By MIKE MALLETT
Rico Abreu is a fan of Hard Knox. The California native is now a three-time winner of the Friday night action that locks him into the 21st starting position in Saturday night’s Finale.
Abreu started on the outside of the front row, rode the cushion for 25-laps and came away victorious to earn his position in the Knoxville Nationals A-Main.
“Overall, these Friday nights are unique to me just from our qualifying efforts and then transferring through the heat race,” said Abreu. “It’s just frustrating for me to be on Friday nights, but it’s just another opportunity for us to work on our cars.”
Unlike his qualifying night, Abreu had a relatively uneventful evening. He transferred out of his heat race and that put him in position for the feature. He took advantage of the second starting position. He still had to hit his marks and do all the right things in the feature.
“This race is tough,” said Abreu. “A lot of it comes down to qualifying and just the track position with our cars. One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years is how tough the competition is getting overall throughout the series and race tracks. You got guys like Austin McCarl, who races here weekly, and he’s on the pole of the Knoxville National. He was one of the only cars that made it out of the heat race from the fourth row.
“It’s just everything’s timing at this place and it just takes a lot of technique and speed. Your footwork can be so difficult to focus on why you’re racing and you get to traffic and the aerodynamics and the turbulence these cars create changes the whole attitude of your race car from being by yourself out front to getting half of straightaway behind somebody and your car is already feeling different.”
Madsen Follows Rico
Kerry Madsen got to second at the green and road from there to place second in the feature. He took one shot at Abreu on a restart. He missed it and elected to just get in line on the cushion and drive his Roth Motorsports Nno. 83Jr to a spot in the feature on Saturday.
“Got an excellent start and moved around to p two,” he said. “So I was like, ‘I’m like alright, this is this is a good position’ and then there’s a restart there and I’d like the nice little bubbles behind Rico where I didn’t want to get any closer because then it gets a little bouncing on the cushion. I felt pretty comfortable so I was quite happy to sit there.
“After the first restart I got a good restart around the bottom in three and four and I got a good run on him going into one. I kind of threw a half-hearted slider, but it wasn’t happening. So just kind of lifted and got straight back to the top and then after that I wasn’t gonna leave the top.”
Sheldon Haudenschild has struggled for much of the Nationals leading up to Friday. He qualified well on Thursday, but missed it in the B-Main forcing him to Friday night’s Hard Knox program. With the track heavy around the cushion it was right up his alley. He finished third after a hard fought battle with Brian Brown. Brown actually got by him at one point on a restart before Sheldon regrouped and got back by him.
“I think we probably all expected that when they went out there and tilled the top and it kind of popped,” said Haudenschild. “The bottom was already getting thin so for me that was a little bit surprising, but it still makes it technical on top. When Brown threw a slider to go from fifth to third there, it’s a race to get back to the top to get your speed going.”
Brown from 12th to the Show
Brian Brown impressed on Friday coming from mid-pack to score the final spot in Saturday’s feature. He took advantage of restarts and a strong car on the cushion to get the job done. He got to fourth and did his best to hang on to the end to make the race.
“I got into fourth and I just kind of made some nice smooth laps to try to not do anything real dumb because then third or fourth or second didn’t matter as long as I wasn’t fifth. It’s been a long, very long week for our team. Just proud of them.
“I’m just thankful for our team not giving up. This time last night I was ready to go back to Missouri just very, very disappointed. I had very high hopes coming into the week and one thing about our team they never give up. I have to thank my wife Heather for being a psychiatrist in the motor home.”
Odds and Ends
Brandon Wimmer was fastest in Group A time-trials with a lap of 15.832 while Justin Henderson was fast in Group B with a time of 16.282…Heat race wins went to Dylan Cisney, Logan Wagner, Aryton Gennetten, Anthony Macri, rown and Haudenschild…Jake Bubak won the C-Main with the B-Main’s being won by Cory Eliason and Kyle Reinhardt.