Knoxville Nationals Thursday summary

WORLD OF OUTLAWS TEAMS SHINE ON OPENING NIGHT OF KNOXVILLE NATIONALS Paul McMahan tops standings after first round of qualifying events KNOXVILLE, IA -- August 9, 2007 -- Paul McMahan took a huge step towards winning his first Knoxville...

Paul McMahan tops standings after first round of qualifying events

KNOXVILLE, IA -- August 9, 2007 -- Paul McMahan took a huge step towards winning his first Knoxville Nationals championship Thursday as he led strong performances by several World of Outlaws teams on the opening night at Sprint Car racing's biggest event.

A two-time winner this season with the World of Outlaws, McMahan paced the field with a new Knoxville Nationals track record of 14.817 seconds. He then started last on the half-mile oval in his fully inverted 10-car heat and raced his way into a fourth-place transfer position before eventually finishing fifth in the feature.

By the end of the night, McMahan sat atop the standings with 483 points for Saturday's 47th annual running of this festival of speed at Knoxville Raceway, a track with which McMahan has a score to settle after he sustained a serious back injury during the 2004 event. Capturing the $150,000 top prize might go a long way towards soothing that ache.

"Coming to Knoxville is always a lot of added pressure you put on yourself," said McMahan, 36, a California native who resides in Nashville. "You get so sick to your stomach before qualifying, and we were able to click off a good lap and be quick time, then the pressure rebuilds on you having to start 10th in the heat race and get into the top four to make the A-main. I was fortunate enough to have a good start and get to fourth in the heat race. It takes a lot of pressure off of me so I can just to go out and do my job and drive the Bass Pro Shops Chevy car to the front."

Joey Saldana drove his Mopar-powered machine to a fourth-place finish in the A-main, and combined with his qualifying effort is second overall after one night of competition. Stevie Smith, Steve Kinser and Wayne Johnson round out the top five in points.

In the main event on Thursday night, Brooke Tatnell started on the outside of the front row and was well on his way to Victory Lane when a caution waved to set up a green-white-checkered finish. That removed lapped cars from the mix and put Jeff Shepard right on Tatnell's tail. Tatnell went to the high side of the track on the restart while Shepard dove to the bottom and slid to the front, pulling off the victory.

Still, Tatnell is sixth in points after the first night of action, with Terry McCarl seventh and Shepard eighth. Knoxville regular Travis Cram is ninth with Lernerville Speedway's all-time leading sprint car winner Ed Lynch Jr. rounding out the Top 10 in points.

"My gut said go to the bottom," said Tatnell, a native of San Souci, NSW, Australia. "When you're the leader, sometimes you're a sitting duck. It's just disappointing. We had a really good race car."

After following Tatnell for 23 laps, Shepard, of Upperco, Md., knew his only hope was to run him down on the restart.

"I was just happy they didn't put a lapped car between us," Shepard said. "All I knew is that going by that [restart] cone I needed to be on his bumper so I could peel off to the left going into Turn 1. I thought for sure he was going low. I asked him, 'Why didn't you go low to block me?' He said, 'My team told me to ring the top.' I said, 'Well, that wasn't the right thing to do because that was my only shot.' I would catch him, I got beside of him one time coming off of Turn 2 but right in front of both of us was a car on the bottom and I couldn't get past him to get back to the top."

Winning the main event on a qualifying night is no doubt exciting, but it's still only one piece of the puzzle drivers must solve to reach their goal of winning the Knoxville Nationals. Between the points structure, the inversions and the scrambles, the best place to be is near the top of the standings by Saturday night when the field is aligned for the race to the $150,000 prize out of a purse nearly $1 million strong.

"Just being locked into the main event is the big thing, but to be to the high point guy and to be in that scramble is just phenomenal for us," McMahan said. "I've had a lot of bad luck running here at Knoxville, and just everything went my way tonight. The Paul Kistler Chevy motors are just ripping. This is probably the best motor I've had all year long."

Saldana, the runner-up last year, is aiming to move up one spot up the podium on Saturday night and sitting second in points after the opening night is critical.

"We had a bleeder break off on the wheel and that could have been detrimental the way points are," said Saldana, of Brownsburg, Ind. "For us to finish with three pounds of air in the right rear and be second in points, it could have easily gone the other way. It was a good night for us."

Lurking fourth in the standings after Thursday is Kinser, a remarkable feat considering two cars collided and flipped in front of him in the first corner during his heat race. Kinser's car suffered damage to the top and front wings as well as a slightly bent axle. Still, Kinser restarted in the last row and willed himself into the transfer spot.

"We're going to be a couple of rows out of the striking distance on Saturday night," said Kinser, a 12-time Knoxville Nationals champion. "We probably don't have much of a chance, but if it slickens up a bit we can probably still get there."

The rest of the field will run its qualifying feature on Friday, after torrential rain forced it to be delayed from Wednesday night. Among the drivers who will tackle the track on Friday is 2006 World of Outlaws and Knoxville Nationals champion Donny Schatz.

-credit: woo

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About this article
Series World of Outlaws
Drivers Donny Schatz , Steve Kinser , Brooke Tatnell , Joey Saldana , Paul McMahan