By T.J. Buffenbarger
Two hours past the checkered flag and an over an hour past my self imposed deadline for writing so things are coherent here are three takeaways from the opening night of the 38th 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Speedway.
1. Not many racetracks could take the short, sudden rainstorm that hit Eldora Speedway just after hot laps for the World of Outlaws sprint cars and manage to still run the event. Following the rain, the push trucks at Eldora Speedway had the surface ready for hot laps approximately 90 minutes after the rain stopped. Even with a checked flag at 1:15 a.m. on Saturday morning a healthy crowd witnessed Logan Schuchart’s victory.
Not every track could or should attempt such a late night recovery from a driving rain. For Eldora it was business as usual with the push trucks running in mud, the concessions keeping up with the crush from 2-3 extended hours of inactivity on the track, and race fans getting to file another late night after a rainstorm at the Big E in their memory.
If it had to rain during one day of the 4-Crown it’s been to have it happen on Friday instead of Saturday. With the number of races that need to take place tomorrow rain could make for an extremely long night with four classes, three of which that must be pushed.
2. The back and forth race for the World of Outlaws point championship took another turn on Friday with Brad Sweet taking over the lead from Donny Schatz.
Sweet and Schatz ending up in the same heat race ratcheted up the pressure, especially for Schatz having to come from row four while Sweet was one row ahead of him. Sweet was able to work into fifth and final transfer spot while Schatz was relegated to the B-Main. Schatz rallied to claim the final transfer spot late in the B-Main but could not move forward enough to protect his point lead from Sweet.
Unless Sweet or Schatz trips up for two or three races in a row, I suspect the point lead is going to be traded at a couple of more times before the series heads to season finale at the World Finals.
3. After the rain Kevin Thomas and Jason McDougal were the show in USAC Silver Crown division in hot laps and qualifying. McDougal, driving the Foxco 56 car, was spectacular in hot laps having the fastest time overall until the very last lap of practice where Thomas ripped off the quickest lap overall.
The process repeated itself in qualifying when McDougal put in a spectacular lap that garnered everyone’s attention while it was taking place. McDougal held the top spot in qualifying until Thomas, who went out last, bested McDougal’s lap to claim the pole for Saturday’s race.
While its unlikely we will see that heavy of a race track for the 50-lap finale on Saturday the race between Thomas and McDougal is shaping up to be a real classic. Living up to last year’s 4-Crown classic the Silver Crown cars put on in 2018 will be a challenge, but McDougal and Thomas put everyone on notice that Saturday’s finale is shaping up to be another good race.
The only thing that may have out shined Thomas and McDougal’s performances was the 27 cars that showed up to compete at Eldora. The 4-Crown has never been a large draw even in the best of times for Silver Crown as several owners choose not to compete in the half mile events. Several teams indicated that they decided to enter at Eldora due to being rained out at Springfield and having a car that was race ready for this week at Eldora. No matter how it happened hopefully more Silver Crown teams become accepting of half mile races and we see the car count continue to increase for the 4-Crown over the next several years.