knoxville nationals

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Donny Schatz revels in 10th Knoxville Nationals win

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Over the weekend, while the focus was on Kyle Larson attempting to win both the Knoxville Nationals and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, Donny Schatz was the one who was dominating on dirt.

Schatz captured his 10th Knoxville Nationals win Saturday night, continuing his incredible run of finishing either first or second in 16 of the last 18 years at the marquee winged sprint event in central Iowa.

The full release on Schatz’s latest win is below.

The historic pace at the Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals continued Saturday night for Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz. The eight-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion led the final 27 laps of the 50-lap finale of the 57th annual 5-hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals to earn his 10th Nationals victory.

Schatz started second in the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J and led the field to the green on lap 23 after polesitter David Gravel brought out a caution. Schatz withstood challenges from both Kerry Madsen and Kyle Larson to pick up his 26th career triumph at the famed half-mile dirt oval in Central Iowa and continued his remarkable run on Sprint car racing’s biggest stage, where he’s finished first or second 16 of the past 18 years.

“Winning the Knoxville Nationals never gets old and never gets any easier,” Schatz said. “I may get a lot of the credit, but this Arctic Cat/Ford Performance race team is incredible and they deserve every bit as much. Nobody realizes the pressure that is on this team. They have to make the right decisions every time. With as many races as we have won, the pressure just keeps building and building because, if you don’t win, you are under a lot of scrutiny and we don’t want to be in that position. We want to win races. We want to be competitive and be at the forefront of this sport. Tony Stewart has assembled and incredible team here. We are celebrating 10 years together and tonight we are going to celebrate another incredible week here at the Knoxville Nationals.”

Schatz started on the front row for the sixth time in his career at the Nationals following an impressive qualifying-night performance Wednesday. He qualified fourth in the field of 48 competitors and charged from eighth to win the fourth heat race to transfer into the 25-lap preliminary feature. He started sixth in the A-Main and quickly began his charge forward. He was up to third on lap five and took second from Austin McCarl on lap 13. Polesitter Larson was setting a strong pace up front, but Schatz was able to close the gap as the two worked through lapped traffic. Larson didn’t make any mistakes during the final portion of the race and scored the win ahead of Schatz. The results of the evening earned Schatz 492 points, the most by any driver.

Following Thursday’s qualifying program, Schatz ranked second overall and was locked into Saturday’s A-Main finale.

Photo courtesy TrueSpeed Communication

When Saturday’s A-Main went green, Gravel and Schatz raced side by side into turn one. Gravel dove low and pulled out to a small lead coming out of turn two and, when Gravel went high in turns three and four, Schatz made a run for the lead with a low move in turns three and four. Gravel had enough momentum to maintain the top spot and the two settled in for the early portion of the race. Once Gravel reached traffic, Schatz was able to close in and make a run at the top spot. He tried a slide job in turns three and four and later briefly held the lead down the backstretch on lap 16, but Gravel was able to surge back in front and hold the top spot until his engine expired on lap 22.

Schatz led the field back to the green and raced away from Madsen until a caution two laps later was used for the mandatory pit stop. The TSR crew of Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti replaced the rear tires, filled the Arctic Cat No. 15 with fuel and made minor chassis adjustments before sending Schatz back out for the second half of the race. On the restart, Schatz rode the cushion in turn one and Madsen made his bid for the lead by throwing a big slider at Schatz, but Schatz never flinched and drove around the outside of Madsen to maintain the lead. The gamble cost Madsen second as Larson was able to sneak under the Australian driver coming out of turn two.

For the next dozen laps, Schatz set a torrid pace around the top and held a solid margin over Larson until another caution on 38 slowed the pace. Schatz was clean again on the restart and re-established his lead with only 10 laps remaining. Things got dicey during the final three laps as Schatz tried to maneuver lapped traffic. He split a pair of cars and then was forced to make a couple of attempts to lap Brooke Tatnell. Larson was able to cut into the lead, but his last-corner attempt at a slide job fell short and Schatz drove away for the victory.

“These young guys keep getting better, and that Kyle Larson is pretty awesome,” Schatz said. “Early in the race, David set a really torrid pace and he was right up on the top. There were some pretty big holes up there and I didn’t even realize how big they were until we got slowed down on one of those yellows when I saw them and said to myself I may want to be careful up here. Once we got going, I felt really good, but you have to get yourself to the end of the race. You have to make sure when you get into traffic that you are in a good spot, that you are in the right place, and I did that for most of the race. We came down to that last 12-lap run there and I thought we might catch traffic at the end and we caught them. I got to a car that was just going for it and got myself in a couple of bad spots, but we got there. I know Kyle was coming and he had to do whatever I wasn’t and, for two laps, I was all over the place. That’s what racing is. It’s what we strive for and, if I was running second, that’s what I would have been hoping for. It worked out. We got the win and it feels good.”

Larson’s busy weekend includes Knoxville Nationals, Cup race

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BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) Kyle Larson is set to race in Saturday’s Knoxville Nationals, squeezing in the prestigious sprint car event before returning to Michigan to compete in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.

Larson says Chip Ganassi, his team owner on the Cup circuit, gave him permission to race Saturday in Knoxville, Iowa. Larson says he’s not supposed to race a sprint car the night before he’s on the track on the Cup Series, but Ganassi is making an exception this weekend.

