KNOXVILLE, Iowa — David Gravel drove a race good enough to win the 61st Knoxville Nationals Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway.
The problem was Donny Schatz drove a better one.
Gravel, the 2019 Nationals winner, took the lead at the start of the second segment and drove away from the field ripping the top groove in the Big Game Motorsports No. 2.
However, Schatz, who restarted sixth was chipping away at the bottom of the track. He passed car after car, until only Gravel remained.
With five laps remaining, Schatz made his move.
“I couldn’t hear him. One was so far around on the entrance that if he was hammering the bottom I figured I was going to be able to see his nose going into one,” Gravel explained. “I never heard him and when I did hear him going down the backstretch it was too late and he slid me going into three. He did a good job of not showing his nose because I would have changed it up but he did a good job.
“He is the king of Knoxville. One day, hopefully, he will retire and I can be the king of Knoxville.”
Obviously, Gravel was disappointed not to wrap up a second Nationals crown.
“It sucks,” said Gravel, who earned $80,000 for second place. “Proud of our effort. I wanted to win for Tod Quiring (team owner) and my crew guys. They have never won this race before. I thought we had it. We must have slowed down a little bit those last couple of laps and Donny must have gotten a little bit quicker. It is tough to swallow, but I’m proud.”
• Austin McCarl was the first polesitter to start on the pole for the Nationals since his father, Terry McCarl, in 2004.
He led the first lap and ran solidly in the top five until suffering a flat right-rear tire on lap 37. He ended up 15th.
• The 61st Knoxville Nationals sold out of grandstand tickets on Friday. The four-day event offered a total purse of $1,002,605, including $175,000 to winner Donny Schatz. Saturday night’s last-place finisher, Justin Peck, earned $10,000.
• Buddy Kofoid, who steered the Neumeister Racing No. 11n sprint car, was named rookie of the Nationals after finishing 11th on Saturday night.
• Aaron Reutzel took home the Beaver Drill & Tool Jesse Hockett “Mr. Sprint Car” championship standings and the $6,500 prize that goes with it.
Giovanni Scelzi finished second and will receive $2,500, while Brian Brown earned $1,000 for third.
• Observers this week noticed a unique confidence within Donny Schatz.
“I don’t know if there was anything in particular this week that made me feel confident,” said Schatz. “When you have won 10 championships and 11 of these Nationals, you are a confident person. You know what you need to feel and what you need to do. Sometimes you just can’t do it.
“That is what you have to work on. I have to work on it myself. I have to work on it with these guys. I made it clear that some of our struggles have been from lack of communication,” he said. “Some of it on my part, some of it on other parts. We’re human, I’m not afraid to admit my faults. The nice thing is that every one can see every damn one of them. I try to be perfect but that never works.”
• Schatz recognized four-time Knoxville Nationals winner Danny Lasoski in victory lane after running Lasoski’s patented bottom groove en route to victory.
“There’s a guy in the infield who runs the bottom better than anyone here and he was a big part of me learning to do that, and that’s the ‘Dude.’ He’s one of the first people I saw when I came in,” Schatz quipped.
• One of the unique new traditions added to the Knoxville Nationals in recent year’s is the winner’s toast. Moments after victory lane ceremonies concluded Saturday, race winner Donny Schatz and announcer Tony Bokhoven stood on a picnic table surrounded by hundreds of fans behind the main grandstand and toasted Schatz’s 11th Nationals victory.
• The best appearing car of the Knoxville Nationals was judged by observers to be the No. 39 Swindell Speedlab entry steered by rookie Justin Sanders.