By T.J. Buffenbarger
Another night of racing is in the books at the 2018 5-Hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Store. Here are my five immediate takeaways from tonight’s racing.
- Brad Sweet showed hints of how dominating he could potentially be at the Capitani Classic on Sunday. Sweet was able to back that up with a stellar performance on Thursday qualifying fourth fastest, finishing second in his heat race which was arguably the toughest talent wise of the night, and had the lead by the end of the first circuit and lapped up to 12th place in the A-Main. Sweet is driving with a lot of confidence right now and has asserted himself as the lead contender to unseat Donny Schatz as Nationals champion.
- For the second night in a row only three of the top ten qualifiers were able to navigate the eight-car inversion to transfer to the preliminary feature through the heat race. Chad Kemenah, Jacob Allen, and Sweet were the trio of drivers that avoided the B-Main. Quick qualifier Cason Macedo, Parker Price-Miller, and Shane Stewart were able to transfer through the B-Main while 20th fastest qualifier Jamie Veal was able to charge through the B-Main to steal the final transfer spot away from sixth fastest Scott Bogucki.
- The new Friday night program format that allowed drivers not locked into the Saturday’ or first 10 spots of the B-main to re-qualify on Friday with the top four finishers in the feature locking into the Knoville Nationals main event has created some unexpected changes on how teams are approaching their qualifying nights.
Brian Brown was the latest example of this after having motor issues during qualifying. After timing in 38th fastest and knowing his motor did not feel right Brown decided to scratch for the night rather than trying to fight through the Knoxville Nationals points system that puts as much emphasis on being fast qualifier as it does to win the feature. Several mid to back of the pack B-Main cars also pulled off midway through the event when it became evident they would be coming back to qualify on Friday.
- David Gravel was a driver thought of as a primary challenger to Schatz following his performance in last year’s A-Main. It soon became apparent after hot laps and qualifying that Gravel would have a fight on his hands just to qualify for Saturday’s A-Main after being off the pace in hot laps and qualifying 29th. Gravel fought through the lackluster qualifying effort to transfer through his heat race and score a podium finish in the feature. Gravel will likely start seventh in Saturday’s B-Main event.
- The final two heat races of the evening were the best of the nationals this year. The race for the final transfer spot during the final laps of heat race four between Brooke Tatnell, David Gravel, and Shane Stewart featured some crazy three wide races and slide jobs before Gravel edged Stewart for the spot at the finish line.
The fifth heat race featured Terry McCarl and Parker Price-Miller racing each other as we’ve seen during this year’s Nationals for position for the final transfer spot. After some hard slide jobs McCarl made a daring outside pass off turn four to take the spot. One lap later Price-Miller hooked the berm and dropped back far enough for McCarl to hold the spot until the finish.