By T.J. Buffenbarger
KNOXVILLE, Iowa (August 10, 2019) – David Gravel shined in the brightest of spotlights on Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway by winning the 59th annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores main event. After taking the lead on lap 14 Gravel pulled away from the field and avoided several close calls in lapped traffic for the victory.
The win was Gravel’s first Knoxville Nationals title and the second for Jason Johnson Racing. The victory lane scene was emotional as the late Jason Johnson’s wife Bobbi, Jaxx, and the entire JJR team celebrated along with representatives from team sponsor for the Nationals Axalta including former NASCAR champion and former Knoxville Nationals competitor Jeff Gordon.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Gravel. “It was a dream week. Brad Sweet killed it last year and we kind of repeated what he did. To have Jeff Gordon, Axalta, and Bobbi (Johnson) to keep this team going. Phil for busting his butt. He lost his best friend and managed to keep this going. Patrick, Tyler, all of the other guys.”
Aaron Reutzel led the field into turn one as Joey Saldana passed Gravel for the second position. Reutzel’s lead was short lived when he missed his line on the bottom of the racetrack which allowed Saldana to motor around the top of the racetrack to take the lead. Reutzel quickly bounced back on lap four to take the lead from Saldana on lap four.
After a caution flag for Dominic Scelzi slowing on the track Reutzel pulled away from Saldana. Gravel started to pressure Saldana for the second position but was unable to make the pass. The second caution flag of the event came out when Donny Schatz slowed down the front stretch. Schatz’s crew was able to make repairs for him to rejoin the field.
Reutzel was able to pull away from the field following the restart while Gravel continued to pressure Saldana for the second position. After multiple attempts to acquire second position from Saldana Gravel was able to secure the position on lap 10 with a great run off the second corner.
After passing Saldana, Gravel quickly closed on Reutzel for the lead. Gravel dove to the bottom of turns three and four on lap 14 to drive by Saldana and take the lead.
Further back in the pack another contender was emerging in Daryn Pittman. Pittman entered the top five from 10th starting position on lap 10 and passed Tim Kaeding for the fourth position one lap later. This soon turned into a three-car race for third with Saldana, Kaeding and Pittman. Kaeding passed Pittman and Saldana on laps 17 and 18 respectively to take the third spot. This was short lived as by lap 21 Pittman had secured the third position and started chasing down Reutzel for second. Just before the halfway break Pittman and Reutzel nearly made contact racing for position and allowed Reutzel to pull away.
After the halfway stop, Gravel pulled away from the field as Pittman disposed of Reutzel for the second spot. Kaeding quickly followed Pittman past Reutzel for third as Gravel motored away from the field.
By lap 29 Logan Schuchart made his presence felt from 22nd starting position into the top five.
Up front Gravel was starting to contend with slower traffic in precarious positions. ON lap 33 Gravel encountered Matt Juhl completely sideways while trying to lap him. This allowed Pittman to take a significant chunk out of Gravel’s lead.
On lap 39 the dynamics of the race changed as Pittman got hung up behind a lapped car and lost significant ground to Gravel. Further back Schuchart continued his charge through the field passing Kaeding with nine laps to go and running down Pittman in slower traffic to take second on the final lap.
Up front though it was all Gravel picking up the Knoxville Nationals title over Schuchart, Pittman, Kaeding and Reutzel.
Afterwards Gravel seemed as much stunned as he was happy for his Nationals victory.
“It’s amazing, I’m numb. I wasn’t that tired in the car, but after the checkered flag it sinks in and it feels like you have boulders on your shoulders. I don’t know what else to say,” said Gravel. “It doesn’t feel real at all.”
59th Annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s General Stores
World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series
Saturday August 10, 2019
A-Main (50 Laps):
1. 41 – David Gravel
2. 1S – Logan Schuchart
3. 83 – Daryn Pittman
4. 7S – Jason Sides
5. 87 – Aaron Reutzel
6. 49 – Brad Sweet
7. 17 – Sheldon Haudenschild
8. 9 – James McFadden
9. 15 – Donny Schatz
10. 71 – Gio Scelzi
11. 2M – Kerry Madsen
12. 5 – Shane Stewart
13. 26 – Cory Eliason
14. 12N – Joey Saldana
15. 18 – Ian Madsen
16. 71P – Parker Price-Miller
17. 19 – Brent Marks
18. 09 – Matt Juhl
19. 44S – Trey Starks
20. 13X – Paul McMahan
21. 49X – Tim Shaffer
22. 24 – Rico Abreu
23. 69K – Lance Dewease
24. 41S – Dominic Scelzi