Five-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) STP Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz led the Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) contingent last week with three top-six finishes in three nights of action. The week began Wednesday when Schatz drove TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet Performance J&J to victory at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Twenty-time champion Steve Kinser was looking to continue his winning ways in Las Vegas behind the wheel of TSR’s No. 11 Bad Boy Buggies/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Performance Maxim, but he couldn’t overcome difficulties in qualifying during either of the two Las Vegas events nor during Saturday’s race at Tucson (Ariz.) International Raceway. Team owner Tony Stewart was in competition Wednesday night in Las Vegas, making his second WoO start of the season in the TSR No. 14 Chevrolet Performance/Mobil 1/ J&J.
Schatz entered the two-night program at The Dirt Track tied with Kinser for most A-Features won at the half-mile, dirt oval with six. The Fargo, N.D., racer opened the program by qualifying 14th in the field of 41 cars and followed that with a dominating victory in the second heat race. A little Las Vegas luck was on his side in the dash lineup draw when an eight was pulled for the inversion. That put Schatz on the pole for the six-lap race, which set the top-10 starting positions for the 30-lap A-Feature. Schatz dueled Jason Sides in the dash and would finish second, earning him the outside-front-row starting position for the main event. Schatz took full advantage of his luck at the start and raced into the lead. While Schatz drove on the high groove, Sides mounted his challenge by working the low line. The two were side-by-side numerous times before several cautions slowed the action. During a lap-18 restart, Kyle Larson took advantage of Schatz and Sides battling each other and took command. Schatz continued his pursuit of victory racing around the cushion and used his experience late to regain the lead with two laps remaining. He would beat Sides and Larson to the flagstand and earn his seventh career A-Feature at the track and the 125th of his career.
“It’s hard to comprehend 125 wins, but the number that is more important to me right now is one,” said Schatz, who is one of only four drivers with 125 WoO A-Feature triumphs, joining Kinser, Sammy Swindell and Mark Kinser. “It’s the first one of the year, and I’ve always said that getting that first one of the year is always the hardest. It’s also the first one for Jim Oare, who joined our team as a crewman this year. I’ve had the pleasure of winning a lot of races with a number of different crew guys. The look on their face the first time they win one is priceless. I couldn’t do it without the people behind me, and we’re looking forward to trying to win a lot more of these this year.”
Kinser qualified in the 20th position and finished fifth in the opening heat. He started the 30-lap A-Feature in the 20th position and raced to 17th. Stewart timed in eighth, but finished third in heat four, one spot out of earning a position in the dash. He raced from 15th up to 12th early in the A-Feature but, after several restarts, he pulled off the track and was scored 22nd.
Schatz and Kinser returned Thursday to The Dirt Track for the season’s fifth event. Schatz qualified 12th and raced to second in the fourth heat. Luck was again on his side in the dash draw when a six invert put him on the pole for the second consecutive night. He led every lap of the six-lap race and earned the pole for the 30-lap A-Feature. Schatz and Joey Saldana shared the front row, but it was Tim Kaeding who led the opening lap. Kaeding set a blistering pace during the first 10 laps while Schatz held second. Schatz then closed on Kaeding as they worked lapped traffic. The five-time WoO champion took the lead in turn two on the 14th circuit and began pulling away. It looked like he was cruising toward a second consecutive triumph until lap 21, when Schatz slowed and allowed Kaeding to regain the top spot. A restart on lap 26 indicated what the problem was for Schatz as he rolled around during the caution laps with a flat left-front tire. Fortunately, the tire stayed on its rim, but it was a handful for Schatz to steer during the final four laps. The tire stay on its rim until the checkered flag, and Schatz finished sixth. Kaeding was able to maintain the lead and earn his first victory of the season.
The results Thursday for Kinser were similar to Wednesday. He qualified 21st, finished sixth in the opening heat and raced into the A-Feature by finishing third in the Last Chance Showdown. In the A-Feature, he was able to advance from 20th to 18th.
Following the doubleheader in Las Vegas, Schatz and Kinser headed southeast for the Wildcat Shootout presented by NAPA Auto Parts at Tucson. Schatz timed in 13th in the field of 30 cars, missing the heat race inversion by one position. He would start the opening heat fifth and finished the eight-lap race in the same position to earn a seventh-row starting position for the 30-lap A-Feature. An early jump from 13th to inside the top-10 provided some hope for the Fargo, N.D., racer, but a fast racing surface allowed the competition to spread out around the semi-banked, 3/8-mile dirt oval. Schatz made a late surge advancing from ninth to sixth during the final five laps.
Kinser’s night began similar to his two in Las Vegas when he qualified the TSR No. 11 Bad Boy Buggies Maxim 17th overall. He finished fifth in the third heat and started the main event on the inside of row nine. “The King of the Outlaws” battled in the middle of the field the entire race and came home 17th.
Kasey Kahne Racing’s Daryn Pittman led the final 20 laps and won Saturday’s A-Feature at Tucson, becoming the first repeat winner in 2013.
Following the results of last week, Schatz ranks third in the 2013 WoO STP Sprint Car Series championship standings with 808 points. He trails leader Pittman by 48 markers after six of 85 scheduled nights of racing. Kinser ranks 13th with 706 points.
Next up for TSR is a doubleheader this weekend at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif., with complete programs Friday and Saturday.