By T.J. Buffenbarger
After one night of competition there was plenty to talk about at the 2019 NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores. Here are a few of my takeaways from the night at Knoxville.
• Trey Starks was one of the most surprising preliminary night feature winners in recent memory at the Knoxville Nationals. I’m not sure if anyone would have had Starks as a podium pick, let alone winning the $12,000 to win main event on Wednesday.
Looking back at the feature from Wednesday night Starks ran a spectacular race getting a tremendous start to move up to second position from fourth starting spot, passing Mark Dobmeier for the lead, and eventually changing his line through turns three and four to hold off Dobmeier and James McFadden. Starks win may have been an upset, but a well deserving one.
Other surprising names on the positive side include Tanner Thorson continuing his comeback story after a scary traffic accident earlier this season ending up 12th in Nationals points in his first attempt, Paige Polyak turning in a solid performance 14th in points, and Brady Bacon with only a handful of winged races this season qualifying fifth quick and ending up 16th overall in points after night one.
• As much as Starks winning was an upset there were as big or bigger surprises of who didn’t run well on Wednesday. After the heat races only two of the top 10 made the show through the heat races.
Donny Schatz ended up with a late draw in qualifying and ended up in 10th spot, didn’t transfer through his heat, and recovered to pick up hard charger honors moving up from 24th starting spot to 11th.
Kyle Larson never seemed to get moving after qualifying 9th quick, failing to transfer to the feature through the B-Main. This could end up putting Larson’s Nationals in jeopardy due to likely not being able to come back on Friday for the non-qualifiers program due to NASCAR commitments at Michigan International Speedway. This could relegate Larson to alphabet soup on Saturday should he choose to compete.
Other names such Danny Dietrich, Kerry Madsen, fifth faster qualifier Brady Bacon, Dominic Scelzi also missed the transfer in the main event. Logan Schuchart also mired back in 29th in points overall after night one were surprising outcomes even though I was impressed with Bacon considering how few winged sprint car starts he has this season.
• I did hear some grumbling about the format and time trial draws after Wednesday night’s program. When you look at Gio Scelzi’s performance on Wednesday going out late for qualifying and ending up in eight quick, transferring through the B-Main, finishing 12th in the feature and 9th in points I feel the system still works today. The Knoxville Nationals is the biggest and most difficult sprint car race in the world, and the format is reflective of it.