By MIKE MALLETT
KNOXVILLE, IA – Sometimes storybook endings actually happen in real life. It may not be often, but they aren’t just made up fairytales. That was the case on qualifying night two for the 28th Annual Knoxville 360 Nationals Friday.
Carson Macedo hit the track for the first time as the pilot of the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41. With emotions of the night running high for everyone associated with the team, Macedo was able to give them all the ending they were hoping for. Macedo parked the No. 41 back in Victory Lane at the Knoxville Raceway. Much to the delight of the crowd as it erupted when he climbed from the car.
“What an awesome night,” exclaimed the 22-year-old driver. “The first night back for the 41. To be able to come out here and have speed like that is still incredible. This race car obviously was really fast here. I knew that going in so to tell you there wasn’t a little bit of added pressure is lying. I wanted to come here and do well, as anybody would. This family, Bobbi, Jaxx, Philip, Tyler; they are all great guys. To be able to meet them and be a part of something with them…hopefully tonight brought a smile to their face. After some hard times lately they deserve it. I’m really happy, just thankful for everything that happened tonight.”
It was special to be in the 41, but it was also career night for Macedo as it was his first ever win at Knoxville. That is something he’s dreamed of doing for a long time.
“To win here regardless of the situation is pretty incredible for me,” commented the Lemoore, Calif., native. “Being a guy that came from California, it’s pretty stereotypical to say that California guys can’t come here and be good. They struggle on big tracks which is true. I did for a long time. To be able to pick it up and start having speed on these big places is big for me, especially at the Sprint Car Capital of the World (Knoxville).”
Although emotional in Victory Lane, Macedo was able to keep those same emotions under control during the 20-lap feature. He was focused on the task at hand, not the gravity of the moment or the situation.
“In the moment you are so worried hitting your laps, making good time, never spinning the tires, keeping the car underneath you and doing your job,” he said about the race. “Once I crossed the checkered I definitely thought about it, but before that point I was just thinking, ‘Who’s behind me? How close they are? Am I making mistakes? Am I pulling away? Am I making good runs?’ ”
Macedo definitely made good runs with the most important coming on lap 11. Joey Saldana had taken the lead on a lap four restart. By lap eight he was in traffic. Initially the traffic didn’t have too much of an effect. That was until lap 10. Saldana had to slide across the track from the bottom to the top killing all his forward drive. Macedo pounced. He dove low coming off the second turn before using a slide job to complete the pass in turns three and four.
“Late in the race I could really make momentum and ground off of two,” mentioned Macedo. “I could run off of two and make speed down the backstretch. I knew if I could get Joey (Saldana) to traffic and he could dirty up his air a little bit that I could maybe catch him and get by him. That is exactly how it happened. My car was so good. I could go anywhere.”
Macedo scored the win, but he didn’t run a flawless race. He made mistakes which included several endeavors up over the cushion. Each time he recovered quickly while not losing the lead.
“I was driving really hard,” he said. “It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever ran. I race every race hard, but when you are leading at Knoxville, have never won before and you are in the 41, you step it up as hard as you can go.”
He’ll look to do the same on Saturday night in the 25-lap finale with much more on the line. Maybe, just maybe, this story has a second chapter to be written.