By MIKE MALLETT
Friday night at the Knoxville Nationals is all about redemption. It’s a night called Hard Knox because there are usually a handful of contenders to win Saturday night’s A-Main that find themselves running again. This year it was more of the same as Kerry Madsen, Logan Schuchart, Shane Stewart and Dominic Scelzi each were able to overcome their failures on qualifying night to put themselves in the 59th running of the Knoxville Nationals.
Madsen Dominates for Win
Kerry Madsen had a terrible qualifying night on Wednesday which placed him 25th in points for the night and 49th overall. He needed a chance to turn things around. That’s exactly what he did Friday night by dominating the 25-lap A-Main to earn the 21st starting position in the A-Main.
“I can’t tell you how relieving it is,” mentioned Madsen. “This is a such a big race, the biggest Sprint Car race we have. All the teams, everyone wants to win it. Everyone puts so much effort into this race and there are so many great teams, owners and crews and if your Nationals prelim night doesn’t go to plan, it’s not a very nice feeling back in the pit area. There are long faces, sad emojis, so to come back tonight and get it in the show puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
Madsen had a little luck on his side during qualifying. Madsen hit the track while trying to put down a good lap on the bottom of the speedway. He didn’t hit turns one and two very well and then when he got to turn three the prior car in time trials had yet to clear the track. That slowed him up enough that officials deemed he was impeded and they gave him a second lap. He took full advantage by setting fast time for the group.
“I didn’t make a very good corner in one and two and when I approached three I seen him there and I just kind of backed up,” cited Madsen. “That lap time wasn’t very good. After that I just went and ripped one off on the top and got quick time.”
In the A-Main, Madsen was stellar. His car was maneuverable. He could run high, low or the middle groove. Eventually he settled in on his preferred line on the top which propelled him to the victory.
“It was a bit confusing early,” he said. “I wasn’t really sure what line was going to be predominant. Watching the B-Main it was the bottom, so I just worked the bottom early. Then I heard them on the outside so I thought ‘sweet, I can get to the top and go.’ So that was nice.
“You just got to really work at it. When you are back in the pack a little bit, it’s a little easier because you are chasing. I felt like I made good decisions. I just try to program myself to make a decision when the time comes and I feel like the race fell our way perfectly.”
Schuchart Three-for-Three on Fridays
For the third consecutive year Logan Schuchart raced his way into the Knoxville Nationals by virtue of the Friday night program. Schuchart and his Shark Racing Team elected to change cars after their preliminary night failed to produce much results. The team met and they were just more confident in the other car. It worked out well. Schuchart challenged Madsen for much of the first half of the race before settling in to take second at the checkers.
“This is definitely a stress relief,” commented Schuchart. “This is the biggest week of the year for us. There are just so many good cars. There are a lot of cars that can win the A-Main tomorrow and a lot of good cars that aren’t in the A tomorrow. There are a lot of good cars around and teams and it’s just a tough deal.
“I would have liked to do it on my qualifying night one time, but this is how I’ve made it in the last three years. I’m just happy for my team to have two new guys that haven’t been to Nationals before, haven’t worked on a car at Nationals and they are in for the first time. I’m proud of them, proud of our whole race team. We’ll take it and see how we can do tomorrow.”
Stewart Recovers from Flip to Get In
Shane Stewart had everything going his way on Thursday night to start off the program. Stewart set fast time in time trials earning 200 points. That was the last positive for Stewart during the night. Stewart flipped at the start of his heat race on the very opening lap destroying his CJB Motorsports No. 5. He needed Friday night to go well.
It wasn’t perfect, but it went good enough as Stewart finished third. Had the race gone one more lap he would have been in trouble. His car was completely out of fuel at the finish line. Of the top four, he was the most relieved as his season just hasn’t gone the way he has wanted in his first year with the team. Now he has a shot at making a run in feature.
“There is a lot of emotion obviously,” said Stewart. “The five car hasn’t had the best season. There was a lot of high expectations going into this race. I’ve had a little bit of success here and I knew Barry (Jackson) has too with different drivers. Your plan is always to go for the front row and stuff like that. We jumped over the hurdle with being quick time and my wreck, honestly, it happened so quick.
“There was a little bit moisture. It was kind of slimy and greasy before you actually hit the cushion. I thought the cushion was going to hold me and it didn’t. Then I thought if I hit my brakes, I’m going to crash no matter what. I tried to power through and get back out of the cushion and hit the wall.”
Scelzi All Smiles
Dominic Scelzi is one of the most fun-loving guys in Sprint Car racing. Last year he earned the final spot into the main-event by claiming top honors in the World Challenge. This year there was no safety net as that race was scrapped. Scelzi was now forced to put it in through the A-Main, which he did in finishing fourth. He was yet again the last car into the feature. That didn’t matter to him as he had the biggest smile of all four drivers to earn the transfer positions.
“I feel like next year I’ll just put my entry in for Friday,” joked Scelzi. “For whatever reason I want to do it the hardest possible way. I’m excited to get it in. I’m even more excited that I’m not alone in that back row. I can actually say I’m part of the field. I’m excited about that, I can’t go backwards. I’m going to roll into the drivers meeting, hopefully with my sunglasses on, feeling a little dazed and confused from tonight. I’m beyond happy. Honestly, it’s two Nationals I didn’t think I was going to make. To have two in a row now is really big.”
Brown’s Week Continues to Go Badly
Coming into the Knoxville Nationals Brian Brown had to be on the list of favorites. Brown has dominated Knoxville in 2019. Coming into the this year’s edition of the Nationals he’s been on point in all the events leading into his qualifying night. That’s where things went south.
Friday night it was more of the same for Brown and company. Brown made the A-Main, but he was one of the first cars out of the event finishing 22nd. Brown had a driveline issue that the team had yet to diagnose afterwards. As a result, he’s starting in the middle of the C-Main Saturday night. He’s got a long way to go in order to put himself where in belongs in the A-Main.
Dietrich Destroys Car
Danny Dietrich’s week has been a tail of good and bad. On qualifying night he was fast in time trials, but failed to make the race through the heat or the B-Main. Friday night he was once again fast out of the gate going second quick in his time trial group. That lined him up fourth in his heat due to the inversion. He sat fourth with only a handful of laps to go while needing one more position to make the show. As he came down the backstretch he just clipped the wall. It looked like he blew the right rear tire heading into the corner. He was unable to turn, slammed the wall before flipping multiple times. He was uninjured, but now lines up in the E-Main. More than likely he will not return due to the damage to his No. 48.
Bayston Just Misses
Spencer Bayston quietly had a solid run in Friday night’s main-event. He was involved in a lap one crash that sent him to the work area for repairs to his No. 5H. He returned and got things rolling in the feature event. Bayston drove from the back of the pack before challenging Dominic Scelzi for the final transfer spot in the A-Main. He came up just one spot short at the checkered, but will roll off 11th in the B-Main.