The first half of the 2022 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season saw Donny Schatz and Logan Schuchart, arguably, off-base.
Despite each capturing a win, both struggled to be a weekly contenders. But with a Knoxville Nationals title on the line, the two World of Outlaws stars have seemingly found their groove again at the Sprint Car Capital of the World.
Schuchart held off a hard-charging Schatz for the win at Knoxville Raceway’s Capitani Classic on Sunday, and then did so again Wednesday to win the first preliminary night of the 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s – his first preliminary night win.
“Definitely feels good to get two wins at Knoxville,” said Schuchart, of Hanover, PA, who is chasing his first Knoxville Nationals title.
However, Schuchart stated there’s still room for improvement with his DuraMAX Oil/Drydene Performance Products #1S. Mainly with qualifying.
He qualified seventh during the Capitani but then qualified 26th overall in Wednesday night’s preliminary event. With the help of an inversion and the way points fell, Schuchart finished third in his Heat Race – ahead of fourth-place Schatz – transferring him into the Feature and placing him on the pole.
“We need to do a little homework and figure out why we’re not qualifying as good as we need to,” Schuchart said. “We race good. As the race went on, I didn’t feel as good as I needed to. I felt like I wanted to move off the top, but I felt like I was taking a big chance, not knowing how my car would react to it.”
While Schuchart’s turn of fortune has taken off at Knoxville, Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team have seen steady improvement since the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway – where he finished second. The 10-time Series champion, of Fargo, ND, is on a streak of six top-10 finishes in a row with the World of Outlaws with five of them being top fives – seven if you include the Capitani Classic and Wednesday’s preliminary Feature. One was also a win at Weedsport Speedway – his second Series victory of the year.
He attributed that success to finding the sweet spot he and his team have been looking for with the Ford 410 engine, allowing them more time to focus on their CARQUEST #15 car again as Schatz chases his 11th Knoxville Nationals win.
“We’re able to work on the race car again,” Schatz said. “You know, the last… I don’t even know the timeline. We’ve been busy trying to get the motors to where I feel they need to be. We’ve been so focused on it that you don’t even work on your race car. Not that we don’t work on it, it’s just you focus on where you need to get the motors to be. That’s not a quick easy fix overnight.
“Everybody has worked double overtime and where we can get back to working on our race car. Our race cars feel good. I feel like we’re in a great spot. We’ve been consistent. I think there’s room for a lot of improvement obviously. I guess if a driver felt like he was really good he’d be sitting in the middle of [Schuchart and David Gravel on Wednesday night’s podium] here. We’re not doing that. We’re building toward that though.”
Schuchart also cited a need to improve his own engines.
“I feel like we have a lot to learn as far as bad air,” he said. “We’re good at the beginning of the year and good at the end of the year. I feel like at Kings Royal it was the same thing. When the air is a little bit better… we’re learning. We’re learning as a team. That’s how it goes. Our guys work really hard to give us the best stuff that we can. Built in house. It’s a family operation. We’re learning. Young crowd, other than my grandfather who has a lot of experience with it. We’re trying to make our engines better every day. Just trying to make our team better as a whole. We all work really, really hard.
“We’ll keep working at it. Hopefully get those restarts better and get ourselves running better in the bad air.”
Schatz is currently tied with Gravel (at 469 points) for the top spot in Knoxville Nationals points. However, that doesn’t have him fully confident he’s locked into Saturday’s Feature.
“The way it feels, it would probably be good enough for the front of the B (Main),” he said before expressing his frustrations with conditions throughout the night.
Schuchart is currently eighth in points (444 points), also anxious to see where the points fall after Thursday night’s preliminary action. To him, the competition level is higher than ever this year.
“Nowadays, the cars are so good,” he said. “Everybody has been running on the same (kind of) tires for so long. I just feel like everybody is on the same page and very fast. Tough to start eighth in your Heat race and pass really good race cars.”
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If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch the 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s live with an annual DIRTVision Platinum FAST PASS subscription.