Back in June, Carson Macedo left Knoxville Raceway in an ambulance. Two months later to the date, he left “The Sprint Car Capital of the World” the winner of a NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals prelim.
On that scary night, Macedo limped away from a wrecked Jason Johnson Racing #41 uncertain of the future. But he battled back. The 27-year-old fought through the pain to stay in the behind the wheel. Little by little, he healed. A couple wins came as he returned to physical normalcy. And then came a return to Knoxville for The Granddaddy of ‘Em All.
Macedo and the JJR crew brought a special livery donning flames to both show appreciation to the safety team that helped Macedo and make a little light of a difficult situation. The car hit the track on Thursday night for the first time, and Macedo wheeled it to the win on Iowa Lottery Qualifying Night.
The team, family, and friends erupted with joy in Victory Lane. Emotions overflowed as Macedo won on the sport’s grandest stage at the track that put them face to face with a hefty load of adversity.
“It’s amazing. That was incredible,” Macedo said. “It sucked to have that wreck. Man, it was a tough road back. You take for granted your youth, I think. I hadn’t had a wreck that bad before. The recovery process at Beaver Dam that next weekend was hell on earth with my ribs being broke and still trying to race. And to come back here and win is pretty incredible.”
The win marked Macedo’s fifth overall win at Knoxville with JJR. The pairing won their first race together in a 2018 360 Nationals prelim. They topped two World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car events in 2021. Last year, they claimed a local Knoxville show. It was also enough to slot them in fifth among the lineup for Saturday’s 50-lap, $185,000 to win finale.
Macedo began the 25-lap Feature from the fourth position while up front Anthony Macri and Garet Williamson paced the field. Third-starting Dusty Zomer used a strong start to slide Macri for the lead in the first set of corners, but Macri returned the favor in Turns 3 and 4 to lead the opening lap.
Macri settled into the lead while Williamson rolled around Zomer for second on Lap 4, and Macedo followed him to slot into third.The top trio stayed in that order throughout the early portion of the race. But as the raced moved beyond halfway, Macedo slid Williamson to take over runner-up.
The red flag flew for a flipping Daryn Pittman with only 10 laps remaining to set up a pivotal restart. When the green lights came back on, a great run coming out of Turn 4 allowed Macedo to clear a slide job on Macri. The Dillsburg, PA native attempted to return the favor on the next lap but couldn’t clear him.
“Macri just missed the bottom on that start,” Macedo explained. “I was able to kind of fire across and get the lead. I knew at that point it was going to be tough to get by me as long as I started logging laps around the top.”
Macedo was correct in his assessment as nobody could mount a challenge to even attempt to pass him. The Lemoore, CA driver survived some late yellow and red flags and went on to win comfortably.
Now, the focus can shift to the main prize – Saturday’s $185,000 finale. The Knoxville Nationals brought Jason Johnson Racing’s most memorable moment when the late Johnson himself wheeled the #41 to victory in 2016. Macedo thinks he might have a passenger this week.
“I’m thankful for my team,” Macedo said. “JJR is amazing. I think Jason was maybe riding with me tonight there after I had my bad one. He loved Knoxville Raceway, and I love it too.”
Behind Macedo, Kyle Larson put together a late charge to bring the Silva Motorsports #57 home in the runner up spot. “Yung Money’s” efforts throughout the night earned him 482 points – enough to give him the pole for Saturday’s finale. Larson is a former Knoxville Nationals champion (2021), but the pole is an honor he’d not yet experienced. He’ll aim for back to back Saturday triumphs after topping last weekend’s Ironman 55.
“Winning the Knoxville Nationals was really cool, but I’ve also wanted to be able to say I’ve started on the pole of the Knoxville Nationals someday,” Larson said. “So, I’m glad to get a really good prelim night in. Qualified okay for going out late. Then driving from the fourth row to win the Heat was pretty awesome. I had a good car in the Feature, just made a lot of mistakes most of that whole race. So, to still come away with a second after running that sloppy, I’m happy with it but just need to clean a lot of things up behind the wheel and hopefully have a good shot for Saturday.”
Spencer Bayston put together a strong charge from 10th to third to round out the podium aboard the CJB Motorsports #5. Bayston’s run gave him enough points to lock him into his first Knoxville Nationals finale as he’ll start 13th on Saturday – a moment that left him feeling especially grateful.
“It just feels really good,” Bayston said. “I’ve never made a Knoxville Nationals A-main, and I’ve been trying for so long and it feels so good. This is the most special place and the most special race of all of Sprint Car racing. And just to make the A-main finally feels so good.”
Anthony Macri and Rico Abreu, who started 21st, completed the top five. Abreu earned 480 points through the night, putting him alongside Larson on the front row for Saturday. The northern Californians who grew up racing together will lead the field to green in the sport’s biggest race.
Abreu also earned the night’s Simpson Performance Products QuickTime for the third time this season and the 16th of his career. And to go along with that, he took KSE Racing Hard Charger honors. The Micro-Lite Last Chane Showdown? Also to Abreu.
CASE No. 1 Engine Oil Heat One went to Zach Hampton (first Heat Race win of career). Your Life Iowa Heats Two through Five were topped by Kevin Thomas Jr. (first of career), Kalib Henry (first of career), Kyle Larson (38th of career), and Ayrton Gennetten (second of career).
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars return to Knoxville Raceway on Friday, August 11 for Hard Knox night. The drivers who weren’t able to lock in get the opportunity to forget all about a sub-par prelim with four more spots available to the drivers who run first through fourth in the Friday main event. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the racing live on DIRTVision.
FIRST EIGHT ROWS OF KNOXVILLE NATIONALS FINALE:
Row 1: Kyle Larson – Rico Abreu
Row 2: Donny Schatz – Logan Schuchart
Row 3: Carson Macedo – Hunter Schuerenberg
Row 4: Kerry Madsen – Buddy Kofoid
Row 5: Giovanni Scelzi – Corey Day
Row 6: Ian Madsen – Dusty Zomer
Row 7: Spencer Bayston – Chase Randall
Row 8: Anthony Macri – Brad Sweet
A Feature (25 Laps): 1. 41-Carson Macedo; 2. 57-Kyle Larson; 3. 5-Spencer Bayston; 4. 7BC-Anthony Macri; 5. 24-Rico Abreu; 6. 88-Austin McCarl; 7. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 8. 3J-Dusty Zomer; 9. 83JR-Michael Kofoid; 10. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 11. 21-Brian Brown; 12. 6G-Garet Williamson; 13. 71-Shane Stewart; 14. 16A-Colby Copeland; 15. 4-Ian Madsen; 16. 25-Lachlan McHugh; 17. 12X-Ayrton Gennetten; 18. 101-Kalib Henry; 19. 35-Zach Hampton; 20. 17AU-Jamie Veal; 21. 49-Brad Sweet; 22. 11-Cory Eliason; 23. 5X-Daryn Pittman; 24. 4J-Kevin Thomas Jr