By Bill Klingbeil
For the fifth consecutive season, the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Car Series concluded its season at The Dirt Track @ Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday and Saturday nights. Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz closed his 15th WoO campaign in style by racing the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J to victory both nights in the Lowes Foods World Finals presented by Tom’s Snacks, Coca-Cola and Natures Own. TSR’s Steve Kinser came home second behind the wheel of the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim in Saturday night’s season-ending 30-lap A-Feature, marking the fifth time in 2011 that TSR cars have swept the top two positions.
“We didn’t have the season that we wanted to, but we finished strong,” admitted Schatz, who finished second in the 2011 WoO championship chase. “We finished second at Talladega (Oct. 22) and came in here and won both races. It’s a great way to end the season for our STP team. These guys on this team and everyone involved with TSR make this possible. Winning the last two races of the year is a great way to head into the offseason and hopefully give us an advantage to start 2012.”
The World Finals opened Thursday with Kellogg’s Qualifying Night. The format called for two rounds of qualifying, which would set the field for Friday and Saturday nights. In the first session, Kinser turned the second-fastest lap around the high-banked, 4/10-mile clay oval while Schatz was seventh in the field of 55 cars. As cars were making qualifying laps for Saturday’s program, rain showers moved in and forced officials to postpone Saturday’s qualifying round until Friday evening.
When action resumed on Friday, Schatz was the fifth car to make a qualifying lap for Saturday’s program and ended up sixth on the grid. Kinser went out midway through the pack and turned the eighth-fastest lap. WoO heat races followed Friday’s qualifying session. Both Schatz and Kinser were in the second heat and, by finishing second and third, respectively, they transferred to the dash. Schatz led all six laps of the dash to earn his seventh pole of the season, and Kinser raced from seventh to fifth.
In Friday night’s 30-lap A-Feature, Schatz jumped out to a strong lead and paced the field for the first dozen circuits. The four-time WoO champion was working lapped traffic during lap 15 when Sammy Swindell raced past Schatz. On the following lap, Schatz regained the lead and continued marching through traffic. Two laps later, a caution flag slowed the action and WoO officials called for a competition red flag to allow teams to add fuel. While the race was stopped, the STP crew noticed the right-rear tire was losing air pressure and made an adjustment to help Schatz during the final 13 laps of the race. The Fargo, N.D., racer was solid again on the restart and drove away from Swindell during the final 10 laps of the race. The victory was his seventh of the season and fifth at The Dirt Track.
Kinser started the feature fifth and spent most of the race swapping positions inside the top-five. Following the red flag, Kinser wasn’t able to maintain his position in the top-five and came home seventh. The finish was his 50th top-10 of the season and 25th top-10 in 27 starts at The Dirt Track.
Saturday’s World Finals finale concluded the Outlaws’ 34th season. Both Schatz and Kinser raced their way into the dash by finishing second in their respective heats. In the six-lap dash, Kinser finished third and Schatz was fifth. Kerry Madsen set the pace from the drop of the green flag in the 30-lap feature. Kinser challenged Ian Madsen for second early on while Schatz worked his way to Kinser’s rear bumper six laps into the race. Schatz would later overtake Kinser for third before putting the pressure on Madsen for second. Schatz and Kinser both passed Madsen and set their sights on his older brother Kerry. Lapped traffic was a factor for the leaders as the race reached lap 20. Schatz closed the gap and was poised to make a bid for the lead when a caution flag slowed the action on lap 21. When the race resumed, Schatz continued to pressure Madsen as the two raced side-by-side for a lap battling for the lead. The STP driver used a low move entering turn one and carried the momentum into the lead. One lap later, Kinser used a similar move and began tracking his TSR teammate for the lead. Schatz maintained a comfortable lead over the next six laps. Just after taking the white flag, a caution delayed his run to victory. The green-white-checkered restart would give Kinser one final opportunity to make a move for the win. Schatz wasn’t to be denied as he pulled away during the final two laps and earned his 113th-career WoO A-Feature victory. Kinser exchanged second with a hard-charging Craig Dollansky on the final two laps before coming home second behind Schatz.
“We had an excellent racecar all night long,” said Kinser, who earned nine victories in 2011 en route to a third-place finish in the final series standings. “We should have gotten to the lower line earlier and stayed with Donny. The outside wasn’t too bad, but Donny won a great race tonight. I can’t thank everyone on the Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet team enough. It was a great year and we’ll be back.”
The TSR duo entered the weekend in a tight battle for second in the season’s championship race. Jason Meyers successfully defended his 2010 WoO championship by a 248-point margin over Schatz and became only the fifth driver to win consecutive WoO crowns. Schatz had a seven-point advantage on Kinser entering the World Finals and used the weekend victories to increase the final margin to 21 markers. Last season, Schatz edged Kinser for second by 23 points.
On Sunday evening, Kinser and Schatz were recognized during the annual World of Outlaws championship banquet. With the 2011 campaign complete, the TSR drivers and team will begin preparations for the 2012 season, which begins Feb. 17-19 with the 41st annual UNOH DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park near Barberville, Fla.