By MIKE MALLETT
Austin McCarl quietly had a pretty good night on Sunday in the Capitani Classic at the Knoxville Raceway. The Altoona, Iowa, driver was sneaky fast as he drove his way up from 10th to take the checkers in the fifth spot after mixing it up with Chad Kemenah, Ian Madsen and Joey Saldana among others. It was a huge lift for McCarl as he gets ready for the Knoxville Nationals.
“This is probably one of the top three toughest events, it’s by far tougher than our qualifying night coming up this week,” stated McCarl. “It’s really good to come out with a solid top five. We’ve kind of been shaky the last few weeks compared to where we started the year really good. The last couple weeks we crashed, had a couple of nights where we weren’t totally there. It was good, like I said. It’s obviously confidence building. I passed a lot of guys I grew up idolizing so that’s pretty cool too.”
McCarl wanted to take as little of the credit as possible for his quality performance on Sunday. He gave credit to car owner and crew chief Troy Renfro as well as his main sponsors Casey’s General Store and Des Moines Industrial Products before thanking his engine builder.
“This is obviously the Super Bowl of races for us,” he said. “It starts in qualifying and I have to thank Al Parker (Race Engines). Our qualifying program has been great all year. I have to thank Troy my mechanic. I’ve known him a long time. Growing up as a kid he worked for my dad. I’ve had great cars all year and it makes my job easier. It makes me look really good. I’m lucky I’m the one that gets to go out there and drive it.”
The high-side seemed to be the preferred groove for his TKS Motorsports No. 2 as he powered around the cushion for much of the race. His car was good enough that he could move off the cushion if he had to, but the way the race played out the cushion was where he did most of his work passing cars.
“If you watched the race before I would have thought the whole race was going to be on the bottom,” commented McCarl. “I thought I would have went down there on the start, got forced to the cushion then spent the whole race on the bottom the rest of the night. The way the first few laps worked out I was committed to the cushion. I got a couple guys and felt really good moving around. I was able to move around in three and four quite a bit, but I got committed to the top. I passed a few guys up there. Chad (Kemenah) and I had a good race. I respect the hell out of him and Brian (Kemenah). They are some of the best racers in the country. It was fun to race with him for fifth. He’s a guy that likes the bottom so I had to be committed to the top. I knew I wasn’t going to beat him at his own game.”
It paid off with a fifth, but more importantly it helped pump the confidence of the third generation driver as he looks forward to this father Terry’s Front Row Challenge event on Monday night at the Southern Iowa Speedway (Oskaloosa).
“This is a great night, a great confidence builder and hopefully we can go into Oskaloosa tomorrow and bring home a championship belt and $20,000,” he said. “I’m super happy for this team. This was a team effort. Unfortunately we don’t get to race as much as a lot of the guys we are racing against. For a little team like this, for me, the confidence thing with not racing as much, this is huge.”
Once that’s over, he’ll focus on his qualifying efforts on Wednesday night. Sunday means nothing, but it means everything when it comes to being mentally prepared.
“Wednesday is a new day,” cited McCarl. “This means nothing, absolutely nothing, but for the head games it’s pretty important.”