Donny Schatz picked up his 10th Knoxville Nationals title on Saturday night.
Schatz wheeled his No. 15 Arctic Cat/Tony Stewart Racing Ford through heavy traffic over the final 28 laps and held off a late-race charge from Kyle Larson for the win. Kerry Madsen completed the podium at the half-mile dirt track in Knoxville, Iowa.
“Man, I did everything I could to get by — some people just give up when they’re in that position — but that’s how it works some days,” Schatz said. “You can’t get flustered, you can’t get frustrated by it. You have to figure out what to do. I was off the pace for so long I knew someone was going to be coming. After the stoppage (halfway pit stops), Kyle was second.
“He normally finds everything in a race car, so you have to stay on your toes with him. He’s an awesome sprint driver. It sucks that he has a different career to do. I’m just glad he’s a part of this sport and comes back because he loves it like the rest of us do.”
Shane Stewart, Brad Sweet, Brian Brown, Aaron Reutzel, Rico Abreu, Daryn Pittman and Ian Madsen rounded out the top 10 finishers.
For Larson, who won his qualifier to transfer into the A-Main, his career-best second-place finish came in just his third start in the Knoxville Nationals.
“That was a fun, tough race. We had some good restarts there, got to second and was kind of maintaining pace with him,” Larson said of Schatz. “Was just trying to wait until we got through traffic. I knew he would be good in traffic, but I figured there would be a couple of times where he wouldn’t clear someone and get tight and maybe I could get a run. But the times he got tight, I got tight on the cushion and I lost the run I needed. Still, a heck of a race.”
David Gravel led the field to green for the 57th 5hour Knoxville Nationals. Austin McCarl triggered the first yellow flag on Lap 19. Gravel led the first 19 laps followed by Schatz, Madsen, Brad Sweet, Brown, Larson, Terry McCarl, Pittman and Johnson.
Gravel held the point until Lap 22 when his engine failed and he was forced into the pits.
“We had a bad ass car,” Gravel said. “I felt like we had the fastest car all week and we don’t have anything to show for it…the best things in life don’t come easy — and obviously this didn't come easy.
“Something vibrated down the backstretch, at the entrance of Turn 3 I felt something let go. It is what it is, we’ll come back next year."
Schatz inherited the lead on Lap 23 followed by Madsen, Sweet, Larson and Shane Stewart. Larson passed Sweet for third and set his sights on Madsen. Terry McCarl hit the Turn 4 wall to bring out the third caution. When the race went green on Lap 25, Larson blew by Madsen for second. Sweet was fourth followed by Stewart.
The lead lap cars navigated through heavy traffic with Schatz building a 2.7-second lead over Larson with Greg Hodnett stopped in Turn 4 with 12 laps remaining. Schatz held the point when the race returned to green. Larson looked low but couldn’t catch the No. 15.
With five laps remaining, Schatz’ advantage was 1.2-seconds over Larson. While Yung Money made up ground on the closing laps, he slapped the wall coming out of Turn Four on the white-flag lap and Schatz sailed off to the win.
“I’m glad to get this win, this is incredible,” said Schatz, who is now two titles short of Steve Kinser’s record-12 Nationals. “This whole race team is incredible what they do. On the stoppage, you’re kind of a sitting duck. Early in the race, David ran so hard I didn’t know what was going to happen. It kind of chopped up there on the top. A couple of times I could see him off the ground and see his tires light up. When he broke, I thought maybe that was something from running hard. It was tricky up there — definitely.
“But these guys built me an awesome race car. It’s durable and it does it’s job every night. But we just won the Knoxville Nationals!”