Donny Schatz has always had a special relationship with the Knoxville Nationals and on Saturday night, he won that race for the 11th time, bringing him to within one of tying Steve Kinser’s all time record of 12. At 2:15 a.m., after Schatz completed his media obligations, Kinser was waiting for him at his hauler with congratulations.
Recently, the wins aren’t coming as quickly as Schatz might like. After posting double-digit World of Outlaws Series wins in eight seasons from 2012 through 2019, he earned just five in 2020, ranking him sixth on that chart. He won three times in 2021 and so far this season, that is where Schatz finds himself again. He won the season opener at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fla. and then had to wait through 43 disappointments before winning again four races ago at Weedsport (N.Y.) Speedway.
This win might be the most gratifying and it was certainly one of the hardest fought of his career.
“There are no words for this,” Schatz said in a press release. “I could hear my dad telling me to gather it up and settle down and it worked.”
Measuring 50 laps, the Knoxville Nationals is one of the longest races for the World of Outlaws series. To achieve this, they need a halftime break to refuel. While they are in the pits, they have an opportunity to work on the car.
In the first half of the race, Schatz fell back to sixth from his third-place starting position. Disappointed in how his car was performing and seeing the race slip away for what would have been the fourth consecutive time, Schatz fell silent. And that was the signal to his crew that there was too much wrong with the car to put into words.
“[Steve Swenson] could read me like a book and knew when I didn’t say anything that he should throw the 911 at it,” Schatz said. “These guys did an incredible job. It was do or die on the bottom. I kept getting better and better there at the end. This one feels like the first time, really.”
And then they sent Schatz back out to do what he could.
It took another 20 laps for Schatz to catch leader David Gravel. With five remaining, Schatz led his first laps of the race and saw traffic forming ahead. After a few dicey moments through that traffic, Schatz scored his first win in five years at Knoxville. His 11th win of this prestigious race gives him a winning percentage of 45.8%, but that tells only part of the story.
Since qualifying for his first Knoxville Nationals in 1998 – a race in which he finished fourth – Schatz has finished either first or second 19 times in 24 start. He won four consecutive races from 2006 through 2009 and five straight from 2011 through 2015. Since 2005, he finished worse than second only once in 17 starts.
Gravel held onto his second-place finish to score his 26th top-five of the season.
Logan Schuchart rounded out the podium after charging up from his 17th-place starting position.
“I’m thrilled with what this team has accomplished,” Schuchart said. “I’m proud of every single person at Shark Racing and it starts with what my grandfather started. We’re just a family-owned team competing for wins on the biggest stage in the world. I honestly felt like I was gaining on them through the last five laps, but we just didn’t start far enough forward. Starting 17th and finishing third is pretty amazing.”
After winning the pole for Sunday’s NASCAR race in Richmond, Va., last year’s Knoxville Nationals winner Kyle Larson finished sixth after rebounding from a shredded tire.
‘93 Missed Heat
‘95 B-Main (15)
‘96 C-Main (20)
‘97 B-Main (12)
‘22 🏆 pic.twitter.com/i1LWIrn7yH
— World of Outlaws (@WorldofOutlaws) August 14, 2022