View from the Stands (7/8/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Twin features night is always pivotal for the track championship, and that was proved to be the case again this year. Ian Madsen came into the night with a 188 point lead over Bronson Maeschen and at the end of the night Madsen retained the point lead, but it is now a slim 27 points over Maeschen with Terry McCarl lurking 47 points back. Last week I said I had this feeling T-Mac was going to find a way to pull this out, and it’s looking more like it. Over the course of a whole season, Terry has always been the man and has seven track championships to back that up. Somehow, someway, I think he wins it in the end. But boy would I like to see someone new like Ian or Bronson win it.
Ian had yet to have a night of “bad luck” or a DNF, where the others competitors behind him had. Now the score is even on the luck scales. Maeschen is tenacious and has been consistently quick as well. It is shaping up to be quite a battle and now it is basically a three car race for the championship.
Madsen timed fourth, but fell out of the top ten in the first feature and then slowed to a stop to cause a caution and finished nineteenth. After being a lap down he was then forced to start at the back of the second feature and finished thirteenth. Something was obviously wrong with the car.
With Kyle Larson and Brian Brown entered on twin features night, that had everyone’s attention and they were the favorites. Justin Henderson has taken over the #1 Bryan Sundby sprinter and it will be great to see him here the rest of the season.
Who would have thought Justin Henderson would be able to pass Brian Brown not once, but twice, to win the first feature? Not me. When I first saw the lineup of the second feature I was betting on Maeschen to win, and he almost did. Mark Dobmeier was able to hold him off on the last lap to get his third win of the season.
The feature winners were Henderson and Dobmeier, but the overall winners when you look at the average finish for both features were Maeschen with a seventh and second (average 4.5), McCarl fourth and sixth (5.0), Heskin with two fifth place finishes (5.0), Dobmeier tenth and first (5.5), Zomer sixth and tenth (8.0), and Lynton Jeffrey ninth and eighth (8.5).
Kyle Larson probably would have won the second feature if he hadn’t crashed. He was reeling in Dobmeier, and what a race Larson and Heskin had for a while for second. Can’t wait for #YungMoney to be back at the Nationals where he is creeping up my power rankings.
Rico Abreu had finishes of eighth and third and looked smoother than last week. Rico will go to the Kings Royal this week and then be at Knoxville every week through the Nationals.
Brian Brown finished second and fourth in twin features. Hard to believe he didn’t win the first feature while starting on the pole, but Henderson had his number on the last restart. The track was wide and slow, similar to a 50 lap Nationals track. Brownie gained some valuable experience this week to use going forward. I still look for him to be tough at the Nationals.
Davey Heskin ran out of fuel in qualifying causing him to time twenty-fifth. Bad night to make that mistake in the pit area, but fighting back to a pair of fifth place finishes is something to be proud of.
Mark Dobmeier winning three features now on the season is impressive. His team is really coming together with Guy Forbrook turning the wrenches and their Fisher engines. If they can figure out the qualifying set up look for Dobs to be tough at the Nationals, and I think they will.
Great to see Lynton Jeffrey with a pair of top ten finishes this week! He is a great guy, a good driver, and works hard for his Vortex Wing customers.
Don Droud Jr. finished tenth on Friday night at the World of Outlaws race at Dodge City, Kansas in the Ochs Brothers 1x. Good run for him!
I feel for Austin McCarl and Tasker Phillips. They crashed at the start of the first feature and tore up their cars pretty bad. Sounds like Austin might be out for a while as that was his only car. Austin hasn’t had a stellar season with his qualifying average at 15.1, and no top ten finishes. He is a talented driver though, just hasn’t had the equipment to get to the front like a lot of other drivers. But he is on the track, racing, and that is more than some people can say.
Dustin Selvage is struggling a bit. He is a twelfth place car right now. His qualifying average is 12.4, his feature finish average is 12.1, and this week in twin features he finished thirteenth and you guessed it, twelfth. I have this gut feeling Selvage is on the verge of a breakout night though. I think he is getting the most out of his equipment.
I know it’s easy to write about the guys up front, but the guys struggling to get a top ten, or just make the feature each week deserve some recognition as well.
Ryan Bunton gets the Goody’s headache poweder award this week. He lost his engine in hot laps and was done for the night. I see on Twitter @RyanBunton, he is asking for some help to race this week. He is currently eleventh in points.
Garrett Dollansky drew an early number for qualifying and set quick time. He seems to have a good car under him at times, but his best feature finish is seventeenth. The rookie is starting to show signs of progress I think though.