The 25-year-old Larson is one of racing’s rising stars. He has two Cup victories this year – including in June at Michigan – and is third in the standings. He also won at Michigan last August.

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org .

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

Sprint cars: Knoxville win should be big boost to Jason Johnson’s season, career

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Jason Johnson is one of the most prolific drivers in the world of sprint car racing. The “Ragin’ Cajun” has earned 245 A-main wins in his career.

But none of those wins has been as big as his triumph Saturday in the biggest sprint car race in existence: the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa.

In a classic David vs. Goliath battle, Johnson dueled with heavy race favorite Danny Schatz – who came into Saturday’s race having won nine of the 10 prior Knoxville Nationals titles – for 50 laps, from green flag to checkered flag.

When it ended, Johnson was crowned the king of the sprint car world, finally scaling to the top of the heap after a lengthy career that has seen its share of ups and downs.

Johnson came into Saturday’s race a decided underdog. Up to that point, he had won just one race in 62 A-main battles this season (March 23 in Placerville, California).

That was his first win since capturing the second-to-last race of 2014 on the American Sprint Cup Series Tour, where he’s a five-time champion.

Coupled with a completely winless slate in 76 starts in 2015, Johnson had earned just one win in his last 139 starts heading into what would prove to be the biggest race and win of his career on Saturday.

Admittedly, 2015 was rough because it was his first full-time season competing in the biggest sprint car racing sanctioning body, the World of Outlaws. And while he went winless, he did earn the series’ Rookie of the Year honors.

The Knoxville win — Johnson’s fourth overall in WoO competition over the years — should go a long way towards improving his lot both on and off the track the rest of this season.

Not only is he $150,000 richer for winning at Knoxville, he leaves there ranked seventh in the WoO Craftsman Sprint Cars Series driver points.

Admittedly, Johnson is 857 points behind Schatz, who leads the series with 8,165 points and 16 wins.

But with the confidence he earned by beating Schatz at his own game, we very likely may see a reinvigorated Johnson going forward in the remaining 25 races on the WoO schedule.

That schedule continues Tuesday night in McCool Junction, Nebraska.

In a classy move, Johnson dedicated his Knoxville victory to his good friend Bryan Clauson, who died Aug. 7, less than 24 hours after being involved in a horrific Midget car crash at a race in Belleville, Kansas.

“I wasn’t giving up,” Johnson said about Saturday’s win. “I mean, this is the biggest race of the year and the biggest race of my career.

“It was a golden opportunity, and I needed to make the most of it. I know (Schatz) wasn’t happy with me for crowding him, but I wanted to win.”

But Schatz didn’t seem to mind Johnson’s aggressive driving style. After all, this was the Knoxville Nationals, where drivers can’t leave even a crumb of effort on the table.

“We did everything we could,” Schatz said. “Jason [Johnson] did a great job. I didn’t think you could run that hard a pace for 50 laps, but he did, and once he got out there, I tried everything to catch him and just couldn’t do it.”

But perhaps the biggest compliment Johnson earned came from three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and multi-sprint car team owner Tony Stewart:

One more time for posterity sake, here’s the final results (and starting position) of Saturday’s main event:

1. Jason Johnson (2); 2. Donny Schatz (5); 3. Shane Stewart (8); 4. Daryn Pittman (1); 5. Kyle Larson (21); 6. Jamie Veal (4); 7. Chad Kemenah (6); 8. Greg Hodnett (18); 9. Ian Madsen (23); 10. David Gravel (11); 11. Brad Sweet (7); 12. Rico Abreu (17); 13. Danny Lasoski (19); 14. Tim Kaeding (9); 15. Kraig Kinser (25); 16. Logan Schuchart (24); 17. Terry McCarl (10); 18. Sammy Swindell (12); 19. Lucas Wolfe (20); 20. Dusty Zomer (14); 21. Jeff Swindell (16); 22. Kerry Madsen (3); 23. Dale Blaney (22); 24. Craig Dollansky (15); 25. James McFadden (13).

Lap Leaders: Pittman 1-10, J. Johnson 11, Pittman 12, Schatz 13-26, J. Johnson 27-43, Schatz 44-45, J. Johnson 46-50.

Hard-charger award: Kyle Larson.

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Kevin Swindell undergoes successful second surgery after sustaining back, spinal cord injuries

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Kevin Swindell has had a successful second surgery at Des Moines Mercy Hospital following his significant injuries sustained Thursday night in an accident before the Knoxville Nationals.

Sammy Swindell, Kevin’s father, provided an update on Kevin’s condition and injuries sustained in a statement released Monday:

The statement reads:

“Kevin underwent a second surgery today at Des Moines Mercy Hospital to address one of two fractures he suffered in his back following last week’s accident at Knoxville Raceway. Both surgeries have been successful and the doctors are heartened by his progress.

“The doctors are also running tests on and monitoring a spinal cord injury that Kevin received during the accident.

“We realize there is a long battle ahead, but Kevin has remained positive throughout the process and is prepared to fight to regain his healthy. We’re all hopeful for a Friday discharge and the next steps to recovery.”

The tweet is linked here:

The motorsports community is expressing its thoughts and best wishes for Kevin Swindell via the #BulldogStrong hashtag on Twitter.