All signs were pointing to a Donny Schatz win being only a matter of time.
His first three podiums of the season in the last four races. A 4.75 average finish over that span. Leading a lap at Eldora while contending for victory. Add those numbers together, and you end up with the 10-time champion looking like his prime self over the past two weeks.
At Attica Raceway Park on Friday night, the time came.
Schatz put the exclamation mark on his recent run of excellence – sliding by Rico Abreu for the lead coming to the white flag and holding on to collect his first checkered flag of the 2023 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car season.
After struggling early through the early part of the year before the recent success, Schatz found it appropriate to quote a legend of the sport to sum up his feelings on the breakthrough victory.
“It’s good to get a win. One of the guys I grew up racing with, Kenny Woodruff, he used to say, ‘Even monkeys fall out of trees.’ And we won a race tonight,” Schatz said with a laugh.
On a more serious note, the celebration was especially gratifying. Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing team endured many difficult nights earlier this year that left them searching for answers. In recent weeks, they’ve begun to find them. And there’s no greater testament than standing atop the podium.
“It’s a credit to this team,” Schatz said of the win. “Ron Shaver and everybody that builds the engines and everybody at Ford. You can build speed. Trying to do it consistently when you have your own road to do things, you find out everything not to do in a short amount of time. But hats off to everybody who kept digging. It’s tough to swallow 12th place finishes, especially when this team is capable of winning championships. They’ve won 10 of them. So, hats off to them for not giving up on me.”
The trip to Victory Lane upped his career total with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series to 308. Schatz extended his record as the winningest driver in Series history at Attica to five triumphs at the 1/3rd mile. He also moved himself into the top-five in the championship standings.
Schatz’ path to the win began from the fourth starting position aboard the Carquest #15. He quickly moved his way to third at the start and settled in two spots away from the lead.
As the 35-lap Feature moved beyond the halfway point, Schatz began to flex his muscle in the way the Sprint Car world has become accustomed to over his decades of dominance.
Schatz didn’t pound the cushion. He didn’t stick to one line. He moved the TSR #15 all around the Attica surface in a search for speed. The Fargo, ND native began to find what he needed on the bottom in Turns 1 and 2. He slipped by Carson Macedo by using a big run off the bottom of Turn 2 with less than 10 laps to go.
After securing the runner-up spot, Schatz set his sights on Abreu, who was struggling to navigate lapped traffic. After only a couple laps, Schatz closed on the tail tank of the #24. Coming to the white flag he made his move.
Abreu slid himself in Turns 3 and 4. As Abreu’s car drifted toward the cushion, Schatz stuck the bottom and used a powerful run off corner exit to snatch the lead as the white flag waved overhead.
On the final circuit, Macedo threw a slider on Abreu in Turns 1 and 2, which broke both of their momentum enough to effectively seal the deal for Schatz. The veteran protected the bottom in the final set of corners and claimed his first victory since last year’s season finale.
“We just kind of had to go where they weren’t,” Schatz said of his strategy. “I think moving around there is what really helped us get there. When we got to traffic it was hard to get through. Everybody is so equal that even lapped cars are pretty good. That’s how we were able to get there. Hats off to my guys. They’ve been digging. We haven’t had the results we’ve wanted, but this is a tough game.”
Behind Schatz, Rico Abreu settled for second in his #24 after leading the opening 33 circuits. The St. Helena, CA native is now up to five Series podiums on the season – most among drivers who aren’t full-time on the tour. While finishing runner-up after leading such a large chunk of the race was disappointing, a second place result is still an encouraging outing against The Greatest Show on Dirt.
“An incredible job by my guys again,” Abreu said. “I feel like I let them down a little bit there, but you put yourself in different circumstances when you’re leading races. You’re judging your pace off lapped traffic, and you can feel the intensity behind you of guys like Donny and Carson and know they’re knocking on the door there.”
Rounding out the podium was Carson Macedo aboard the Jason Johnson Racing #41. It was a much needed boost for Macedo who hadn’t finished within the top three since 81 Speedway in early April. The Lemoore, CA native pressured Abreu for the lead on multiple occasions and felt he could’ve been celebrating a victory had a few things unfolded differently.
“I feel like we had a shot to win there, and then we ended up running third,” Macedo said. “I feel it was really competitive there at the end. All three of us were really going for it. I feel like the track was so slow that you had to be so patient to run around there. I debated on moving down in (Turns) 3 and 4 like Donny was. I felt like when I did move down, I maybe didn’t slow down enough and get crowded right around those tires to stick it and get off the corner. It was wild. We got to lapped traffic and that really changed the race a lot.”
Sheldon Haudenschild and David Gravel completed the top-five.
Brad Sweet salvaged his night by driving from 19th to ninth to earn the KSE Racing Hard Charger.
Even with Sweet’s strong charge, Gravel trimmed Sweet’s points lead down to 28 markers. Macedo still sits third, 34 points behind the top spot.
Rico Abreu began the night by earning his second Simpson Performance Products QuickTime of the year and the 15th of his career.
CASE No. 1 Engine Oil Heat One was topped by Rico Abreu (37th Heat win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four were claimed by Carson Macedo (88th of career), Donny Schatz (508th of career), and Sheldon Haudenschild (82nd of career).
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars visit Hartford, OH’s Sharon Speedway on Saturday, May 20. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action on DIRTVision.
A Feature (35 Laps): 1. 15-Donny Schatz; 2. 24-Rico Abreu; 3. 41-Carson Macedo; 4. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 5. 2-David Gravel; 6. 33W-Cap Henry; 7. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 8. 35-Stuart Brubaker; 9. 49-Brad Sweet; 10. 5-Spencer Bayston; 11. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 12. 5R-Byron Reed; 13. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 14. 22-Brandon Spithaler; 15. 83-James McFadden; 16. 1A-Jacob Allen; 17. 3J-Trey Jacobs; 18. 91-Tyler Gunn; 19. 29-Cole Macedo; 20. 1-Nate Dussel; 21. 15C-Chris Andrews; 22. 32-Bryce Lucius; 23. 2X-Ricky Peterson; 24. 09-Craig Mintz