By MIKE MALLETT
Brian Brown is in a good place. The Grain Valley, Mo., driver is hitting his stride at the right time. On Sunday night Brown notched yet another victory at the Knoxville Raceway. This time in the prestigious Capitani Classic. The 25-lap, $6,000 to win feature is becoming of the toughest events in the country as everyone takes to the track looking for one final tune-up before the Knoxville Nationals.
Sunday night was no different as nearly 70 cars filled the infield pit area, each one looking to add the Capitani Classic to their personal win list. Unfortunately, there can be only one winner, and on this night it was Brown. The night started with a fitting tribute to Ralph Capitani, the man who helped make Knoxville Raceway what it is today. Capitani passed away this past February adding a special importance to the action on the track. At the end, it was Brown standing tall in Victory Lane.
“It was just overall a great night,” stated Brown. “To win a race in Ralph Capitani’s name is an honor.”
Brown came from the eight position. He made tracks early on the top, had a torrid battle with good friend Greg Hodnett. From there he set sail on the top blasting the cushion lap after lap after lap. Eventually it paid off with the victory. He had a few lucky breaks while on the way, but things played out.
“I really didn’t give myself that much of a chance there, but I got a really good start,” mentioned Brown. “I just railed the top. Hodnett was probably where I needed to be, but I just couldn’t get down there. He did a good job. I knew when I cleared him I needed to get going. It was a really important part of the race when I passed Kerry (Madsen) then the yellow came out. That was a key spot. I came across the line first. If I would have had to pass him back maybe I don’t win.”
Brown’s start was one for the ages. He went into the first turn and the seas parted. He was into the top five and then onto the podium before five laps were complete. Every now and then a driver can catch an opening and take advantage. That was what Brown did to move up so rapidly.
“I got a good start,” he reiterated. “I was able sickle the top and they kind of left a lane for me. You kind of look in front of you and figure out where you think guys are going to go. During race I looked and thought that Joey (Saldana) was going to be up there and he was. (Chad) Kemenah and all those guys left it for me and it worked out. Sometimes it doesn’t, but this time it did.”
Brown now looks ahead, not to the Knoxville Nationals but the Front Row Challenge on Monday night at the Southern Iowa Speedway where $20,000 will be on the line. That’s the focus. He’ll worry about his qualifying night when that gets here.
“We’ll enjoy this until about midnight then it’s on to the Front Row Challenge tomorrow,” said Brown. “We are really looking at every night as that is the most important night. To be able to go out and win tonight is great, but now we need to focus on tomorrow also.”
Madsen Manages Second After Pole Start
Kerry Madsen started from the pole but dropped back early on in the 25-lap affair before rallying midway through the race. The driver of the GoMuddy.com No. 2 eventually got back forward only to fall a spot short to Brown.
“We definitely were a little better later, but realistically we weren’t good enough,” commented Madsen. “Brian (Brown) was a little bit better. It was good run though. Can’t complain about second. We are happy with that and we’ll see if can get better for the end of the week.”
Sweet Gets Practice and Notes Leading Into Nationals
It’s always good when you came run well at the Knoxville Raceway as any little bit of positive momentum can help leading up to the Knoxville Nationals. Brad Sweet got just that on Sunday. The Grass Valley, Calif., driver secured the final spot on the podium behind Brown and Madsen. He used a late race restart to get by Hodnett to finish in the third spot.
“We try to not to take this night too, too serious,” mentioned Sweet. “We want to get in and out of here with more notes and feeling good about what we have. I felt like we were pretty close there. Obviously I need the car to be a little better. I think if we had got into second there we would have had a shot at Brian just because we had the bottom working so good. We needed some clean air on our car to make it work. We just never really got it. Hats off to Brian, he found the top early and made some serious speed up there and got out front. I really struggled to really get by Kerry and Greg there. Once I got by Greg I kind of had shot at Kerry on the last lap. I just never quite got there. We’ll write down in our notebook and try to come back a little bit better.”
Sweet’s entire game plan was to work the bottom. He believes that is what’s going to take for him to reach Knoxville Nationals glory.
“I’ve worked really hard to get my car better on the bottom because that seems to be where the Knoxville Nationals is won typically,” he cited. “I think you give up a little bit on the top when you get your car really good on the bottom and vice versa. That’s our game plan and we are sticking to it right now. It may have cost us a bit right there but big picture, I think we are still right where we want to be.”
Hodnett Continues to Have Iowa Speed
Hodnett led early, feel back to third then lost one more spot on the restart. His team just keeps getting better and better as the week progresses. On this night he struggled with the handling once the fuel load burned off. He then gave up a spot on the final restart with two laps to go.
“My fuel load was coming off and I was getting up, up, up and I couldn’t keep the car down into the track,” said Hodnett. “I was really struggling. We just didn’t get a good restart and I blew across like a freaking idiot and gave away a spot. I could run the bottom where those guys couldn’t and weren’t really trying. We were close to Brad and Kerry but I think Brian was in a league of his own. We just have to figure out how to do a few things better, hopefully we can do that.”
Hodnett continues to show signs that his first half struggles are behind them as they have been continuously fast here at Knoxville so far in both the 360 and now the 410. Hodnett’s happy but he knows they need to be better moving forward.
“When I’m by myself I’m not bad, but late in races, in traffic, I’m really struggling,” said the Spring Grove, Pa., driver. “But overall, we’ve had decent speed when we went out in qualifying. We went out pretty late both times, pulled off enough to get us in decent position. What that means on Wednesday, I don’t know. Right now we can roll around on the bottom where a lot of guys have problems doing that. It’s pretty technical to do that and you have to have a good car to do it. Danny (Lasoski) used to hang out with Zemco and he’s given us a lot of good advice for here and I think that is why I’m able to get around bottom right now. I just have to figure how to do something else besides that. We’ve been pretty fortunate and blessed to have the car to do that. I also know we have to move around a little bit more.”
Capitani Classic Counterpoints
69 cars entered the sixth annual Capitani Classic at the Knoxville Raceway. It’s the final tune up before the 57th running of the Knoxville Nationals…
Before action got underway a video was played in honor of Ralph Capitani, the race’s namesake, as he passed away back in February. The tribute video can be watched by CLICKING HERE…
The Capitani Classic trophy was unveiled prior to the program with all former winner’s receiving one including Ian Madsen, Bronson Maeschen, Kevin Swindell and Shane Stewart. Brown got one of his own for winning the sixth edition.
A pole scramble was run with Madsen coming out on top. He took home $5,000 for winning the two lap dash with Hodnett. Prior to that, Hodnett had beat three other competitors to make the finals with Cory Eliason doing the same before Hodnett ended his run…