BRISTOL, Tenn. – David Gravel has won plenty of big races throughout his sprint car career, including the Knoxville Nationals at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway in 2019.
He’s reigned victorious in the Governors Reign at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio; both the Summer Nationals and the National Open at Pennsylvania’s Williams Grove Speedway; and he swept the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., two years ago.
But Gravel admitted that Friday’s win at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway during the opening night of the Bristol Throwdown ranked high on his list, for multiple reasons.
For starters, it was the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series’ first visit to the dirt-covered Bristol high banks in 20 years, and Gravel explained after the 25-lap feature that he wanted to be part of the elite group that had conquered The Last Great Colosseum.
“This is really cool,” Gravel said in the media center after the race. “Hopefully, we get to do this more often [than every 20 years] because I felt like we put on a pretty good race. I think our season has been pretty average; we had a win, but other than that I feel like we’ve just been OK, so to get a win like this on this platform is great for us and hopefully it’s something to build off of.
“Some of the best in our sport have won here and to be part of that group now is really special. To get that [Bristol] sword is really cool and it’s a trophy I’ll cherish for a long time.”
Gravel joined Sammy Swindell, Mark Kinser and Donny Schatz as the fourth different World of Outlaws sprint car winner in five series races at Bristol Motor Speedway.
However, when it came to the bigger picture, Gravel’s Bristol triumph felt like an early turning point in his pursuit of the season-long World of Outlaws championship.
By Gravel’s own admission, his start to the season with the Outlaws had been “mediocre at best” through 13 races, with only one victory and five top-five finishes in the Big Game Motorsports No. 2.
Friday’s Bristol kickoff brought out a version of Gravel that looked similar to the one who scored 18 victories in 2017 and battled tooth-and-nail for the title for much of that season.
Gravel set a track record in qualifying, backed it up with a comfortable heat race victory, then exploded for a 3.832-second victory in the dash to earn the pole for the main event.
Once the Watertown, Conn., native reclaimed the lead from a pesky Sam Hafertepe Jr. on lap three of 25 in the feature, the die was cast and Gravel was never headed again after that.
While he knows his move to Big Game Motorsports was questioned by some, Gravel told Sprint Car & Midget that he feels comfortable with where the program is at right now and believes the best is yet to come with crew chief Cody Jacobs and team owner Tod Quiring.
“If you look at my career with new teams … CJB [Motorsports], JJR [Jason Johnson Racing] … I’ve never been a crazy hot starter,” Gravel admitted. “Transitioning to a new team is something it seems like I have to do every three years (chuckles), but it’s been pretty good so far. For me, it seems like I usually get my stuff together around May, going into the summer, and that’s when we get rolling pretty well.
“I was never concerned. We’ve been third in points and we’ve been pretty damn average, so it’s a pretty good place to be, I feel like.”
Gravel jumped up to second in the standings after his win Friday night, 82 points behind championship leader and two-time defending titlist Brad Sweet.
His next target is unchartered territory: the top spot in the standings.
“I don’t think I’ve ever led the points in my career, so the way I look at it is, being where we are right now isn’t a bad thing,” Gravel tipped. “We’ll keep moving and hopefully improve from here.”