Rager Phillips best finish this year is seventeenth. Mike Moore fourteenth, AJ Moeller had his best finish of the season this week with a fifteenth, Glen Saville nineteenth but he made both features. Rob Kubli’s best finish is nineteenth, and he crashed hard into the turn three fence and was taken the Knoxville hospital. Dakota Hendrickson has qualified for two features and has perfect attendance. Geoff Dodge has missed a couple of weeks and his best finish is twentieth.
The 360 A Main turned into a 42 minute marathon start to finish, with a fuel stop. 6 cautions slowed the race down. It started with Jamie Ball who was starting on the front row spun entering turn one on the initial start, which collected several cars, including Nate VanHaaften who got the worst of the incident flipping a few times and catching on fire briefly. I feel bad for Jamie Ball, he is a good kid who made a mistake and I’m sure he feels horrible, but Donny Schatz did the same thing in the 2001 Nationals and it happens. No one was hurt, and I’m sure Ball and VanHaaften will regroup and be back this week.
Jon Agan took off with the lead early, but Clint Garner grabbed the lead from him on lap three. Joe Beaver then passed Agan at halfway for second and looked like he might have something for Garner at the end, but Beaver got into the fence in turn two and packed the right rear wheel with mud and had to pit. Beaver then made his way back up to sixth, passing six cars on the restart. Matt Moro ended the night second with Josh Higday third, Agan fourth, and Ryan Roberts fifth. Only half the field finished the race in the end. The win was Garner’s fourth of the season, he is still a perfect ten for ten in top five finishes and everything seems to be going his way. Garner extended his points lead out to 196 over Joe Beaver who is now second in points after VanHaaften’s misfortune drops him to third.
The Brad Doty Classic and the Eldora Kings Royal is this week. Hard to believe this is the 30th year for the Royal. I can still remember when Earl Baltes put up a whopping $50,000 to win in 1984 and how obscene that amount seemed. Thirty years later the race still pays the same amount to win and it’s the second highest payday in sprint car racing. It’s one of the hardest races to win, and it’s hard to pick a winner with the format and it only being a one night event. Paul McMahan has the longest active streak of consecutive top ten finishes at twelve, and something tells me Paul is due to make a splash and win a big event, like the Royal.
Levi Jones announced his retirement from racing last week. A five time USAC Sprint Car Champion, two time Silver Crown champion, winner of the Ultimate Challenge, four time Indiana Sprintweek champion, and two time winner at the Eldora Four Crown. He is only 31 years old, accomplished a lot in his short career, and a good candidate to get into the NSCHoF someday.
I know Knoxville Raceway weekly is on Mediacom each week, but MavTV is my new favorite TV channel (219 on Direct). This past week I saw ASCS 360’s, The Must See Xtreme pavement sprints, and MSCS races there. I loved the MSCS race from Haubstadt, Kevin Thomas Jr. (who just happens to be entered in the Knoxville Nationals as well) passed Jon Stanbrough in traffic with two to go.
I’ve been on two adventures to Indiana Sprintweek in my day, and each year I’ve missed it since I miss it more and more. Bloomington is my favorite, the grass is so green, the clay is bright red, it is a photographers dream. If you haven’t experienced it, get to Terre Haute, Kokomo, Haubstadt, Gas City, Lawrenceburg… you won’t be disappointed.
The NSSN World Challenge on Friday night of the Knoxville Nationals has a new twist this year. If the winner of the WC has not yet qualified for the Saturday night championship feature, they will earn a twenty fifth starting position. And this goes for the second or third place finisher, if the car in front of them is already locked in. A good twist to the World Challenge, and it now has some real flavor and meaning, giving a lot of drivers one last chance to qualify for the big dance. We have never had a 25 car Saturday night A-Main in Nationals history.
The entries for the 360 and 410 Nationals are rolling in daily. You can keep up with those on Twitter at the @knoxvillenats handle.
Nationals Power Rankings: 1. Schatz, 2. Brown, 3. Stewart, 4. McMahan, 5. Dollansky, 6. Larson, 7. Kaeding, 8. Pittman, 9. Shaffer, 10. Dobmeier, 11. K.Madsen, 12. Heskin, 13. Gravel, 14. S.Smith, 15. Blaney, 16. Hafertepe Jr., 17. Swindell, 18. T.McCarl, 19. Hodnett, 20. Maeschen, 21. Zomer, 22. Rahmer, 23. I.Madsen, 24. Henderson.
This week; Haferptepe and Henderson are in, Saldana and Lasoski are out. Larson now ahead of Kaeding and Pittman. First five out: Lasoski, Saldana, DeWease, Darrah, and Kemenah.
Only three weeks until the 360 Nationals!!!
*Don’t forget we are still taking pre-orders for the book, Knoxville Nationals: The First 50 Years. You can pre-order the book by finding the book order form available on the track website in the “entry forms” section. You will also be able to buy them in person the week of the Nationals.
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.