If it wasn’t obvious before, Donny Schatz made it clear on Saturdaynight: The path to winning at Knoxville Raceway goes through him.
Schatz charged from seventh to victory in the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series Mediacom Shootout at the famous half-mile, where he has won five of the past six Knoxville Nationals crowns in addition to winning six additional series races there since 2006.
In a field of 51 cars, it was Brian Brown, Craig Dollansky and Tim Kaeding who tried to prevent Schatz from returning to Knoxville’s victory lane, a place Schatz practically calls home. Brown earned his second pole of the season and jumped out to a quick lead before Dollansky was able to slide into the top spot on lap 9. Meanwhile, Schatz reeled in Kaeding, then Brown and set his sights on Dollansky.
On lap 18, Schatz stalked Dollansky through lapped traffic in his STP/Armor All J&J, finally making his move on the exit of turn two as they headed down the backstretch. A red flag for Rager Phillips in turn four forced a restart, and a multi-car crash on the frontstretch led to another, helping Schatz secure his advantage. Schatz then pulled away over the waning laps, leaving Dollansky and Brown to battle for second, which Dollansky took in the Eyecon Trail Cameras Maxim. Kerry Madsen and Paul McMahan went side-by-side in a race for fourth, which Madsen earned in the Keneric Racing KPC.
“This place is just unique, and we’ve come here so many times in the past and were so terrible and then one day figured it out,” said Schatz, of Fargo, N.D. “These guys on this STP team do a phenomenal job and when it works it seems like it works at a lot of places.”
Schatz made the pass for the lead on the top side of the track, and then extended his advantage by working the bottom groove. The victory was Schatz’s third of the season, one behind points leader Daryn Pittman and Friday night winner Tim Kaeding.
“Just a hard fought battle with the Eyecon Trail Cameras car and we came up one spot short,” said Dollansky, of Elk River, Minn. “We came home second tonight, but we’ll keep working hard at things and keep plugging away.”
Dollansky’s team seems to be hitting its groove, earning a third-place finish on Friday night at Elko Speedway to go with his runner-up finish on Saturday. Brown’s team also appears to be on the right track with the Casey’s General Stores/FVP Maxim, clearly using Saturday’s night performance as a measuring stick for where it believes it needs to be in August during the Nationals.
“We just got a little free as the race went on and could never do anything with him,” said Brown, of Grain Valley, Mo. “Schatz is always good here and a good top three is nothing to hang your head about, but we definitely want to win.”
Overall it was a busy night on the track. Kyle Larson earned the 24th position in the A-main after advancing 13 positions in the Last Chance Showdown. In the A-main, he continued to work his way forward, eventually finishing in the eighth position to earn the KSE Hard Charger Award.
Sammy Swindell, who won last season at Knoxville, posted quick time in qualifying and was on the move in the A-main, but damage to his Big Game Treestands car sustained on a restart forced him to the back of the field.
World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series points leader Daryn Pittman won the Last Chance Showdown then picked up his 18th top-10 finish in 21 races this season after finishing seventh, one spot behind his Kasey Kahne Racing teammate Cody Darrah.
Pittman owns a 130-point lead over Paul McMahan as the Outlaws head east for the Gettysburg Clash on Wednesday, May 15, at Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pa., and Friday-Saturday, May 17-18 at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa.