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BIG GAME GATOR HUNT: David Gravel Cruises to Volusia DIRTcar Nationals Victory on Night Two

David Gravel celebrating with a wing dance and waving a checkered flag
Gravel leads flag to flag for fifth World of Outlaws win at Volusia in last eight attempts (Trent Gower Photo)

All through the off-season David Gravel made it clear he had one goal in mind for 2024 – a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car championship.

Three consecutive runner-up finishes in the points have continued to build his hunger. He’s ready to make that step. And it took him only two races in the season to make an early statement that he intends for 2024 to be his year.

Gravel led every lap of Thursday’s Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals Feature at Volusia Speedway Park. The Watertown, CT native started on the pole and drove a flawless 25 laps on his way to win number one of the year with The Greatest Show on Dirt.

The victory marked the latest in a recent hot streak for Gravel at “The World’s Fastest Half Mile.” After going winless in his first 37 Volusia attempts with the Series, Gravel has now reeled off five triumphs in his last eight tries. The five wins are enough to equal him with Daryn Pittman and Steve Kinser for the third most at Volusia with the World of Outlaws. Gravel now owns 89 career Series victories, and his team – Tod Quiring’s Big Game Motorsports – is up to 95.

It’s still extremely early in the season, but Gravel’s win moved him into the points lead by 16 markers. That also means he’s ahead in the Big Gator title hunt at the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals.

“I felt like they did a pretty good job with the racetrack,” Gravel said. “I’ve just got to thank Cody (Jacobs), Zach (Patterson), Scott (Vogelsong), and Stephen (Hamm-Reilly) for working really hard. They’ve given me a great race car since we unloaded on Tuesday night. I’ve also got to thank Tod and his family.”

Gravel’s biggest challenge of the night came right when the green flag flew. The 31-year-old led the way from the pole position with Giovanni Scelzi to his outside. On the opening lap Scelzi managed to muscle his way by Gravel on the top side. But the yellow flag flew right before the lap could be completed as Cory Eliason wound up stopped in Turn 3.

The caution re-racked the field for a complete restart, and Gravel refused to allow Scelzi by on attempt number two. He darted ahead down the front straightaway and slid ahead of Scelzi’s KCP Racing #18 to break his momentum in Turns 1 and 2.

“I was probably a little bit too nice for him going into (Turn) 1 and (Turn) 3,” Gravel said of the first start. “I just knew if I beat him on the start I was going to slide across and take away his momentum that time. Luckily I got a retry.”

From there Gravel got to work building an early lead while behind him Rico Abreu arose to face off with Scelzi for second. On Lap 2 Abreu cleared Scelzi with a slider to settle into the second spot.

As the early laps clicked away Gravel’s lead stayed steady around a second. Normally lapped traffic can cause problems for the leader, but once Gravel reached the tail of the field he actually began to grow his advantage even more as he expertly sliced through traffic. Slightly beyond the halfway point of the main event the distance between Gravel and Abreu ballooned over two seconds.

Right when Gravel appeared headed towards a comfortable win, the yellow lights flashed when Kasey Kahne slowed with issues. The caution set up a seven-lap dash to the finish with Abreu – one of the sport’s current best – right on his tail.

Gravel didn’t flinch on the restart. He powered the Huset’s Speedway/Billion Automotive #2 ahead of Abreu’s #24 machine right away. Abreu remained within striking distance for the first couple laps following the restart. But Gravel proved to be too strong as he stretched the lead over a second and claimed his first checkered flag of 2024.

“I figured Rico probably had a good car late in the race,” Gravel explained. “Ricky (Warner) sets his cars up for the end of those races. I was just hoping I got a really good launch. I got a really good launch, and then I kind of opened the door for him where he could slide me going into (Turn) 1. But I felt like I got a good enough launch, and I wanted to get down that backstretch really, really strong. I wouldn’t open up another opportunity for him, so I risked it going into (Turn) 1 and I knew it would pay off after that.”

Abreu held on to the runner-up spot which pushed his career podium total with the World of Outlaws to 46. After struggling on Wednesday night, Abreu felt encouraged to rebound with an impressive outing despite coming up short of victory.

“He (Gravel) really got away from us and hit his marks,” Abreu said. “When you catch traffic the aero really affects these cars especially when they’re packed like that at the back of the field. It creates all of this turbulence that we have to manipulate as race car drivers to get a little clean air on our nose. I’m just happy with how we’ve performed throughout the week here from last night to tonight. That’s a big positive for our team.”

Completing the top three after starting fifth was Justin Peck aboard the Buch Motorsports #13. It marked Peck’s fourth career podium with The Greatest Show on Dirt. Like Abreu, Peck was happy to bounce back after a sub-par Wednesday showing.

“The thing was maneuverable,” Peck said. “I could run the top pretty good. I could run the bottom pretty good. When I was trying to throw sliders, I didn’t necessarily have to slide across the slick. I could kind of keep the left-rear (tire) planted and drive up across the track. Hats off to my guys. I didn’t feel like we were really good yesterday at all. The thing seemed to be pretty fast all night. Qualified good, and it raced good in dirty air.”

Giovanni Scelzi and Donny Schatz rounded out the top five.

An 18th to sixth run gave Logan Schuchart the night’s KSE Racing Hard Charger.

Brian Brown snagged Simpson Quick Time in Sea Foam Qualifying – the eighth of his career.

NOS Energy Drink Heats One, Three, and Four were claimed by Rico Abreu, Brent Marks, and Justin Peck. Corey Day topped Milton Hershey School Heat Two.

David Gravel won the Toyota Racing Dash.

The Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown belonged to Bill Balog.

UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars battle at Volusia Speedway Park’s Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals for the third consecutive night on Friday, Feb. 9. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action live on DIRTVision.

RESULTS:

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps): 1. 2-David Gravel[1]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[3]; 3. 13-Justin Peck[5]; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[2]; 5. 15-Donny Schatz[16]; 6. 1S-Logan Schuchart[18]; 7. 21-Brian Brown[4]; 8. 19-Brent Marks[6]; 9. 83-Michael Kofoid[9]; 10. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[7]; 11. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild[22]; 12. 41-Carson Macedo[10]; 13. 39M-Anthony Macri[11]; 14. 14-Corey Day[8]; 15. 49-Brad Sweet[14]; 16. 48-Danny Dietrich[19]; 17. 26-Zeb Wise[20]; 18. 5T-Ryan Timms[17]; 19. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss[12]; 20. 17B-Bill Balog[21]; 21. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[15]; 22. 7S-Landon Crawley[25]; 23. 8-Cory Eliason[23]; 24. 9-Kasey Kahne[24]; 25. 1-Brenham Crouch[13]; 26. 6-Bill Rose[26]

Alex Nieten

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