View from the Stands (7/16/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Bronson Maeschen…. 410 point leader! Bronson has matured as a driver, a very good driver, and after six top fives, finishing second twice this season, and almost winning last week, he wins the feature this week and it works out he has a fifty point lead over Ian Madsen, and 115 point lead over third place Terry McCarl. If Maeschen wins the title, he would be the first resident of Marion County to win the Knoxville track championship since Mike Brooks in 1980, and I believe Earl Wagner is the only other Marion County driver to do that. Bronson has been consistent all season. He has seven top five’s, nine top ten’s, and two quick times. If Bronson just keeps doing what he has done all season, I think he gets it done. With only four more weekly races left, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch! I asked him what he thought of being the point leader in the pits afterwards and he said, “I guess the target is on my back now huh.” Good answer. Being the point leader doesn’t mean much until the end of the season.
Ian Madsen hadn’t qualified worse than fourth all season until this week, where he was tenth. The Nehring 18 has been fast, but they haven’t been able to get to victory lane yet. They are in position to make it a good battle to the end though, and I think they get a win. Zomer has been fast as well, and is due to get a win.
Terry McCarl had some bad luck this week losing an engine. He is 115 points out with four weekly shows left this season. He is still in the hunt.
Davey Heskin finished fifth for the fourth consecutive feature. A good result, but not where he wants to be for sure. He will be fine come Nationals I think.
Mark Dobmeier has been so fast lately, but he qualified eighteenth and finished eleventh in the feature. Consistency is lacking yet for them
Consistency is something a lot of teams are lacking. It’s like for a couple of weeks someone is fast, then they are out to lunch the next week. I think a lot of teams are still adjusting to the new tires yet. Other than the top three in points, no one else is consistently fast every week. You see the same thing with the Outlaws as well. It appears to be a fine line with set-ups.
Dustin Selvage qualified well and got on the front row of the feature, led a handful of laps, and finished second, his best career finish in a 410 at Knoxville. I said last week he was on a verge of a breakout night. Selvage is learning a lot this year and I really look for him to do well the next few weeks, and I’m really excited for him next year. He is blossoming into a good young talent for years to come.
Don Droud finished third this week in the Sonner 47, their best finish this year, and they needed that! Good to see Wayne Johnson have a solid night finishing fourth too. I was shocked to see Danny Lasoski and the Burch 1m team show up at Knoxville on Saturday. They went to Ohio and raced the Doty Classic, Friday at Eldora, then drove all night to come to Knoxville. They struggled in Ohio so I can see the logic to pack up and come to Knoxville.
The track was awesome this week, maybe too good, no one could gain ground on anyone the second half of the feature. And lapped traffic was awful. There were clearly a few cars who were dangerously slower.
Clint Garner gets win number five on the season. Joe Beaver was leading, Jamie Ball briefly led before a caution came out and Beaver got back by him. If Beaver picks his way through traffic a little better at the end, maybe stays on the top the last lap instead of going to the bottom, I think he wins. Garner stole the win off turn four and beat Beaver in a drag race to the finish line in a great race. Amazingly, Beaver shaved a point off of Garners point lead, from 196 points to 195 thanks to beating him in qualifying.
I’m glad we tried out the top eight doing a redraw this week in the 360 class. That certainly made for a better race with Garner winning from the third row instead of the front row.
Josh Higday is one of my favorites to watch. He went to the outside on the start of the feature and made it four wide entering turn one, of course coming out ahead of that group of four cars. The guy is a Cowboy, elbows up at all times, but then his motor went boom, on only it’s third night of racing. Heartbreaking for him.
We saw a handful of cars in all classes with engine problems this Saturday, I don’t know if that is just a coincidence, or if it was due to teams not setting the fuel quite right with the air and lower humidity.
We had a handful of new cars in the 360 class this week, but we missed out on Russ Hall and some others like Tyler Groenendyk who is waiting on engine parts.
Larry Ball Jr. won feature number four on the season and has a firm grasp on the points. Steve Breazeale finished second to Ball in a good showing for him. Breazeale doesn’t get enough credit for racing as well as he has over the years. He has four 305 wins and eleven 360 wins, a good solid driver over the years doing what he can in his #57.
The 305 feature had an ugly start with an eight car incident going into turn one. It was reminiscent of the Carl Wilson heat race at the 2009 Nationals where seven cars were involved, which spawned the change of ten car inverts to eight the following year. Young Sawyer Phillips started on the front row and I’m not sure if he cut down on another car, if his car just wouldn’t take off on the start, or if it was impatient drivers behind him, but the field bunched up and in an accordion affect we saw cars and parts flying everywhere that took out half of the field. Matthew Stelzer had a rough night as well, breaking in his heat race with apparent engine issues, and didn’t start the feature.
Congrats to Kerry Madsen winning the night before the Royal, big win for Madsen! He has the big tracks figured out. And congrats to the “Big Cat” Brad Sweet on winning the Kings Royal!
