Summertime is nearing, and Donny Schatz is on fire.
After a 30 lap war at Sharon Speedway that saw him trade haymakers with Carson Macedo and hold off a charging David Gravel, Donny Schatz parked the Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing machine in Victory Lane for a second consecutive night after winning Friday at Attica.
Only three and a half weeks ago, the 10-time Series champion didn’t have a single top three finish through the first 15 races of the 2023 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Sprint Car campaign. Since then, Schatz has racked up five podiums in the last six races including his first consecutive victories since topping the final two nights of the 2022 season. In only a few short weeks, Schatz has gone from nightly struggles to resembling the perennial title contender we’re all accustomed to.
The triumph was the 309th of Schatz career and first at Sharon Speedway. He also delivered his boss – Tony Stewart – a great birthday gift as “Smoke” celebrated turning 52 on Saturday.
“This is the first time I’ve won here? I lose track, man, I’m getting old,” Schatz said with a smile. “I’ve been around a long time, and it feels good to still be here. How about this race team? These guys are pretty incredible. What they’re doing. The way this car is. I can’t say enough about them. It’s pretty unreal. What a great weekend.”
Schatz started on the pole and slipped ahead of Carson Macedo to lead the opening circuit. As the opening laps unfolded, Schatz couldn’t escape Macedo’s reach as he kept the Jason Johnson Racing #41 within five car lengths.
On lap nine, Macedo pounced with a Turn 1 slider to take over the top spot. Schatz attempted to return the favor in the next set of corners but couldn’t clear Macedo.
One lap later, Schatz closed in heading into Turn 3 and had David Gravel right behind him as the two hunted Macedo. Schatz looked low in the corner but again couldn’t slide ahead of Macedo. The Fargo, ND native stayed composed and hit the bottom of Turns 1 and 2 perfectly as he and Macedo navigated the next lap. Schatz easily rolled by to reclaim the lead as they roared down the back straightaway.
Once he regained the top spot, Schatz wasted no time extending his advantage. The Series veteran moved his Carquest #15 all over the racing surface as he sliced through traffic while those behind him struggled to keep up.
“During racing, I could move around the racetrack,” Schatz explained of his speed. “I could kind of go anywhere. And there’s not very many nights you get a great thing like that. Last night we needed lapped traffic. Tonight, I had a good race car, so hats off to my Carquest team.”
Behind Schatz, a brawl broke out for the runner-up spot as the top three in points – Macedo, Gravel, and Brad Sweet – were all throwing sliders and crossing over nearly every corner.
It appeared Schatz would cruise away unchallenged to the victory, but the caution flag flew with seven laps to go, erasing his lead.
On the restart, Schatz opted to run the middle groove in Turns 1 and 2 and rip the top on the other end of the racetrack. Gravel, who had established control of second, rolled the bottom to perfection. The Watertown, CT native showed Schatz a nose multiple times as the laps dwindled before the yellow flag again was displayed with three laps to go.
Schatz nailed the restart and went right back to the line he’d been running while 11th-starting Sheldon Haudenschild surged from fourth to second. Gravel was able to get back by Haudenschild, but Schatz was too far away by that point. Schatz took the checkered flag with more than a second advantage.
“If you’re worried about protecting, you’re really just going to lose that spot,” Schatz said of his late race strategy. “You’re on attack mode. You’re trying to go where your race car needs to go, where you can get the best grip. Down there in (Turns) 1 and 2, there’s a spot about two car widths off there that’s kind of chunked open, and there’s moisture down there. And I just kept trying to hit it. Scuba (Crew Chief Steve Swenson) had my car so good that I could roll to that point then could just ease back into that Ford power.”
Gravel held onto second aboard the Big Game Motorsports/Husets Speedway #2. Gravel became the first to reach 10 podiums this season with the result. While the finish was strong, he couldn’t help but feel he’d missed out after the final caution flag derailed his best chance at victory.
“It was a hell of a race that whole time,” Gravel said. “When I got into second, I think if that caution doesn’t come out, we were going to be side by side or winning that race. I thought for sure Donny was going to go to the bottom because he saw my nose in (Turns) 1 and 2 on the start but he didn’t. He went to the top, and once that happened I pitched the car sideways and lost two spots. Luckily, our car was that good and we were able to pass those two guys back.”
Completing the top-three was Sheldon Haudenschild for his fourth podium of the season behind the wheel of the Stenhouse Jr.-Marshall Racing/NOS Energy Drink #17. Coming forward from 11th also earned him the night’s KSE Racing Hard Charger Award as he made his home state fans proud.
“The track was awesome,” Haudenschild said. “This place was perfect really. I don’t think you could’ve asked for a much better track… The car was great during the Feature, and we were able to drive up through there and throw sliders. I feel like not a lot of guys could throw a slider and keep rolling.”
Carson Macedo and Rico Abreu rounded out the top-five.
With Brad Sweet finishing seventh, both Gravel and Macedo made up ground on the four-time and reigning champion. Gravel is now only 20 points behind the top spot while Macedo is 30 markers back.
In Low-E Insulation Qualifying, David Gravel collected his fifth Simpson Performance Products QuickTime Award of the season – putting him in a tie for the most this season.
Gravel came out on top of CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One (212th Heat win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four were claimed by Donny Schatz (509th of career), Brock Zearfoss (13th of career), and Carson Macedo (89th of career).
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars stay in Ohio next weekend for two nights (May 26-27) at Atomic Speedway in Chillicothe, OH. Then on Monday, May 29th the Series heads to the Hoosier State where Lawrenceburg Speedway will host the Federated Auto Parts Memorial Day Spectacular. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action on DIRTVision.
A Feature (30 Laps): 1. 15-Donny Schatz; 2. 2-David Gravel; 3. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 4. 41-Carson Macedo; 5. 24-Rico Abreu; 6. 49-Brad Sweet; 7. 5-Spencer Bayston; 8. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 9. 48-Danny Dietrich; 10. 29-Cole Macedo; 11. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 12. 22-Brandon Spithaler; 13. 32B-Dale Blaney; 14. 1A-Jacob Allen; 15. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 16. W20-Greg Wilson; 17. 20G-Noah Gass; 18. 40-George Hobaugh Jr; 19. 70-Henry Malcuit; 20. 7S-Robbie Price; 21. 5C-Dylan Cisney; 22. 1-Nate Dussel; 23. 49X-Cale Thomas; 24. 83-James McFadden