Knoxville Nats Finale Notes: Gravel Best of Rest, Schuchart Charges and More – DTD Exclusive

By MIKE MALLETT

Being able to run your own race out in front is clean air is usually the best possible position in Sprint Car racing. Over the course of the first three nights of the 61st edition of the Knoxville Nationals the driver that got to clean air first won the main-event.

That changed on Saturday. Tyler Courtney took the lead after a lap at the start of the 50-lap event before David Gravel snagged the spot away with a well-executed slide job after the race restarted on lap 26. He had clean air on the top right until lap 46 when Donny Schatz made his move. Schatz got a run on the bottom of turns one and two before using a slide job in turns three and four to take the lead. He drove away from there leaving Gravel to wonder what if.

Gravel, a former winner of the race, was in a lose-lose situation. The top had been good to him. He hadn’t seen anyone the whole race after taking the lead and his car was strong on the cushion. He had no reason to move.

“I typically hate running the top here at Knoxville, but after they tilled it up it was just so fast on the top, I mean literally wide open around one and two,” said Gravel. “I felt pretty good. I had a couple of wiggles off of two there, you’re really close to the wall. You know, in a perfect world I should have searched around, but nothing really showed me to do that.”




Schatz was patient with Gravel. He didn’t allow his presence to be known until he knew he could make the pass. That made things more difficult on Gravel as he had no idea Schatz was threatening until it was too late.

“Usually if he was going to be diving in, I would have seen his nose going into one and I never did,” said Gravel. “He obviously got a good run down the backstretch and was able to slide me going into three. Nothing told me to move. During all those cautions there I was given the thumbs up. I’m thinking everything’s good.”

Gravel is no stranger to the bottom. He used that line to get a third-place finish on opening night. He just didn’t want to risk moving and getting passed with $175,000 on the line.

“I like running in the lane that Donny ran, but it’s one of those things sometimes it’s better to run in second,” said Gravel. “You could search around and you have a little bit less to lose. I felt like if I went low and totally missed the corner and lost a bunch of time, he’s gonna pass me anyways. I was just trying to get to the end and just came up a little bit short.”

It was Gravel’s second-best finish in the race behind his win. It was only his second career podium in the Nationals.

Schuchart on Rails

Logan Schuchart was left to wonder what could have been had he been able to qualify a bit better on Wednesday night. He won the Capitani Classic on Sunday night before backing that up with another win. Unfortunately, it was a strange night with only two drivers in the top 20 transferring from the heat races. Schuchart timed 26th. When the final points were tallied, he became the first driver ever to not make Saturday’s A-Main after winning a preliminary night feature.

“I said it earlier in the week, I felt like we had a car to race where you’re gonna be good at racing with other cars,” said Schuchart. “It’s just those two laps on Wednesday night that really hurt us or put us behind. In a way it’s unfortunate that that means so much, but I feel good about what we have.

“I got a year to think about how to run two laps better or how we can gain a little bit of speed. It might just come down to we need to draw a little bit better. Donny was right next to me, though, on Wednesday night and we were 26th and he I think he was 12 or 13 (11th). We have room for improvement. We need to figure out how we can be a little bit better.”

Schuchart led the Shark Racing team with a third-place effort with teammate Jacob Allen finishing in fifth after he also won his preliminary night. It was a career best for Allen at Knoxville as well. It was a stunning week for the Pennsylvania based World of Outlaw Sprint Car team.

“I’m so proud,” said Schuchart. “I gave Jacob a big hug after the races. Even before the race I was talking to Jake. I’m like, ‘Hey man, it doesn’t matter. What happens in this we already have a lot to be proud of for how this week turned out, what we’ve accomplished.’ I’m proud for my grandfather and our teammates, all the crew and everybody that’s a part of this deal that puts it all together. For us to back it up with two top fives, he started 11th and started 17th. To run up front just says a lot about our team and I’m very happy for everybody.”

Several fans and pundits were already clamoring for a change in the format due to a winner on a preliminary night not making the A-Main directly. Schuchart wasn’t sure what the solution should be. Times are changing and everyone is much more even. He wasn’t ready to say that things need to be different, but knows starting in the fourth row in any Sprint Car heat race is a challenge as everyone’s game has stepped up.

“We all come in here knowing what the Knoxville National is, the format and how it works,” he said. “It seems like it gets harder and harder. I just think if you have an eight car invert the race track has to allow you to be able to pass and make up for those points. On Wednesday night, there was really no chance of it.

“You see places like Eldora where it’s dry and slick the whole way across. I don’t know if Knoxville can do that, but that’s almost what you need if you’re going to have any car invert like that. I feel like there needs to be changes. It doesn’t mean they got to change it totally, but maybe some small changes that they keep up with at times because it’s not 1980. You don’t have guys like Doug Wolfgang and, you know, my grandfather (Bobby Allen), Steve Kinser guys that are that much faster than everybody else. Of the 100 cars that were here there’s 40 or 50 of them that have a very good shot at running up front on Saturday night. It just makes it so tough.”

Kofoid Tops Rookies

Michael ‘Buddy’ Kofoid finished 11th after starting 14th in the finale earning him the Rookie of the Nationals award. Kofoid, of Penngrove, Calif., was consistent throughout the 50-lap feature making move when he could while also staying out of trouble.

“It’s pretty special to be here,” said Kofoid. “I’m kind of at a loss for words, I probably didn’t come away with what I planned on, but to come away with eleventh in the race after I got up to like six or seven a couple different times and being with some of the guys on the podium, I feel is not something worth really hanging my head bout.”