I’m starting to think the Kings Royal is harder to win than the Nationals…. I know, I know… it’s one night, anything can happen, and at Knoxville you have to be good for at least two nights instead of one. But looking at the Royal format, it doesn’t reward qualifying at all. It’s all about the heat races and where you finish. A lot more luck involved as to where you end up starting, and if you end up in the fifth or sixth heat and win, you are on the front row of the feature. The six heats invert four cars, the top three transfer to the feature, but the heat winners are guaranteed a starting spot in the top six, the second place heat finishers are slated for positions 7-12, and third gets 13-18. Everything has to go right and you don’t have much time to do it in a heat race. Paul McMahan was quick time, started fourth in the first heat, finishes third, then his reward is starting thirteenth in the feature. Brad Sweet times thirty-fifth, misses the heat inversion, started sixth and won his heat! Man, Sweet had to drive his butt off to win that heat race! That earned him a front row starting spot in the feature. I love that heat races mean something and by winning there you earn a better feature starting spot, but why bother having qualifications in this format honestly. No one wants quick time, in fact it is better to sandbag and time thirteenth to twenty-fourth to start on the front row of a heat. It’s a tough format and I like it. At the Knoxville Nationals it is tough for sure, but you get two nights and a lot more laps for the cream to rise to the top, which is why you see the same winners repeatedly in my opinion. In thirty years of the Royal, no one has ever won it back to back years, and upset winners come frequently. If I’m a driver or team owner, I think I hate the Royal format, but the fans love it and that’s the main thing. You can’t have $50,000 to win races unless the fans are willing to pay the price, and they love this event the way it is.
Daryn Pittman is the WoO point leader. Someone asked me last week if I was a DP hater. The short answer is no. Maybe I have been a little hard on him though. It is an interesting and surprising fact that he hasn’t won a feature at Knoxville (I don’t count the World Challenge), and he hasn’t been great at Knoxville in his two showings this year. He did lead a lap a couple of years ago at the Nationals and knows his way around the big half-mile though, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him win the Nationals, he is a contender for sure. But I keep thinking it’s a matter of time before Schatz goes on a terror and he blows the Outlaw field away, but it hasn’t happened…. yet. I was surprised when KKR and Joey Saldana parted ways at the end of last season. For whatever reason that combination didn’t pan out, and I think the main reason was due to Joey getting hurt a couple of times. Pittman and the KKR team are having a heckuva season so far in 2013. Thirty top five’s this season is SEVEN more than anyone else. I’ve liked Daryn for a long time. I remember when he drove for Gil Sonner in 1999 and when the WoO came to Knoxville for the July race during the fair, it was HOT and HUMID, and I saw him afterwards in the trailer cleaning himself up. He had thrown up in his helmet during the race, kept going, and finished fifteenth somehow. I was impressed how tough he was, and at his determination. That’s true Oklahoma grit there, so I bought a t-shirt that night. He has paid his dues and maybe, just maybe, this is his time. I think some fans, myself included, are a little bitter about KKR dumping Joey, and that has clouded me from seeing just how good they are going. I’m cheering for him and sorry if it has come across that I have been a Pittman hater previously.
Apparently Steve Kinser and his car owner Tony Stewart had an on track incident at the Kings Royal, at least that is one point of view. I wasn’t there, didn’t see it, but Tony made it known that he wasn’t happy and called The King a rather colorful name. I hate it when a driver gets a microphone in their face in the heat of the moment. It’s not fair honestly. I know emotions run high at times, but you can’t just call the greatest sprint car driver that ever walked the earth a name like that. You just can’t. And Tony of all people who has been thrust into these situations frequently in the past should know better. Steve Kinser doesn’t deserve that. No one would dare say that to Richard Petty, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, John Force, Don Garlits, Michael Schumacher, and expect to get away with it. I love Tony Stewart, he does so many good things for the sport, but calling Steve Kinser a name like that crosses a major line in my opinion. Yes, Steve is having the worst season of his career, and maybe he did make a mistake and crash him, but I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. He still deserves the upmost respect from all of us, even if he is your employee. Now you have a media frenzy leading up to the Nationals about this situation. Steve Kinser is THE MAN, and he always will be. Don’t mess with the King. Enjoy watching him race now, because he could hang up the helmet at any time and we are going to miss seeing him race. This is a time to celebrate how great The King is while we can.
We are only two weeks away from the 360 Nationals!!! I will put together my 360 power rankings next week, but until then here is this week’s 410 rankings.
Nationals Power Rankings: 1. Schatz, 2. Brown, 3. Stewart, 4. McMahan, 5. Dollansky, 6. Larson, 7. Kaeding, 8. Pittman, 9. Shaffer, 10. K.Madsen, 11. Maeschen, 12. Dobmeier, 13. Heskin, 14. Gravel, 15. S.Smith, 16. Blaney, 17. Hafertepe Jr., 18. Hodnett, 19. Zomer, 20. T.McCarl, 21. Rahmer, 22. I.Madsen, 23. Henderson, 24. Saldana.
First five out: Sammy, Sweet, DeWease, Darrah, Lasoski.
*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.