This was supposed to be the year that Donny Schatz’s dominance at the Knoxville Nationals came to an end.
Schatz answered his doubters with a performance that left many wondering if he’ll ever lose here again.
Schatz charged from the back of the field Saturday night to win the Knoxville Nationals sprint car race for the seventh time in eight years.
Schatz earned $150,000 for winning the world’s premier sprint car event. He started 21st, the furthest back of any winner at the nationals.
Brian Brown was second, followed by Justin Henderson, Paul McMahan and Chad Kemenah.
The race came less than a week after NASCAR star Tony Stewart, Schatz’s team owner, broke his leg racing sprint cars in nearby Oskaloosa.
”I wouldn’t call it doubt. I was calling it motivation,” Schatz said. ”This race team is unbelievable.”
Fellow NASCAR driver Kyle Larson finished sixth.
Not only had Schatz won six of the last seven nationals, he was the runner-up in 2010. But he had a rough week – up until Saturday night.
Schatz came to Iowa as the hottest driver in the World of Outlaws sprint car series, leading with 13 wins — five in July alone. But Stewart’s wreck put a damper on his stay.
Schatz then had so much trouble in the qualifying races leading up to Saturday night’s main feature that he was forced to qualify for it from the B-Main — and he got booed by the crowd during introductions for that race.
Schatz won the B and started the A-Main ahead of just four cars. Schatz was up to sixth through 20 laps and four cautions and moved to fourth after the competition caution halfway through the 50-lap event.
Schatz methodically cut into Brown’s lead and passed him with 10 laps left. He cruised from there to take home perhaps the most impressive win of his storied career.
”I told these guys that if weren’t in the top 5 on that competition caution, we were going to be in trouble,” Schatz said. ”We didn’t have the best performance until (Saturday).”
The nationals, an annual celebration of a sport that enjoys a grass roots following across the country, started with a flourish. The 25-car field went four-wide as the smoke from the checkered flag fireworks still hung in the air. It only took one turn for the race to be red-flagged.
Stevie Smith caught the fence and flipped upside down. He was fine though, and Brown took the lead from pole sitter Joey Saldana on the restart.
But there were three cautions in the first four laps alone, including one for tire damage from World of Outlaws points leader Daryn Pittman. That didn’t stop Brown from building a huge lead of as many as four seconds on Saldana.
”I think I may (have) used my stuff up a little too early. Hats off to Donny Schatz,” Brown said.
All those cautions allowed Schatz to edge closer to the front, and his No. 15 Tony Stewart Racing car cruised to the win by a comfortable 4 seconds.
There were still some boos for Schatz after the race, but not nearly as many as before it started.
”Man to get through there … I don’t what the hell else anyone wants me to do,” Schatz said.