For the 62nd time, all eyes will be on the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s with an elite list of drivers presenting some of the most compelling storylines of the year.
Twenty-four cars will compete in the 50-lap, $185,000-to-win, World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series event at Knoxville Raceway. With a more than $1 million overall purse this year, even the 24th-place finisher will walk away with an impressive $15,000.
So far, 20 spots are called for with four still to be claimed in the Last Chance Showdown after running through the alphabet of mains during the evening.
2021 Knoxville Nationals champion Kyle Larson will start pole for the 50-lap event with Rico Abreu to his outside. Behind them is another all-star row with 11-time and reigning Knoxville Nationals champion and 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz, starting third – trying to tie Steve Kinser’s 12 Nationals titles – and Eldora Million winner Logan Schuchart, starting fourth.
Then, behind them, more of the greatest Sprint Car racing from the around the world – each with their own unique storyline, and looking to create more in Iowa tonight.
Here are the top storylines to follow:
CALIFORNIA KIDS: In a week’s time, Kyle Larson went from winning what he called “the most fun Sprint Car race he’d even run” with the World of Outlaws to sitting on the pole for the biggest Sprint Car race of the year. And while an honor, it wouldn’t be his first choice.
“It’s definitely an honor when you can be the high point guy out of a field this stout, but obviously that doesn’t pay anything, you want to win the race on Saturday,” Larson said. “I’ve never started on the pole of this race, but I would think you would have a little bit different mindset. Honestly, I don’t love starting on the pole in these races. I think it’s good for track position but it’s better to see where you’re better than people, where the track is changing. I think when you’re the leader you can get complacent with the lines that you run.”
After scoring the highest number of points for the week during Thursday’s preliminary night, Larson, of Elk Grove, CA, also cited he didn’t think he had the best car. Instead, he pointed to the fellow Californian starting next to him on Saturday – Rico Abreu, of St. Helena, CA.
“Rico is going to be the toughest guy to beat this week,” Larson said. “There are a lot of good guys, but Rico has, by far, been the fastest car here at Knoxville. He’s passed more people here this year, every time he’s been here. And all the races he’s won, he’s dominated. He’ll be the guy to beat.”
In six Feature starts at the Knoxville Nationals, Abreu has one top-10 – an eighth-place finish in 2017.
When told about Larson’s “guy to beat” comment, Abreu didn’t give much weight to it, simply stating he feels comfortable with his car, and he’ll see how it plays out on Saturday.
PRELIM WINNERS: Three drivers have already visited Victory Lane at Knoxville Raceway this week, setting a course for what they hope brings them to a Knoxville Nationals title.
Donny Schatz (Fargo, ND): Wednesday night, 11-time and reigning Knoxville Nationals champion Donny Schatz scored his first Knoxville Nationals preliminary win in more than a decade. If Schatz can park his CARQUEST #15 car in Victory Lane again on Saturday, he’ll match Steve Kinser’s illustrious 12 Knoxville Nationals titles record.
It’s an accomplishment that no other driver is near touching and will be decades before anyone else could come close. However, Schatz isn’t keeping the milestone on his mind. He has a tunnel vision to just win, no matter what comes along with it.
“You race so much, and you don’t think about the success. You think about the process,” Schatz said. “That’s something I feel like I’ve not wavered from is the process.”
Carson Macedo (Lemoore, CA): The last time Carson Macedo was at Knoxville Raceway in June, a terrifying crash sent him to the hospital for a short overnight stay. Small burns and broken ribs made for an uncomfortable return to racing, but determined to not be stopped, Macedo pushed through the pain and picked up two more World of Outlaws wins the next month.
But when it came time for his Knoxville return, he said there was an eerie feeling. It didn’t take long for it to disappear, though. In the debut for his green flames livery – making light of having been on fire in his crash and honoring the safety workers that helped him – Macedo out dueled Kyle Larson and Spencer Bayston for the Thursday night preliminary win. He’ll start fifth in Saturday’s Feature, looking to bring Jason Johnson Racing its third Knoxville Nationals title.
“It was a bit of an eerie feeling coming back [to Knoxville] but I wanted to come back I wanted to come back on that horse and make sure I did a good job for my race team,” Macedo said.
Aaron Reutzel (Clute, TX): The week before the Knoxville Nationals, Aaron Reutzel suffered the defeat of losing the 360 Knoxville Nationals by two-hundredths of a second at the finish line. Then, during his preliminary night, an accident in his Heat Race led to him not making the Feature and not earning enough points to even put him into Saturday’s Last Chance Showdown.
To fix that, he entered Friday’s Hard Knox night and dominated the 25-lap Feature. The win locked him into Saturday’s event, placing him 21st on the starting grid. This will be his fifth attempt to win the Nationals. In 2022, he scored the 360 Knoxville Nationals title.
