The biggest week of racing in the World of Outlaws (WoO) Sprint Series occurs every August in the small town of Knoxville, Iowa, and the results are usually heard around the world. The 51st running of the Goodyear Knoxville Nationals concluded late Saturday night when Tony Stewart Racing’s (TSR) Donny Schatz took the checkered flag in the 50-lap main event. The fact that Schatz earned the victory shouldn’t surprise many. It was his fifth in the last six years and also his 10th finish of first or second in the last 12 Nationals. However, it was the manner in which he earned it. The four-time WoO champion was forced to start the TSR No. 15 STP/Armor All/ Chevrolet J&J 13th because of an engine failure in Wednesday night’s opening preliminary feature. Undeterred, Schatz was the star of the show, moving forward quickly and taking the lead on lap 14. Once in front, the Fargo, N.D., racer drove a perfect race to earn his 110th career WoO A-Feature win.
“My STP car was awesome all night long,” said the four-time WoO champion. “The motor, the chassis, everything was great. The bottom (groove) was a place where my car was able to work really well early on and, as the race progressed, I kind of wore out that line so I had to move up a bit. I’m very lucky to be with great people. Everyone at STP, including Scott Thomas, who was with us in victory lane tonight, Armor All, Chevrolet, Tony Stewart Racing, and my crew gave us a great chance this week. I need to also thank the more than 1,100 people who signed up for our sign-and-ride program. It was really cool to get all of those people into victory lane tonight.”
Schatz was fast from the moment he hit the track to start the Nationals on Wednesday evening. He was the second-fastest qualifier, won his heat from the eighth starting position and was charging ahead in the preliminary feature before a broken bolt in the motor caused some internal damage just eight laps into the race. Despite the bad luck, Schatz would start the most important Sprint car race of the season in the 13th position on the 13th of August with a full moon lighting up the sky.
Maybe those variables played into some early frustrations as it took a couple of attempts to start the race. Schatz was in 11th when the race was halted for the second time on lap four. During the next 10 laps, he moved his way up to fourth when the third stoppage occurred. Schatz took full advantage of the restart and gained the lead from Sammy Swindell with a bold inside move. The race would run green until a lap-27 red flag was waved in order to allow the crews the refuel the cars and put on fresh tires. When the race resumed for the final 23 laps, Schatz continued to be the pacesetter and fended off late charges by Swindell and Shane Stewart to earn his fifth Nationals victory.
While the numbers proved to be lucky for Schatz, TSR’s Steve Kinser can’t seem to get over the hump in his efforts to capture his 13th Nationals title. In the 50-lap race, he drove the TSR No. 11 Bass Pro Shops/J.D. Byrider/Chevrolet Maxim to a 16th– place finish, which followed his fifth-place finish in Wednesday night’s 25-lap A-Feature.
With the Nationals in their rearview mirrors, the TSR teams will travel north for a pair of shows in the Dakotas on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the Outlaws will make their third stop at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, N.D. The following night, they’ll compete at Huset’s Speedway in Brandon, S.D. Schatz and Kinser continue to rank second and third, respectively, in the 2011 WoO championship standings. Schatz trails leader Jason Meyers by 52 points while Kinser is 105 back.