By MIKE MALLETT
Unlike last year’s edition of the Knoxville Nationals where Brad Sweet had the dominant car, this year the team is still searching to find the right setup for his No. 49. Thursday night in qualifying action, Sweet was good, but not quite good enough to beat a strong David Gravel. Sweet eventually settled for second.
“We were just searching,” commented Sweet. “We were trying to find the best spot that it handles. The bottom sometimes feels pretty slow. You kind of move out a lane and see if works there, then a guy will come on the top. You are just trying to keep searching and thinking.
“Obviously, it’s a prelim night so, for me, I thought I wanted to figure it out to get the car better come Saturday. I was trying to move around and see what the car would do. We were off a little compared to David tonight, but we still feel pretty good about how our night went.”
When all was said and done, Sweet felt like he learned something which was the key for the night. He also was good enough in the points to put him sixth in the A-Main starting line-up come Saturday.
“I was just fighting the car a little more than I did last year to stay really consistent,” mentioned Sweet. “I think we made some gains tonight from the Capitani (Classic) to here. We made a lot of changes to kind of find the sweet spot. I think we learned some stuff. David has been good and he’s going to be good off the front row, but we feel like coming from sixth with 50-laps on Saturday night, as long as we get it right, we should be in contention for sure.”
Bad Night for Stewart
Shane Stewart went from the best to worst in the span of three-quarters of a lap. Stewart was fast time overall, but got over the cushion in turns three and four on the opening lap of his heat race. He caught the wall and did a series of flips. He walked away from the crash, but his night was over. He’ll be in action on Friday night.
Macedo Musters Speed
Carson Macedo found speed in the A-Main after a tough start to the night. The Kyle Larson Racing driver timed 27th quick which gave him a good starting spot in his heat race. He transferred through that picking up the 13th starting spot in the main. He consistently moved forward to finish third at the conclusion Thursday.
Like Gravel and Sweet, Macedo made his ground up on the bottom. He’s going to have to be equally as good come Saturday night as he’ll find himself in the middle of the B-Main starting line-up. He’s 24th in the point standings.
“I started 13th so I kind of had to go where they weren’t,” said Macedo. “If you want to win the Knoxville Nationals you got to be able to hit the bottom consistently and make speed down there. The race track changes a lot throughout the night.
“Early, I tried to hit the bottom in qualifying and there was grease down there and I hit it and washed across. In the heat race I felt there was still a little bit of grease down there. I feel like you got to move around.”
Thursday night saw Pennsylvania drivers Tim Shaffer, Lance Dewease, Sye Lynch and Brock Zearfoss make their way into the feature with two of the four locking into Saturday main.
Tim Shaffer ran the B-Main and won it going away before a back to front run in the A. Shaffer started 21st and raced his way to seventh. That earned him enough points to start on the outside of the second row in the main-event Saturday.
Dewease’s put down a decent time trial effort. He finished second in his heat race after a red flag on the opening lap for Stewart saved him from a disastrous start. The reprieve gave him another opportunity which he took advantage of. In the feature he started fourth only to fall all the way back to 14th. He just snuck into the A-Main by being 16th in points.
Zearfoss finds himself in the B-Main on Saturday evening. Things could have ended a whole lot better had an ignition box not gone bad. Zearfoss was leading the A-Main on Thursday. On a restart his car slowed off the second turn. The team repaired is ride allowing him to get back on track, but he was only able to 19th after returning.
Sye Lynch won his heat race holding off David Gravel allowing him to make the A. Unfortunately, a flat tire in the race put him at the back where he finished 22nd in his Knoxville debut.
Other Pennsylvania natives were in Thursday’s field. TJ Stutts didn’t have much luck as he flipped his car early in the B-Main ending his Nationals. Anthony Macri debut didn’t go terribly as he was 10th in the B-Main.
Brown’s Bad Luck Continues
Brian Brown came into the 2019 Knoxville Nationals with three consecutive second place finishes. He finished second on qualifying night for the 360’s, second in the finale and second in the Capitani Classic. Unfortunately for the local favorite, that’s where his luck ended. In Thursday night’s B-Main Brown got a flat tire while battling for the lead. He got it changed and charged back to ninth. That wasn’t enough to put him into the feature for the night or a spot in the A or B on Saturday night. He’ll be competing again on Friday.