By Mike Mallett
The last time Carson Macedo left the Knoxville Raceway, it wasn’t a positive situation.
Macedo was involved in a scary crash in a World of Outlaw Sprint Car event that saw him leave the facility battered and burned.
Thursday night, he returned and conquered the half-mile at the Marion County Fairgrounds to earn the preliminary night victory in the 62nd running of the Knoxville Nationals while also locking himself into a top-six starting spot in Saturday night’s finale.
“It felt really good to just be out there and making laps again,” said Macedo. “We ran the Capitani, and obviously it rained out, but it was just a little bit of an eerie feeling coming back, but for the most part, it just feels normal. I think Knoxville Raceway is incredible, and I’m lucky that my crash happened here. I think that their fire and safety crews are incredible, and that’s why we bought this car this weekend.
“It kind of makes a little bit of a light of a bad situation, but also kind of a thank-you tribute to the fire safety crews. So it feels good to feel good again. Man, it sucked there for a few weeks even trying to race, but I feel a lot better now.”
The $12,000 win came after Macedo started in the fourth position. He hounded the top two, Anthony Macri and Garet Williamson. He got by Williamson on lap 13 before a red on lap 15 for a flipping Daryn Pitman. The restart was key. He used a slide job in turns one and two at the green to get out in front.
“I felt like my car was great the couple of times I went down to the bottom,” said Macedo. “I could at least maintain. I felt like I was pretty solid in three and four. One and two I thought were really top-dominant, and I was just trying to see if I could get close enough to throw a slider down there.
“I was telling Kyle on the way over here that it was weird. I ran the bottom in three and four, not even really expecting to get close enough to the six car (Williamson), and I got a good enough run off of four, and then I kind of squeezed that grip down the bottom of the frontstretch, and it just gave me just enough to kind of grab the grip into one and drive across and get in front of him. I think it was fairly close, but the good part is, I think once you slid up to the top of turn two, it was going to be pretty hard for a guy to diamond back across and beat you down into turn three.”
The race was pretty much locked up, right until it wasn’t on the final lap. As Macedo could see the checkered flag, the red flag came out for a flipping Jamie Veal. He had to deal with one final restart while knowing that Spencer Bayston and Kyle Larson were behind him.
“I knew if I won the race through one and two that it would be pretty tough to get by me just because I could see on the big screen every lap that I was getting a little bit of a gap there just running the top,” said Macedo. “Once you get out in clean air on these tracks when the top’s dominant, it’s really hard for a guy in second to get a run unless he starts plugging the bottom. So, I didn’t put it past these two; I thought there was a good chance that they could maybe figure it out and get behind me, but I was very thankful to see the checker come out.”
Bayston Locks in for the First Time: Some guys come to the Knoxville Nationals looking to lock into a top-five starting spot, while others just want to make the show. That is Spencer Bayston. Prior to Thursday night, he had never made the A-Main for the finale. That streak is now over.
By virtue of his run from the 10th starting position up to third, Bayston will roll off 13th on Saturday night in the 50-lap finale. It finally happened.
“It’s everything,” said Bayston. “It’s something I’ve been trying to do for the last handful of years. I’ve never made the Knoxville Nationals A-Main. This is my first one. To do it in this fashion after being a little bit further behind there after qualifying in the heat race than we wanted to be, to have a really good, strong start, exactly how it needed to go at the beginning of the feature, and getting to sit up here on this stage, so for me, it’s huge. It’s hard to describe just kind of the overwhelming joy out there just crossing the finish line and knowing that and then hearing that we’re locked in.”
Damage Control: A few drivers had tough nights in the 25-lap A-Main, including Daryn Pittman, Brad Sweet, and Jamie Veal.
Pittman went for a wild ride on lap 15 when the left rear tire broke off his Guy Forbrook-owned No. 5x. He slammed the wall hard in turn three before getting upside down. He walked away.
Sweet blew a tire on lap 22 entering turn one. His Kasey Kahne Racing No. 49 pounded the first turn wall, causing him to flip. Like Pittman, he walked away.
Veal’s night ended on what would have been the final lap when his No. 17AU got over in turn two. Thankfully, he was also able to walk away.
Counting Points: Chase Randall, Anthony Macri, Brad Sweet, and Justin Peck were tied after the points were tallied at 449. With each of these drivers tied, the tiebreaker is the A-Main finishing position. Randall and Marci earned top-five finishes in their respective races, locking into Saturday’s finale along with Sweet. Sweet finished in 21st; Peck was 24th. Peck will be the pole-sitter for the B-Main on Saturday. Another tough pill for the Indiana driver after his hard crash on Wednesday night derailed what should have been a solid points night overall.