T.J.’s Notebook: Low Point Totals Concern Top Drivers after Wednesday’s Preliminary Program

By T.J. Buffenbarger

KNOXVILLE, Iowa (August 10, 2022) — One day removed from a crazy preliminary night to open the 60th Knoxville Nationals that saw 18 of the top 20 qualifiers fail to transfer through their heat race into the main event. This resulted in Donny Schatz and David Gravel tying in points with Schatz winning the tiebreaker of highest feature finish to be the highest point driver for the night, but only accumulating 469 points.

Looking back on the past two Knoxville Nationals this would place them 9th in the Saturday program in 2021, 9th in 2019, and 8th in 2018.

Donny Schatz was the most vocal about the narrow track conditions on Wednesday during the post race press conference.

“The way it feels it will be probably good enough for the front of the B,” said Schatz. “I don’t know what to say, you know, to say I’m disappointed. There wasn’t anybody going go through those heat races from the fourth row, the bottom lane and a half wasn’t even close to being run in. It wasn’t run in when we qualified. I was frustrated, pretty furious after that. But what do you do? I mean, I don’t do the racetrack. I mean, this is the Knoxville Nationals, this is our, our biggest race and you see, what happens.”

Schatz was one of two drivers on Wednesday night that qualified in the top 20 that transferred through his heat race. Schatz was determined to transfer through his heat race knowing what the consequences would have been had he not made the feature through that event.

“17 out of 20 guys were in the B,” Schatz remarked as Clint Garner had to run the C-Main after his top 20 qualifying effort while the others had to run the B-Main. “If wouldn’t have run fourth in my heat race do you know where I would have started in the B? 11th. It’s kind of surreal to sit and think about all the equations that could have played out.”

David Gravel reflected the tough preliminary night as the only driver other than Schatz in the top 20 from qualifying to transfer out of their heat race. Gravel was very aware of his point total and where he potentially stands if a larger number or drivers out score hi due to the low total.

“469 is not that great,” said Gravel. “Obviously I think me, and Donny expect not to be high point guy going after tomorrow. But yeah, just an odd night. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in my career at the nationals of all the fast guys not transferring through. There’s just a lot of grease on the bottom of the racetrack and it just made it difficult to kind of make anything happen, but you know, happy to finish the A-Main the way we did.

Gravel was also frustrated with his own performance at times during the preliminary program but recovered and made a move at the end to snag the last podium position from Giovanni Scelzi on the final lap.

“I was pretty sloppy and the car wasn’t very good I felt early on, so we definitely have work to do but just happy to really hit my last lap good and get on the podium,” said Gravel. We started eighth, you know you’re in the best shape of anybody out there, so you don’t want to do anything stupid. I got an amazing start and threw it all away in the next lap. I’ve got to not do that again. That’s for sure.”

Schatz, like many of us plan on paying close attention to Thursday’s program to see how those drivers fare when trying to transfer through their heat race.

“I’m curious to see if that same way tomorrow night, if it is, I guess we’ll be kind of gritting our teeth. If it’s not, they’ll probably be making you know, be able to pass from the fourth-row tomorrow night.”

Other Notes:

• Knoxville Nationals rookie Dylan Westbrook has a busy travel schedule ahead. After competing at his first Knoxville Nationals, Westbrook and his team will make the 16 our trip back to Ontario to compete in the second Canadian Sprint Car Nationals of the 2022 season

Westbrook was able to transfer from the C-Main to the B-Main on Wednesday, finishing 20th in the B-Main.

• ASCS National Tour point leader Blake Hahn has been impressive in just a handful of 410 sprint car starts this season. Unfortunately, mechanical issues plagued Hahn when a vibration developed after hot laps on his preliminary night and ended up sitting out the rest of the evening.

• Brandon Wimmer eliminated any insect issues near the Knoxville Raceway oval with his heavily smoking car in route to his heat race victory Wednesday at Knoxville. The smoke was heavy enough that second place Justin Peck had a difficult time seeing to pass Wimmer.

Unfortunately, the issue worsened in the feature and Wimmer ended up hurting his team’s engine enough that the possibility exists that they may have to sit out the remainder of the Nationals unless they can procure another engine.

• As of last night there were only a little over 400 tickets available for Saturday’s finale of the 61st Knoxville Nationals. If you plan on attending, you will want to get your tickets as soon as possible.