Photo courtesy TrueSpeed Communication

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.”

MRTI: Road America Sunday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Sunday at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series complete their second races of the weekend, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda taking to the track – the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on Saturday.

Indy Lights saw a driver take an emotional first career win, while a chaotic USF2000 race saw the championship leader complete a weekend sweep.

Reports on both races are below.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Takes Emotional Maiden Win in Indy Lights

Victory Franzoni took an emotional first career victory Sunday at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Victor Franzoni finished third in Race 1 on Saturday, but did so despite driving what he described as “the worst of my career” to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sunday, however, was the exact opposite for the affable Brazilian driver, who took his maiden Indy Lights win in what has been an emotional weekend for him and his Juncos Racing team as they raced in memory of the late Jeff Green, Franzoni’s Pro Mazda teammate last year.

Pato O’Ward started on the pole, but engaged in an intense duel with Santi Urrutia in the opening laps.

Their battle came to a head on Lap 4, when Urrutia tried diving inside of O’Ward entering Turn 5, but they both ran wide on the exit – O’Ward even took to the outside grass – which opened the door for Franzoni to blitz by both of them entering Turn 6.

O’Ward, Urrutia, and Colton Herta then immediately had a hard fight for second, which saw them go three-wide in Turn 8. Ultimately, Urrutia lost out as he was pushed off the track and suffered front wing damage, forcing a pit stop for repairs – he ultimately finished seven laps off the lead in seventh.

Up front, Franzoni pulled away from everyone to win by nearly seven seconds. Herta emerged in second after battling with O’Ward, while Aaron Telitz passed O’Ward in the final laps to take the final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman rounded out the top five, with Dalton Kellett finishing sixth.

Full results are below.

USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Race 2 Carnage to Complete Weekend Sweep

Kyle Kirkwood survived a lot of chaos to win Race 2 at Road America and complete the weekend sweep. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

While Race 1 almost appeared easy for Kyle Kirkwood, who passed pole sitter Jose Sierra for the lead in Turn 1 off the start and then led every lap on the way to victory, Race 2 was a completely different story.

Kirkwood needed to outduel Kaylen Frederick and Lucas Kohl and survive a seemingly endless slew of carnage in Race 2 to grab the win, his fifth of the year, to complete a weekend sweep.

Three times the race was slowed by full-course cautions for on-track incidents.

The first came on the opening lap for separate incidents involving Sabre Cook, Russell McDonough, Jose Sierra, and Max Peichel – Cook and McDonough appeared to go off into the Turn 1 gravel, while Sierra and Peichel got together approaching Turn 5 and ended up against the outside wall.

A second caution was flown only a couple laps after racing resumed when Darren Keane and Kyle Dupell got together in Canada Corner, spinning off the track and stalling as a result.

And a third caution was flown in the waning laps when Lindh, who had been running second, went off into the Turn 3 gravel trap, while Kory Enders and Calvin Ming got together and spun in Turn 6.

Up front, Lucas Kohl had worked his way into the lead, passing Lindh in Turn 1 off the start, while Kirkwood had moved up to second, ahead of third-place runner Kaylen Frederick.

A restart with one lap remaining saw Kirkwood jump to the outside of Kohl entering Turn 1, and he completed the pass before they even got to the corner, Frederick then was able to get around Kohl for second, while Colin Kaminsky and Igor Fraga rounded out the top five. Of note: second-place man in the championship Alex Baron finished seventh, allowing Kirkwood to widen an already immense championship lead.

Results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 94 points. Frederick now sits third, jumping ahead of Fraga and Sierra, who sit fourth and fifth.

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