Donny Schatz secures sixth Knoxville Nationals win
Donny Schatz has taken his sixth Knoxville Nationals crown in the tightest ever finish in the 52 year history of the event.
Schatz crossed the line just 0.1 in front of Brian Brown, who staged a stunning late race charge and closed the four second advantage that Schatz had with 12 laps remaining.
The Tony Stewart Racing driver quickly got to the front past pole-sitter and early race leader, Stevie Smith and set about opening up a big lead.
Craig Dollansky – who started on the outside front row – was the next past Smith and whilst he tried valiantly to get on racing terms with Schatz, he was unable to run with the dominant Dakota driver.
A mid-race five minute ‘competition caution’ to allow crews to re-fuel was what Brown needed. The popular driver, who bases much of his racing at Knoxville, started fourth and then began his stunning charge by getting past Dollansky after a restart with 16 laps to go for Kyle Larson who stopped on track.
A slight bobble from Brown with just over a lap to go coming out of turn two failed to impede Brown who pushed on to be side-by-side with Schatz at the fall of the chequers.
Dollansky was able to hold onto third from Kraig Kinser and Jason Meyers.
“I knew somebody was going to be coming,” Schatz said. “I had to change my line there because it was getting tricky and I was losing ground. I was moving around a lot and you have to be careful when you are leading the race and you get to moving around. You have everything to lose.”
Brown was ecstatic with his effort.
“I am the happiest guy at Knoxville Raceway tonight,” said Brown. “Donny Schatz is a great champion. He is the smartest guy out here. I was catching him but I didn’t know what I was going to do with him once I caught him.”
The race was significant for who wasn’t in the field. The winningest driver in Nationals history, Steve Kinser failed to progress past the B-Main for the first time in 35 years, whilst fellow veteran, Sammy Swindell joined his rival on the sidelines.
From an Australian perspective, the only Australian representative in the $150,000 to win Final was Ian Madsen. He started 11th and finished 18th.
Neither Brooke Tatnell or Kerry Madsen could progress past the B-Main with Madsen involved in a frightening wreck on the first time of getting the race underway. Dusty Zomer rode Madsen’s wheel before the throttle on his machine stuck wide open and he cannoned into the fence.
Madsen was forced to the work area to change a tyre and had to fight his way from the back of the pack to ninth.
Tatnell finished 12th in the B-Main, whilst James McFadden’s night ended in 16th after earlier transferring from the C-Main.
Jamie Veal missed the B-Main transfer by one position in fifth, Lynton Jeffrey finished 17th.
In the D-Main, Australia was well represented. West Aussie, Trevor Reynolds was the best placed in ninth, with Glen Saville 15th and Domain Ramsay 23rd.
The plaudits though remain with Schatz. Having won six of the last seven Nationals, he is clearly the best at delivering during this classic race. As many have opined, the changing of the guard in sprintcar racing could well be complete.