Brown is now second in the point standings for the Knoxville Nationals title
Brian Brown fired the opening shot in the battle for the FVP Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey's General Stores, surging past Sam Hafertepe Jr. to win Thursday night's qualifying feature.
Brown, who has found himself in recent years fighting Donny Schatz for the Knoxville Nationals title, said he is keeping Schatz in his sights but is also thinking about tonight's third place finisher, Kerry Madsen.
"When your car is working that good and your motor is working that good the driver doesn't have to do anything that's too crazy - just don't put yourself out of position," said Brown, driver of the FVP, Casey's General Stores car. "We didn't do it tonight. We weren't too crazy fast in qualifying, we weren't that great in the heat and in the feature, to me, we were just kind of mediocre and we found a way to squeak one out - we've got to work on our car a little bit more if we want to beat Madsen and Schatz."
The rain that postponed Wednesday's first night of qualifying did not return Thursday, however a light mist fell on the track for much of the late afternoon. Brown said the weather conditions lowered his expectations for the night.
"We went out to hot lap and it's misting rain and every half a lap your shield fogs up where you can't even see," Brown said. "So I was thinking, I waited 360 days for this Knoxville Nationals and this is what I'm going to get?... I was thinking one lane, no passing. I'm going to get third to fourth quick time; I'm going run eighth in the heat, I'm going start fourth in the B and transfer. I'm going go from 22nd to 10th and be 14th in points is what I was thinking. Obviously it changed quite a bit."
Brown complimented Knoxville officials for the work they did to get the track back in racing condition after a day of rain. He also thanked the fans for sticking it out through less than ideal weather.
After qualifying fourth and finishing fourth in his heat, Brown finds himself second in the Knoxville points standings. He is six points out of the lead.
Bryan Clauson and Jeff Swindell led the field to the green flag - second place finishing Sam Hafertepe Jr. started in third, Brown started in fifth and Madsen started in seventh.
Jeff Swindell jumped out to an early lead, taking lap one of the feature. It was a position he held through much of the first half of the feature, as Clauson tried to hold off his competition. By lap five, Hafertepe moved into the second spot, setting his sights on Swindell, as Brown pushed into the top-five.
On lap 12, Hafertepe had reeled in Swindell and was battling with him for the lead. Hafertepe took over the lead a lap later as Brown pressed Clauson for third. Brown took over the spot on lap 15. After a short battle, Madsen also got around Clauson, taking over the fourth spot.
Shortly after Brown passed Swindell for second, a red flag flew. It was the break Brown needed.
"Sam (Hafertepe) did a good job and brought me around pretty slow (on the restart)," Brown said. "My motor didn't take off quite as well as I would like and he got going a little bit better. I was going to throw a Hail Mary there and try to slide him and I went across there and it stuck pretty well. And then I stuck the bottom off of two and went down the back straightaway and he chopped me pretty good. I thought I really want to win this but I really want to finish so I let him go and then got back going again and got another good run and stuck it."
Hafertepe said he came into Knoxville with a lot of confidence after good runs at the 360 Nationals and a weekly show at the track. That confidence Hafertepe had faded though as he struggled through qualifying.
"We thought we'd qualify top-10 and we qualified 20th," Hafertepe said. "I was pretty upset after qualifying because I knew we had a better car than that. The way the track was, it just caught us off guard. We were kind of geared up to be a little bit slicker. I just told myself, hey, we've got to deal with what we have and we did. We made our car better and better and we ran second in the heat from fifth. In the feature, if the only guy that beats you is Brown, you're doing alright around here."
With a fifth place position in the Knoxville Nationals' points, Hafertepe said he hopes it will be enough to lock him into the show on Saturday night.
Madsen, who is now leading the Knoxville Nationals' point standings and is carrying momentum from wins at Eldora Speedway's Kings Royal and The Ironman 55, credited his American Racing Custom Wheels team and more specifically his crew chief Tyler Swank for the his success this season.
"You know, I'm more excited that we had a good night and we're solidly in the show rather than being the point leader," Madsen said. "We had a solid car all night - qualifying, heat race and the A main. I just drove really conservatively in the A main - I just wanted to get a finish. The car was great and it's going to be a good relief tonight. A good night's sleep and I'll go watch the races tomorrow andSaturday is probably going to be pretty intense."
The World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series returns to action tomorrow night at Knoxville Raceway asWednesday's qualifying group makes up its rain postponed show. All of Friday's events have been moved to Saturday afternoon, prior to the regularly scheduled Saturday show.
World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series