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T.J.’s Notebook: Rival for Schatz?

David Gravel. (Dan McFarland photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(November 6, 2017) — With the 2017 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series coming to a close during the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway Donny Schatz officially picked up another championship with the series. 2017 could also mark the year David Gravel solidified his position as Schatz’s primary rival for the next several seasons.

Gravel will enter his third season with CJB Motorsports and crew chief Barry Jackson next season. History has shown one of the things that helps achieve long term success on the Outlaw tour is keeping a group of people that are running well together. So far the CJB team has managed to do so.

Gravel’s 18 feature victories was second to Schatz who had 20. Gravel has been brilliant at times this season with moments such as winning the Williams Grove National Open and with his last lap pass of Schatz during the season’s final feature event in traffic for the win.

One of the biggest differences in the 2017 season for Gravel’s championship run were the nights he was not winning. Schatz had 66 top five finishes while Brad Sweet had 56. Gravel had 43, positioning himself third in the point standings behind Schatz and Sweet. The good news for Gravel and CJB Motorsports is if they can pick up some of the races they finished outside of the top five along with maintaining their upwards trajectory on wins they will be the primary contender to Schatz in 2018.

The success of Gravel and CJB Motorsports is important for other reasons as well. With Schatz and Sweet’s entries backed by NASCAR drivers I feel its important to have an entry independent of the NASCAR influence that is among the front runners. With the backing of Tod Quiring and Big Game Treestands Gravel combined with continual improvement that the team has seen the previous off seasons CJB could make some noise for a championship.

Since Jason Meyers stepped away from the Outlaw tour there has not been a consistent rival for Schatz. Daryn Pittman and Kasey Kahne Racing did win a championship in the middle of Schatz’s amazing run, but haven’t won races at the clip that Gravel did this past season. If KKR takes another step up into the mix with Gravel having 3-4 teams competing for wins and championships should lead to some rivalries for years to come with the Outlaws.

Notes

  • It was great to see both the World of Outlaws and the USAC Amsoil National Sprint Car Series hosting exciting races this past weekend. In case you missed it you can see the Outlaw highlights from Friday and Saturday along with Friday and Saturday’s USAC highlights to see what I’m referring to.
  • The other good news was the sellout of the World Finals both nights as that event continues to grow and gain more recognition as one of the premier short track events in the world.
  • For people that enjoy two day World of Outlaws programs you will have two new options in 2017 with both Port Royal Speedway and Ohsweken Speedway expanding their programs to a second day. The second day at Ohsweken should ease the perceived hassle of crossing the boarder (which if you are prepared isn’t that big of a deal). The second date at Port Royal continues to build upon the recent growth and improvement at the Juniata County Fairgrounds facility.
  • In Australia the driver making big news is Jamie Veal. Veal continued his stellar start to the 2017-18 season down under winning Friday night’s AHG Sprint Car Series feature at Premier Speedway and backing up with a Sunday victory during the Col Beasley Classic at Timmis Speedway.
  • Lake Ozark Speedway announced they will switch to the IMCA RaceSaver 305 sprint car program for the 2018 season. The track will also switch to Friday nights with the 305’s next season.On the Lake Ozark Speedway Facebook page the estimated winners purse was posted as possible $400 dollars to win. I always wonder if moving a division to something like RaceSaver is such a great thing and a benefit why doesn’t the purse remain the same along with the cost going down?
  • Dane Lorenc may have had the biggest surprise of the week as far as announcements when he released his plans to follow the 2018 World of Outlaws tour. Lorenc was originally thought to be headed to the All Star Circuit of Champions, but picked up some backing from Destiny Motorsports to assist with the tour.
  • The news of Bob Kinser passing away over the weekend sparked various tributes and photos in various outlets. For whatever reason my path never crossed that often with Bob during the later part of his career only seeing him race in person a handful of times at Kokomo Speedway. Later on as he was helping Kraig Kinser early in his career I had the opportunity to visit with him during a GLOSS sprint car show at Kokomo. Kraig, Randy, and Bob exited the trailer with Tom Chalk. Tom introduced us and we were able to visit for a bit, and even in that short discussion you could see how much fun he was having with Kraig going up and down the road regionally. Our thoughts are with the Kinser family.
  • Our thoughts are also with all of the people around the Celina/Findlay Ohio area, Portland, Indiana, and all of the other places in those areas we’ve spent time in over the years impacted by storms on Sunday. Video of Celina showed heavy damage with damage also reported in Portland. All three are areas we have spent extensive time in over the years while racing.