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David Gravel wins at Knoxville; Kyle Larson 10th in return with Outlaws

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In one of the first major racing events since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down the sports world, David Gravel outdueled Ian Madsen at Knoxville Raceway.

Gravel seized the lead with a last-lap pass after a thrilling side-by-side battle Friday night, claiming the feature victory in a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series event that was held without fans.

“We don’t feel how many people are watching (on the Dirtvision stream), but we know there must be tens of thousands of people,” Gravel, who won the prestigious Knoxville Nationals at the track last year, told Dirtvision. “Hopefully that was a good race to get everyone’s blood pumping again. Ian and I just battled, battled and battled. It felt good just to come back in a race car and be competitive again.

Larson finished 10th after starting 18th in the main event. It was the first race for the former No. 42 driver in the NASCAR Cup Series since being fired by Chip Ganassi Racing last month for using a racial slur during an iRacing event.

The World of Outlaws cleared Larson to race after he completed sensitivity training. Larson remains on indefinite suspension from NASCAR.

NASCAR veteran Kasey Kahne, who was racing for the first time since being injured a Williams Grove Speedway a year ago, failed to advance to the main event after an 11th in the Last Chance Qualifier.

The grandstands were empty at the famous half-mile dirt oval known as the Sprint Car Capital of the World. Dirtvision announcers estimated there were 380 people on site as teams were limited in crew members.

The World of Outlaws sprint car series’ next four races in late May at I-55 Speedway in Pevely, Missouri, and Lake Ozark Speedway in Ozark, Missouri, will have “limited, socially distanced” crowds.

The Outlaws’ Morton Buildings Late Model Series will return May 15-16 at I-55 Speedway with limited, socially distanced crowds.

The World of Outlaws will be among the first major national series to attempt to race with fans in the grandstands. NASCAR has announced its return May 17 at Darlington Raceway with four races that will be held without a crowd.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.