It’s almost as though Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz would like to start their nights like they have been finishing them, lately. Last week, the duo competed three times with the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (WoO) at three different tracks and each time had their best result at the end of the night. A fourth-place finish for Schatz behind the wheel of the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/Chevrolet J&J Saturday at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway highlighted the week for the two-car TSR team. Kinser raced the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim past nine competitors Tuesday at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway and 14 Friday at Clay County Fair Speedway in Spencer, Iowa.
Qualifying struggles have plagued both drivers during the past few weeks of competition, but their A-Feature finishes have allowed them to maintain the top two positions in the 2012 WoO championship standings. Kinser is still setting the pace with Schatz 10 markers out of the top spot.
The busy week of action began Tuesday at the quarter-mile dirt oval in north central Indiana. It had been five years since the Outlaws competed at the facility and a standing-room-only crowd welcomed them back. Kinser drew the number-one spot for qualifying and, unfortunately, the track was still a little too tacky. He would end up 20th in the field of 31 competitors. A sixth-place finish in his heat transferred “The King of the Outlaws” into the 40-lap A-Feature, where he would start 17th. Schatz qualified 12th overall and finished second in the third heat to earn the 10th starting spot in the dash. He gained two spots in the six-lap dash and started the A-Feature eighth. It took three attempts to get the race underway and both TSR cars tried different lines around the quarter-mile oval. Schatz climbed to sixth and battled lap after lap trying to crack the top-five. Kinser patiently worked his way forward and, by race’s end, was following Schatz across the finish line.
Kinser’s son Kraig picked up the Kokomo victory, leading the final 39 laps aboard the Steve Kinser Racing Hendrickcars.com-backed machine.
Friday the series returned to Clay County Fair Speedway. Both TSR drivers went out late in the qualifying order and weren’t helped by a rapidly deteriorating dirt surface. Kinser timed in 21st and finished fourth in the third heat. Schatz ended up 25th and raced from ninth to sixth in the opening heat. The teammates shared row 11 in the 24-car starting grid for the 30-lap A-Feature. Both drivers were on the move early in the race. By lap 15, each had cracked the top-10. Following a mid-race restart, the pair battled for position with Kinser ultimately getting to seventh while Schatz came home eighth. Kinser’s charge from 21st to seventh earned him the night’s KSE Hard Charger Award.
Brad Sweet of Kasey Kahne Racing earned his first career WoO A-Feature triumph after out-dueling early leader Jason Sides for the top spot.
The week concluded with the Outlaw’ second stop of 2012 at legendary Knoxville Raceway. Saturday’s event also marked the final tune-up for the traveling stars on the track in advance of the sport’s biggest event – The Knoxville Nationals – which is held in mid-August. Kinser went out 16th in the field of 44 cars and turned the 22nd-best lap. Things didn’t go as planned in the second heat and he finished sixth, which forced him into the B-Main. “The Kings of the Outlaws” looked strong in the 12-lap contest as he raced from third to first early on and never looked back to claim the win. The victory earned him a spot in the 24-car field for the 25-lap A-Feature.
Schatz went out 33rd for his qualifying lap and ended up 20th-best. In heat four, he started fifth and was quickly on the move. The five-time Knoxville Nationals champion surged into third and then gained second one lap later. His second-place finish qualified him for the six-lap dash an, in that race, he was again on the move. Schatz raced past three cars to finish sixth and earn a starting spot on the outside of row three for the feature race.
Extreme heat and wind took its toll on the surface throughout the night and, when it came time for the final event, the surface was pretty used up. It only took three laps before a rubbered-down lane became the only viable lane around the half-mile oval. Schatz was able to get to fourth in the opening laps and remained there through the parade of 25 laps. Kinser jumped from 21sl to 17th and then moved up two more spots with three laps remaining when a pair of competitors in front of him crashed. He was able to grab one more position on the final lap to finish 14th.
Kerry Madsen found the rubbered-down lane first and passed Sammy Swindell before going on to earn the Knoxville A-Feature victory.
The tour now heads to the Upper Midwest for a pair of stops in North Dakota. It will be the first of two home-state weekends of racing this season for Schatz. The four-time champion grew up in Minot but calls Fargo home, now. Friday, Kinser and Schatz will look to resume their epic battle from last August at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, where the two exchanged the lead eight times in the final nine laps before Kinser ultimately earned the narrow victory. Red River Valley Speedway in Fargo will host the WoO for the first time since August 2009 Saturday.