By MIKE MALLETT
KNOXVILLE, IA – The 28th Annual 360 Knoxville Nationals at the Knoxville Raceway got off to a great start on Thursday night with a Canadian driver reaching Victory Lane for the first time since 1985. Yes, it was over 20 years in the making for Thomas Kennedy as he became the first Canadian to win a 360 Sprint Car event.
“It’s awesome,” stated Kennedy after the win. “As a Canadian it puts us in a great position come Saturday. Last year we made the A-Main for the final night. To come back here in our own car and win a preliminary night that is a huge accomplishment for our team.”
Kennedy beat someone that was competing at Knoxville in 1985 in Sammy Swindell. Swindell poked his nose under Kennedy on the final lap in turns three and four. Kennedy just beat him to the bottom of the track.
“I knew something was going to happen,” mentioned Kennedy. “I got slowed up so bad by a couple of lapped cars for four or five laps. I knew I was losing momentum so it was just a matter of time. I did look at the board to see how many laps were left but I when I saw the white flag I just wanted one more lap.
“Coming into three I was doing my usual going up top and cutting down and I saw a nose come underneath me. I said, ‘I’m not letting you pass me.’ I didn’t know if it was a lapped car or not. After the checkered I saw that there was a three car on the board.”
The win comes during a season in which Kennedy, who makes a 12 hour tow to compete at Knoxville, has made a concerted effort to compete on a more regular basis at Knoxville. Those five prior trips have paid off with plenty of growth and learning for the team.
“We haven’t run this much before the Nationals in the past,” cited Kennedy. “This year we decided to. I think we’ve got five shows previous to tonight. It makes a huge difference. The first night out here this year we were off, but we weren’t off a lot. Each time we came here we got better, better and better. We got the win tonight and I couldn’t be prouder of everyone on the team.”
Swindell Puts on Show
To use the old cliché, Swindell is like a fine wine, he just keeps getting better with age. The Germantown, Pa., driver started 11th and made a charge to the front. Swindell came up about a half lap short of claiming the opening night victory. He was there, but Kennedy slammed the door close at the last minute.
“He had been running the top all the way around,” said Swindell about Kennedy. “I was making time on the bottom. He just turned straight down. It was hard to keep from hitting him. I was on the brakes hard. If he had left me just a car width it was over. I would have blew right by him, especially with his tire going down. It was okay down the backstretch when I was catching him. I knew he was going to go to top. I was going to take a wide entry and catch a little berm getting in. I could really make some time. I thought we are going to have this one. Then he appeared right in front of me.”
Swindell had a great car coming up through the field that allowed him to come from mid-pack. His car was phenomenal on the bottom of the track. His pace was slowed with a torrid four car battle for the fourth and fifth positions. That battle cost him time as he got held up waiting for everything to open up.
“The first part those guys were sliding each other and they kept slowing us down,” commented Swindell. “There were four of them. I was about the fifth one of them guys. Every time I would make move to pass one of them they’d make a move and turn this way or block you. Finally the 28 (Scott Bogucki) went in there and caught the berm. He must have slid up enough because I was right on the bottom watching that. You are looking out the side there and there was nobody there. I think that there was four cars in just that one corner. When I got them I come around four I could see the blue car (kennedy) all the way out there at the other end.”
Daniel Holds his Own
Young up and comer Mason Daniel nabbed the third and final spot on the podium. Daniel started from the pole position of the A-Main, battled early with Kennedy before fading slightly down the stretch. Daniel struggled a bit in traffic which allowed Kennedy to win and Swindell to get by him on the bottom.
“We were catching Kennedy in traffic and I don’t have a lot of experience with that,” cited Daniel. “I got a little anxious in lapped traffic. I started to cut off two and that really caused me to spin my tires. At that point in time Sammy closed the gap and got by us. It was a learning experience and hopefully we’ll improve for Saturday night.”