’m excited to see what we can do.”

It was evident that Randall was going to live and die on the top of the speedway. He had chased down race-long leader Blake Haun before the red for a scary Justin Peck incident on lap 18. He drove by Hahn on the restart. Schatz tracked him down and went by on lap 21, only for Randall to go back by. A lap later, Schatz passed the Waco, Texas, native and didn’t look back.

“I didn’t really expect him to be on the bottom like that,” said Randall of Schatz. “I kind of struggled down there. The first few laps, I knew it was super greasy off of two, kind of like how the track was last year. I feel like it was really hard to roll the bottom, and it seemed like it came in late. So, maybe it was a bad move on my part, not kind of anticipating it or seeing it down there at the end, but I felt like I was doing pretty well before the red came out. So I kind of was just sticking to what I was doing, and then it kind of hurt me because they bunched everybody up and gave him another opportunity. But you know, it’s certainly something to learn from and keep in mind on Saturday.”

Haudenschild Gives Himself a Chance: Sheldon Haudenschild dug himself a deep hole in qualifying. The Outlaw regular timed 32nd quick out of 52 cars. That’s tough to recover from. Haudenschild won his heat, then drove from 12th to third in the A-Main. He sits 12th in points, more than like outside the A-Main line-up, but squarely on the bubble of locking into the B-Main on Saturday night.

“I’ll take that for sure,” said the Wooster, Ohio, driver. “After a qualifying run like that, we talked and figured we had to get on this podium to even get close. So, kind of accomplish that goal. We just have to keep pushing. I feel like every year I kind of come from pretty deep either on Friday or, you know, don’t do it the easy way.”

Gravel Tries to Fight Back: David Gravel set the fastest time of the night, earning 200 points. That was the end of the good times for the former Nationals winner. On lap one of the first heat race, Gravel checked up and came together with Justin Sanders. Gravel’s No. 2 slammed the wall in turn four. He went to the work area, but the car was too damaged to continue.

Gravel returned to start on the pole of the C-Main, which he easily won. He started 21st in the B-Main and advanced to finish 11th. He’s headed to Friday night’s program, but the team didn’t quit. They gave it a go.

Peck Takes a Hard Hit: It seems to be all or nothing for Justin Peck as of late. Peck was second quickest overall and was the only other driver in the top 10 in time to qualify through his heat race. He had seemed to have a top-five run locked down until lap 18. Peck was battling to the outside of Haudenschild for position when their wheels touched. Peck rocketed up the track and slammed the outside wall off of turn four. Thankfully, he got out under his own power.

No Luck for A-Aron: Much like Gravel, Aaron Reutzel didn’t make it out of his heat race. Reutzel made contact with Dustin Selvage on the opening lap of heat two, heading into turn one. Reutzel’s car came to a stop up against the wall. He had heavy front-end damage to his No. 8. The Clute, Texas, driver did not continue. He’ll try his luck again on Friday night.