Donny Schatz revels in 10th Knoxville Nationals win

Photo courtesy TrueSpeed Communication
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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.”

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”