Schatz Takes CHANNELLOCK Challenge Opener
By Richard Day

BRISTOL, TN (June 8) -- Donny Schatz turned adversity into triumph Friday when the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series opened the Second Annual CHANNELLOCK Challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The 1997 Rookie of the Year discovered a mechanical malfunction in the #15 Parker Stores J&J before the CHANNELLOCK Dash, but lost his spot in the race when he went to his trailer rather than the work area to fix the problem. Schatz raced to victory from outside the fifth row in the 25-lap Preliminary Feature, however.

"This is pretty awesome," Schatz said. "We wanted to win last year and ran second, but tonight was our night. We didn't get out for the dash, so I didn't know what to expect. I said to Kenny (Woodruff, his crew chief), 'you won a lot of races at Eldora (Speedway) running the top,' so we decided to do that. We changed the gear and the setup. He made all the right decisions -- I love that guy. Every time I get in this race car, I know it's going to be fast.

"We planned on going up there (to the high groove), but I didn't run up there the whole race. Once I got by somebody, I tried to make up some ground on the bottom and that helped. I have to thank Parker Stores and Featherlite Coaches for being associated with our team. Goodyear Tires has picked up its program 100 percent. We've won some races this year with their stuff and they were awesome again tonight."

Schatz, the fifth-fastest qualifier in the 39-car field, finished fifth in the First O'Reilly Heat Race and would have started inside the fifth row in the CHANNELLOCK Dash had he not discovered a miss in his engine due to a broken spark plug.

TNN: The National Network televised the action live for the second straight year.

James Chesson raced around pole-sitter Randy Hannagan in the fourth corner as the green flag fell in the Preliminary Feature. Jeff Shepard passed "The Hurricane" for the runner-up spot in the high groove between turns one and two several seconds later.

Kyle Sauder hit the outside retaining wall in the second corner early in lap two and flipped into Johnny Herrera, Dale Blaney, "B" Feature winner Greg Hodnett, Paul McMahan and Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series points leader Mark Kinser.

Schatz, who passed Steve Kinser, fast-qualifier Sammy Swindell and Danny Lasoski during the opening lap, used a high move through the first and second corners to pass Second O'Reilly Heat Race winner Blake Feese for sixth place as the green flag replaced the red. He took the high line around Hannagan for fourth place seven laps later.

Swindell, who won the inaugural CHANNELLOCK Challenge, followed Schatz toward the front. The series' three-time champion passed Daryn Pittman and Hannagan in the high groove to take over fifth place by lap 15.

Schatz challenged Dollansky for two laps before passing him high in the second corner early in lap 18. He passed Shepard for second 1 1/2 laps later. Schatz dropped into the low groove to make up precious ground on Chesson during the 20th lap, then took the lead with an inside move in turn four the next time around.

Shepard and Swindell raced past Chesson deep in the second corner with 1 2/3 laps remaining. Swindell challenged Shepard for the runner- up spot as Schatz took the checkered flag with 2.2 seconds to spare.

"We knew Sammy was going to push us -- and maybe we were lucky it was only 25 laps -- but we got this one," Schatz said.

Chesson held off Dollansky to claim the final automatic starting position in Saturday's CHANNELLOCK Dash. Tim Shaffer raced into sixth place from inside the sixth row. Hannagan finished seventh, ahead of Pittman, Feese and Lasoski.

"The Dude," who celebrated his fifth wedding anniversary Saturday, closed to within 24 points of the series points lead when Mark Kinser finished 18th.

Andy Hillenburg drove his #2 Luxaire J&J into 13th place from outside the 11th row.

Swindell, who set Bristol's single-lap record last year, paced the qualifying session with a 137.137-m.p.h. lap around the .533-mile oval which features 33-degree banking in the corners.

-WoO