T.J.’s Takeaways from the Finale of the 62nd Knoxville Nationals

Kyle Larson makes a toast to the fans following his victory Saturday at Knoxville Raceway. (Mark Funderburk photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

KNOXVVILLE, Iowa (August 12, 2023) — Another Knoxville Nationals is in the books, and it was another great 10 days of racing from the 360 Nationals to the finale of the 410 Nationals tonight. Here are my takeaways from the finale of the 62nd edition of the event.

  • I can feel in a portion of the sprint car racing fan base there is some apathy towards Kyle Larson winning. Living through eras in sprint car racing where Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz, and others have dominated the sport at times and some of the fan base grows tired of seeing the same person win as much as we at times get tired of writing about it.

    Larson is different from my perspective. To have a racer in our lifetime that is so good at everything he does in motorsports and having that person love sprint car racing so much is incredibly special. It would be a lot easier for Larson to sit in his motorcoach at Indianapolis this weekend or maybe fly in to sit in a suite to watch the races, but instead Larson sacrifices his time away from his “day job” in NASCAR to participate in sprint car racing.

    Granted it is a lot easier to get excited about using up your free time to drive dirt races when you have people like Paul Silva and Kevin Rumley fielding your race cars, but I feel some of the boos I’m hearing when Larson is introduced at sprint car racing now is disrespectful of the effort, he is putting in to participate.

    If you are getting tired of Larson winning and are finding his talent hard to appreciate due to his winning frequency, listen to how he breaks down a race in an interview at a sprint car race. If you really listen, you get an idea of how incredible his brain is at processing everything that is going on while in the race car. Hearing Kyle Larson talk about a sprint car race he just participated in is as enjoyable as watching him drive it.

    Tomorrow Kyle Larson’s Indy 500 paint scheme will be revealed. Having someone like Larson with a sprint car racing pedigree participating with a topflight team is something I thought had gone away for good with Bryan Clauson’s passing.

    Now we get to bring our best race car driver possibly of our generation, that loves sprint car racing, Indianapolis where I’m certain sprint car fans will be unified in hoping for his success. If the cheers from the fan base are any indication the anticipation for next May is going to be off the charts.

  • There are a lot of drivers that would feel like they missed an opportunity if they had the same experience David Gravel went through at the 2023 Knoxville Nationals.

    Gravel was one of the favorites coming into Knoxville Nationals to win his second title. Many thought those chances went out the window during his preliminary night when he hit some bad air and he slammed into the wall.

    Instead those thoughts turned into wondering if we were going to see someone break Donny Schatz’s record for winning that nationals from the furthest starting position in history, which Gravel would have done by won spot. Instead he came up one spot short.

    I asked Gravel if he would view this as a missed opportunity or focus more on the job his race team did to rally to end up on the podium Saturday.

    The fact everyone involved with that team seemingly kept such a good attitude, prepared a race car that seemed to be every bit as good as the one they destroyed on Wednesday, and make such and incredible run through the field is a credit to them and served notice of their full potential for the rest of the season.

    The biggest change I’ve seen in Gravel though is his maturity. I know because I’ve seen the same change in myself after becoming a father. There are some that may think family and kids can slow a race car driver down. I feel Gravel has not only become a better driver but better at all aspects surrounding his racing. From t-shirts to his social media presence, it’s all clicking right now for Gravel.

  • There are lots of great racing events all over the country, but there is only one like the Knoxville Nationals. Every year this town opens its doors and allows us to call it our own for a few days.

    If you are a racing fan and you haven’t been here, you need to come twice. I say that because this place can make your head spin the first time and you are likely not going to see everything you want to experience the first time around.

    If you do decide to come, try your best to find accommodations in the city of Knoxville. If it’s a camper in someone’s yard, a house, a hotel, whatever you can find to stay here. I commuted the first eight years I came to the Nationals. My view of the event changed entirely when I got to stay in town.

    You start to explore more; widen the range of places you explore in and around the town. Over the past 10 years I feel the city of Knoxville is embracing the Nationals more than ever.

    I want you to experience it the way I do, and hopefully through my coverage you get to see a little of that. Instead of reading about it though, you need to come here for yourself.