By T.J. Buffenbarger
With the first of four consecutive nights of racing at Eldora here are a few takeaways from both the USAC National Sprint Car Championship and World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series
- With the big money on the line this week it’s not a surprise to see Donny Schatz performing well. After a winless June and a hard fought third place finish at Hartford Motor Speedway last Friday Schatz had the look of being over losing. Following that third-place finish Schatz went out and won the feature last Saturday at Wilmot Raceway, a track that Schatz admittedly said he and his team had not performed as well at in the past. Schatz was jovial and upbeat following his second consecutive victory at Eldora. While Schatz would not single out any single thing for their recent uptick in performance, one noticeable item is how he pulled away from the field during each restart on Wednesday. This is a trait that started showing about this time last year when Brad Sweet went on a roll that eventually carried him to a second-place finish at the Kings Royal and at Knoxville Nationals championship. Schatz is starting to show that same upward trend this season.
- Who might be early contenders other than Schatz for Saturday’s Kings Royal crown? Sweet, Logan Schuchart, and David Gravel asserted themselves as early contenders as well with their feature performances. Schuchart showed great speed on the top of the track in slicker conditions while Gravel was able to roll the bottom well. Shane Stewart also showed good speed in qualifying and typically runs well at the big races at Eldora. It will be interesting to see who may find more speed throughout the week and if it will apply to running 10 more laps in the main event on Saturday.
- If you are looking for a dark horse pick for the Kings Royal, Greg Wilson is still a leading candidate for that title this season. It seems even when he is having a less than stellar year, no matter what tour he is running, Wilson manages to be fast at Eldora. Wilson was at it again driving up through the field on the bottom of the racetrack to a solid top five finish.
- With Indiana Sprint Week looming USAC teams had to survive Eldora before moving onto their busiest week of the year. Nick Bilbee was the only driver to get upside down all night, flipping hard in hot laps. Even though Brady Bacon had a near disastrous moment in the feature going into turn one and hitting the wall hard enough that it was audible in the press box and managed to keep going. Thankfully the USAC teams are leaving Eldora basically unscathed other than Bilbee’s heavily damaged car, ready to move on to Sprint Week.
- With a very unusual mix of hot, humid weather mixed with rain and later clouds Eldora Speedway officials provided really good surface for the first of four nights of racing. The track widened out to multiple grooves in the World of Outlaws feature. While it appeared some residual dirt (not dust) was in the air during the USAC main event, walking the track following the World of Outlaws feature there was plenty of moisture still in the surface. Without the wings to blow the fine dirt that gets airborne with that particular surface it gives off the appearance of being dry and dusty (which it was not).