By T.J. Buffenbarger
(August 12, 2021) – Brian Brown knows what it is like to be in contention to win the Knoxville Nationals. In 2012 he took the lead from Donny Schatz, only to lose the lead to Schatz a handful of laps later. That started a three year stretch where Brown was considered a serious contender to win the Nationals.
Ever since 2014 though Brown’s preliminary nights have been filled with strange mechanical issues and mistakes that relegated him to fighting to just make the Saturday finale.
Brown proved Thursday his newfound speed with his uncle Danny Lasoski spinning the wrenches for his team would carry over to the Knoxville Nationals as Brown put together a solid night that ended in victory lane.
“In 12, 13, and 14 I ran second to Donny (Schatz),” said Brown. “You get kind of just thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be like this every year, I’ll just beat him next year’. Then in 15, 16, 17, 18, and really 19 I’ve had some bad luck. Tire vibrating, driver driving like an idiot, and I’ve never been back hardly even in the show.”
Brown was able to overcome a small mistake during qualifying that potentially set him back by running an aggressive, yet smart heat race.
“I kind of just got over thinking myself early in the night. I put the same setup in the car I used to break the track record earlier in the year thinking the track was going to be pure grip and we made a lot of speed that way. In hot laps I didn’t feel that great. Once you go down that road you are kind of stuck with it and I just spun my tires a little bit coming off turn four both laps.
I didn’t get a good start in the heat on the front stretch and went four wheels about it to try and get going and got by a couple. In three and four I thought I was going to maybe even get to second, but the 42 got pushed up a little bit and I got tight. At that point there was a lot of good cars in my heat, so I didn’t want to do something stupid to run fifth.”
Brown parlayed that heat race finish into a drive in the feature to take the lead from Sam Hafertepe Jr. and maintain some distance between himself and the charging Kyle Larson and Brent Marks.
“Once we got out in clean air, I felt like my car was pretty good. These two guys (Larson and Marks) are probably the hardest runners in the country. Marks is one of the hardest runners in Central PA and Larson just wakes up running hard. I knew those were guys and I probably ran a harder pace that I wanted to run. I did it, and here we are.”
For Brown, Thursday was a culmination of the renaissance of his race team and a return to the sage as a primary Knoxville Nationals title contender.
I’m just proud of my whole team and proud to be able to relax and breath the next two days,” said Brown. “I feel like the team we have is building every day with our confidence growing more and more. I feel like we have a real chance to win Saturday night and I’m excited about that.”
• One of the most remarkable moments of the night took place during the crash between turns three and four that involved multiple cars spread across the entire race track. Somehow, Larson was able to find enough room to bob and weave his way through the carnage to clear the incident.
“It was wild!” exclaimed Larson about his near miss. “ I was close to the 47 (Marcus Dumesny), we went into three, and I heard Mike Hess yelling yellow and I saw two cars flipping in front of me, so I had to bend it sideways. I got my pace checked up and was thankfully high enough and a few more came blasting through in front of me. It felt like a long crash, and they were able to get a little hole made there and I was able to zig-zag through. It was nerve racking for sure. Thankfully the seas parted.”
Even though Larson did not end up in victory lane, he felt good about the solid event that put him in position to start inside of the second row for Saturday’s finale.
“I was just trying way too hard. It was a solid race. I got extremely lucky missing that big wreck. That wiped out a lot of good cars in front of me. I only had to come from 10th,” Larson said about missing the incident. “It couldn’t have worked out much better for me. I was a little nervous there starting 21st. I thought it was tough for Logan (Schuchart) to get up to seventh last night and throught it was going to be even tougher for me tonight. Things all worked out, we wound up second, and are pretty good in points. I’m really happy about it.”
• Brent Marks has been fast since returning to his family owned car earlier in the season. Even with the success Marks has achieved in 2021, he decided to make some changes based on two of the races he competed in leading into the Nationals.
“The changes were kind of based on what I felt on Sunday and what I really felt Monday at Osky too. I know the tracks are different, but it felt like my car feels the same at both tracks. We just had to make a lot of changes for tonight.”
Marks was just one of several Nationals title contenders that ended up drawing high numbers for qualifying, which concerned Marks until rain showers hit Knoxville Raceway early in the afternoon.
“I was worried about getting such a bad pill draw, but the rain really helped there. The track got nice for the feature. I felt like it was more like the track we are going to see on Saturday at some point. I’m just proud of what we accomplished tonight and felt we made some big gains. Just a good night.”
• Kasey Kahne gave the Beef Packers team along with car owners Dennis and Teresa Roth some much needed good news following the suspension of their driver Aaron Reutzel and fines for both driver and team after a chassis inspection sticker was transferred to a car that did not conform to World of Outlaws specifications.
Kahne was the fastest qualifier on Thursday’s preliminary feature. Kahne had to face some adversity missing the transfer through his heat race. Kahne bounced back to transfer through the B-Main, charging from 23rd starting position to sixth spot, securing a position in Saturday’s feature.
• After rain in the afternoon pushed back the Thursday preliminary program many onlookers thought it would make it difficult to pass, leaving several contenders who qualified well in a precarious position. This proved incorrect as several of the top contenders were able work their way up from the fourth row in the heat races and produced good racing in the feature.
“I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as good of racing as it was,” said Brian Brown, who is used to seein the Duncan family’s handywork on the track surface at Knoxville Raceway on a regular basis. “ I wouldn’t have been upset if they would have cancelled it and ran tomorrow because I didn’t know how fair it was going to be. The Dunkin’s work magic when you think they can’t. They did a phenomenal job with the track I felt like for the hand that was dealt them.”
• There was plenty of well-deserved praise for the Knoxville Raceway safety team for their quick action to extinguish the fire on Paul McMahan’s car during the massive crash in turns three and four during the feature. Remarkably McMahan was alert enough after taking two very hard hits to quickly extricate himself from the car.
McMahan was transported to a local hospital for evaluation, but his wife Jan indicated that Paul was back at his camper at the racetrack on Friday.
McMahan’s incident backed up a tough week so far for CJB Motorsports as their entry on Wednesday driven by Zeb Wise dropped out with mechanical issues after being in contention to make Saturday’s finale.
• The Iowa Hawkeye wrestling team made an appearance at the Knoxville Nationals on Thursday. The appearance was spearheaded by Kasey Kahne Racing’s Justin Adams, who also has a background in wrestling. The entire team seemed to be soaking in the entire ambiance of the Nationals and received a warm welcome from the large crowd.