The 61st NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores is officially off and running.
In a case of deja vu, The Granddaddy of ‘Em All began on Wednesday night almost exactly how the Capitani Classic ended at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway earlier in the week on Sunday with Logan Schuchart fending off a hard-charging Donny Schatz.
The Shark Racing, DuraMAX Oil, Drydene Performance Products #1S officially led all 25 laps, but that only came after beating James McFadden into turn one, surviving several restarts, and then out-running the 10-time Knoxville Nationals champion in late lap traffic.
It marked the first preliminary night win for the Hanover, PA native – he won #HardKnox in 2018 – and continues the perfect path that two previous Knoxville Nationals champions took before him. Like Sweet in 2018 and Gravel in 2019, Schuchart will try to go three-for-three on the week and earn his first-career Knoxville Nationals title on Saturday night.
“I’m looking at the big picture,” Schuchart said after an unexcitable Victory Lane. “I don’t know that we did well enough in the points, to be honest. We have a good shot at it if we can put ourselves in a position to race for it, I hope we aren’t buried too far back. You want to lock in and take some of that stress away, but if not, we’ll run that B-Main and hopefully learn a little something on our car.”
Schuchart – the grandson of 1990 Knoxville Nationals champion, Bobby Allen – took an interesting journey to Victory Lane by qualifying 26th and landing the pole of the Feature thanks to a wacky night with inversions and points. Everything changed when 18 of the top-20 qualifiers failed to transfer from Heat Race action and opened the door for others behind them.
Schuchart’s $12,0000 payday was nearly stolen late in the going when none other than Fargo, ND’s own Donny Schatz roared to life in the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing, Carquest Auto Parts, Ford Performance #15. Like Sunday, the 10-time champion quickly reeled in Schuchart, but he couldn’t find a way around this time.
Schatz got ultra close with three laps left, closing ton 0.356-seconds, but one crucial and daring move in traffic is what allowed Schuchart to build the comfort zone he needed to hang on for the win. It was a 1.568-second margin of victory as Schatz followed him to the line in second.
“That lap car killed our momentum, and that was the only way I could get through turns three and four,” Schatz said on his late charge falling short. It gave us an opportunity to try something and I think we’ll end up sitting okay, hopefully. Those points are important. I think we’ve got a car capable of winning, but we won’t know until Saturday comes and we see what hand we’ve been dealt. I’ve never seen something like that tonight with only two of the top 20 making the Feature.”
After winning back-to-back Wednesday preliminary Features at the Knoxville Nationals, 2019 champion David Gravel lost his pursuit of a trifecta as he finished P3 in the 2022 opener. The Watertown, CT native was the only of 10 drivers to start from row four and transfer (top-four) out of Heat Race action. It was a move that paid dividends in the long run for Big Game Motorsports #2.
“I didn’t start too far back, but I lost the road map for a few laps and really struggled,” Gravel said. “I got it together the last 10-12 laps, thankfully. The car wasn’t right there in the A-Main, so we’ll have to keep working on it. It was a stressful night with how much trouble everyone had with points. This track was different, but I guarantee we won’t have this on Saturday.”
After offering a hotly contested battle for second, Giovanni Scelzi, of Fresno, CA, and James McFadden, of Alice Springs, NT, AUS, slipped back to finish fourth and fifth, respectively.
Rounding out the top-10 was Aaron Reutzel in the RSR #8, Justin Peck in the Buch Motorsports #13, Cole Macedo in the Dietz Motorsports #14J, Corey Day in the Meyers Construction #14, and Roger Crockett in his own #11.
NOS Energy Drink Feature Results (25 Laps) – 1. 1S-Logan Schuchart ; 2. 15-Donny Schatz ; 3. 2-David Gravel ; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi ; 5. 83-James McFadden ; 6. 8-Aaron Reutzel ; 7. 13-Justin Peck ; 8. 14J-Cole Macedo ; 9. 14-Corey Day ; 10. 11-Roger Crockett ; 11. 55-Hunter Schuerenberg ; 12. 11M-Parker Price-Miller ; 13. 19-Brent Marks ; 14. 16A-Colby Copeland ; 15. 39-Justin Sanders ; 16. 91-Kyle Reinhardt ; 17. 17C-Carson Short ; 18. 73-Scotty Thiel ; 19. 55W-Mike Wagner ; 20. 101-Lachlan McHugh ; 21. 13JT-Mark Dobmeier ; 22. 2KS-Ian Madsen ; 23. 2M-Davey Heskin ; 24. 6B-Brandon Wimmer . Lap Leader(s): Logan Schuchart 1-25. KSE Hard Charger Award: 11M-Parker Price-Miller[+9]