HARD KNOX FINALIST: Along with Aaron Reutzel, three other drivers locked themselves into Saturday’s field by finishing in the top four during Friday’s Hard Knox Feature.
David Gravel (Watertown, CT): 2019 Knoxville Nationals winner David Gravel suffered a brake issue in his Heat Race Wednesday night, leading to him not making the preliminary Feature. With a low-points count, Gravel entered the Hard Knox night and raced his way to a second-place finish. He’ll start 22nd in Saturday’s Feature.
Along with his Knoxville Nationals title, Gravel has 11 career wins at Knoxville Raceway – his last with the World of Outlaws in June.
Scott Bogucki (McLaren Vale, SA, Aus.): Hard work has finally paid off for Bogucki. From his humble beginnings as a Sprint Car crew member, Bogucki moved to America from Australia about 10 years and steadily climbed the ladder to become a 410 Sprint Car driver.
By finishing third in the Hard Knox race, Bogucki locked himself into his first Knoxville Nationals Feature – slated to start 23rd. He’s made four starts in the 360 Knoxville Nationals with a career best finish of eighth.
Davey Heskin (St. Michael, MN): Davey Heskin had never shed so many tears over a fourth-place finish. Showing the same emotions he extruded when he won the Knoxville Raceway 410 track championship in 2021, Heskin was one of the happiest drivers Friday night after securing the final transfer spot in the Hard Knox Feature to lock himself into the Knoxville Nationals – his fourth career start and first since 2012.
In his previous three starts, Heksin has finished eighth (2010), 18th (2011) and 10th (2012).
FIRST APPERANCE: Scott Bogucki is one of five drivers (currently locked in) making their first Knoxville Nationals start this year.
Hunter Schuerenberg (Sikeston, MO): Never underestimate the Swindell Speedlab #39. Or Hunter Schuerenberg. The driver-team combination was quietly consistent throughout Wednesday night’s preliminary action. He qualified 11th, finished third in his Heat Race and then seventh in the Feature. That performance collected him enough points to start sixth in Saturday’s Feature.
Schuerenberg is unsure what his future holds for him after Saturday’s Feature. A strong showing could go a long way in helping to determine that. He’s already bested his best Nationals result of 17th in 2021’s Last Chance Showdown.
Chase Randall (Waco, TX): In one of the most impressive performances of the week, 18-year-old Chase Randall went toe-to-toe with Donny Schatz for the win during Wednesday night’s preliminary Feature. While he had to settle for second, the teenager made a strong impression in the first round of his Knoxville Nationals appearance.
Randall, the current points leader with Knoxville’s 360 Sprint Car division, will start 14th in tonight’s Feature.
Corey Day (Clovis, CA): Seventeen-year-old Corey Day has been one of the most talked about rising stars in Sprint Car racing. He nearly stole two wins with the World of Outlaws last year – earning back-to-back second-place finishes during the Sprint California Swing last year.
He attempted to make his first Knoxville Nationals last year, driving for two-time World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers, but a mistake resulted in a wrecked car and a missed opportunity. This year, again driving Meyer’s #14 car, Day returned matured and poised to correct his error. With a mistake free night on Wednesday, Day locked himself into the big show, set to start 10th
Spencer Bayston (Lebanon, IN): Spencer Bayston, the reigning World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year, has found needed momentum with his CJB Motorsports team recently. The Indiana driver picked up his first win of the season at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 last weekend and then backed it up with a third place run in Thursday’s preliminary Feature to make his first Knoxville Nationals start.
Earlier this year he finished 17th and ninth with the World of Outlaws during the doubleheader weekend in June. He’ll roll off 13th tonight, trying to grab he and CJB Motorsports’ first Knoxville Nationals title.
JUST IN: Four-time and reigning World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet just edged his way into securing the final lock-in spot after Thursday’s preliminary Feature, which ended with him flying through the air.
The 2018 Knoxville Nationals champion and current World of Outlaws points leader, of Grass Valley, CA, will start 16th in Saturday’s Feature. Since winning his Nationals title, Sweet has scored one win at Knoxville – last coming in 2019 with the World of Outlaws. In “The Big Cat’s” last three Nationals appearances, he’s finished sixth (2019), third (2021) and ninth (2022).
MORE TO FOLLOW: Will an Iowa native win the Knoxville Nationals for the first time? Who will get the final four transfer spots? Can Logan Schuchart win the Eldora Million and Knoxville Nationals in the same year? Can Brian Brown make the main event and win the Knoxville Nationals and 360 Knoxville Nationals in the same year? Will any driver run through the alphabet soup of mains to transfer into the main event?
SATURDAY’S LINE UPS: