2013 Knoxville Nationals Preview
(8/5/2013) by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
The Knoxville Nationals is one of the hardest races to win, the most prestigious, and pays the most money, $150,000 to the winner! I study a lot of stats, data, prior year finishes, and try to account how their current season is progressing to come up with my power rankings and predictions. As I look into my crystal ball, this is how I break down the field.
Donny Schatz is a six time champion, has won the last two Nationals, and six of the last seven. His past ten Nationals, his average finish is 2.4. For a decade he has dominated this race and since he won both World of Outlaws events at Knoxville this year, and he has won more Outlaw races than anyone else this season, it’s hard to bet against him winning a seventh Nationals title. If anyone other than Schatz wins, it will be considered an upset. He is the closest thing to Steve Kinser this event has seen.
Brian Brown finished second last year at the Nationals in a close finish with Schatz, and he has been right there with Schatz at both Outlaw shows this season at Knoxville. Can the guy who drives the FVP car win the FVP Nationals? It would be a marketing dream for that to happen. The last three years Brown has finished fourteenth, seventh, and second.
Shane Stewart was the runner-up in 2011 and has been knocking on the door. He has qualified for the Nationals Championship feature twelve consecutive years and won two preliminary night features. He will be back in the #57 where he and Paul Silva have been a potent combination the past four years. His average finish the past three years is 3.7, which is second to Schatz at 1.3. He also won the 360 Nationals last week for the fourth year in a row and fifth overall.
Paul McMahan is having a great season with the Outlaws, but his Nationals resume doesn’t stand out when you look at it. His best finish is fifth in 2007 being his lone top five finish and he has five top ten’s in fourteen starts in the championship race. But he has set quick time twice at the Nationals and this year at the Outlaws shows he finished third and fifth. If there is one driver who is due for a breakout moment it’s McMahan. Look for McMahan to be a contender this year in the CJB #51.
Craig Dollansky has been one of the most consistent driver at the Nationals over the past decade with his average finish the past ten starts being 5.9. He finished third last year and his resume has seven top five finishes and thirteen top ten’s in twenty entries. Dollanksy has had a rollercoaster of a season with the Outlaws, but you can always bank on him making his way up front at the Nationals.
Kyle Larson was the rookie of the Nationals in 2012 and surprised everyone with a win on his preliminary night and putting his car in the championship race. If it hadn’t been for a blown tire, he would have finished in the top ten or better. He was at Knoxville for twin features this season and looked bad fast. He hasn’t qualified great at Knoxville yet, but in the heats and features he is better than anyone on the track. Now that Yung Money is expected to be up front, will he be there in the end on Saturday night? He has always exceeded expectations in the past, so why stop now, right?
Tim Kaeding is on a terror this season with the Outlaws, winning seven features as of this writing, and he isn’t even running the full tour. TK looked good at Knoxville both times this season. He has two Nationals preliminary wins, one top five, two top ten’s in the championship race, and was ninth last year. He has done through the trials and tribulations of the Nationals and is due to get on the podium.
Daryn Pittman is the World of Outlaws point leader and is having his best season ever. His only wins at Knoxville have come in the exhibition World Challenge races in 2004 and 2005, and his Nationals resume has one top five in 2011, three top ten’s, and his three year average finish is 10.3. He finished seventh and fifth this season in the Knoxville Outlaw shows. Something tells me the KKR 9 team and Pittman are going to be good at the Nationals, but to date he hasn’t showed he is a top solid podium contender, and I think that changes this year.
Kerry Madsen has been up and down this season with the Outlaws, but he has shown he can win at times, like the Knight before the Royal. He looked good at Knoxville this season in the two Outlaw shows finishing fourth and eleventh. I think since the Keneric team got off to a slow start in the spring, they have just been focusing on wins rather than points, and there has been a big circle on the calendar for the Nationals. The Mad Man finished fifth in 2010, the best finish of any Australian at the Nationals, and I expect him to be a top five contender again this year. He has been fast the past few weeks.
In The Show:
Tim Shaffer is quietly having a good season on the All-Stars tour. The 2010 Nationals champion failed to make the championship feature last season coming up two spots short in the B main. He has been so good at Knoxville the past decade it’s hard to count him out two years in a row I think.
Bronson Maeschen has been the most consistent driver at Knoxville Raceway all season, and had a top five run going at the June Outlaw show until a rocker arm went bad. Maeschen has qualified for the Nationals championship feature once before in 2008, and this year he gets back in the show to represent the Knoxville Regulars.
David Gravel will win the Outlaws rookie of the year title, and has been solid at Knoxville this season finishing eleventh and seventh in the Outlaw shows. His crew chief is Tyler Swank from up the road in Newton, Iowa and he knows how to get around Knoxville. This is the coming out party for Gravel I have a feeling.
Davey Heskin is a Knoxville Regular who has put his red number 56 in the championship feature the past three seasons, and finished in the top ten twice. Last year he made his way from the B main to finish tenth. He hasn’t been as consistent this year in qualifying as he was a year ago, but I think he gets it in the show again this year.
Stevie Smith has finished in the top ten, three of the last four years at the Knoxville Nationals. Last year he was on the pole and led thirteen laps before finishing seventh. The Black Bandit is always good at Knoxville and with the CJB team behind him this year he just might have a shot to win. He has a great Nationals resume with six top five finishes, fourteen top ten’s, and made the championship race nineteen times in twenty-three entries. The racing God’s owe him a win after taking away the 1993 race when the rains came while he was leading. Nothing would be a more feel good story than to see this veteran finally win the Nationals.
Mark Dobmeier has won three features at Knoxville this season. With Guy Forbrook on the wrenches this year they have improved and been able to race to the front. If they can figure out how to qualify well at the Nationals, or get lucky at the pill draw, he will be tough.
Dale Blaney is also having a good year on the All-Stars series. Last year he was able to use the Friday “Hard Knox” format to his advantage after they lost their engine in hot laps on their qualifying night. Although Blaney only has one top ten finish at the Nationals he has made the championship race the past four years and I think he makes it five consecutive this year.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. has been a true Outlaw this year racing when and where he wants. He didn’t have great showings with the Outlaws at Knoxville this year, but he did great in Pennsylvania Speedweek. Although he has only qualified for the Nationals championship race once previously in 2011, I think he gets it in this year. The Nationals has been a big target on his calendar.
Greg Hodnett has been good this summer in Pennsylvania. He won PA Speedweek and has a solid Nationals resume with three top five’s, five top ten’s, and made the championship race thirteen out of twenty-two entries. He finished second in 1997, was sixth in 2010, but he hasn’t made the race the past two years. I like his odds to improve this year and put it in the show.
Dusty Zomer is another Knoxville Regular who has had a good season. He has made the championship race four times, with one top ten finish. He has struggled at the Nationals the past two seasons, and he is too good to miss it a third year in a row.
Terry McCarl is solid and Knoxville. The seven-time track champion missed the championship feature last year and I think he makes it in this year. If he has a fresh motor ready, don’t be surprised to see him in the top ten.
Ian Madsen led the points at Knoxville until the middle of July and has been a great qualifier.
Justin Henderson knows his way around Knoxville and he could put the Bryan Sundby car in the show.
Joey Saldana finished tenth and fifteenth in the two Knoxville WoO shows this season. I think somehow, someway he finds a way to get into the show.
Brad Sweet won the Kings Royal, he is fast, and I think he is on the cusp of making his second Nationals feature. He raced at the May Knoxville Outlaw show this season and finished sixteenth.
Lance DeWease finished eighth and ninth the past two years at Knoxville. You can’t count him out.
Cody Darrah made his first championship race start last year. Can he make it two years in a row? Earlier this season at Knoxville he finished sixth and twenty-third.
Kevin Swindell finished second at the 360 Nationals, and won the Capitani Classic in the Indy Race Parts #71. Bernie has that car rolling well, and Shane Stewart won the Knoxville season opener in the seat of the car this season. Kevin has not raced his way into the Nationals championship feature yet in three entries, but that could change this year.
Danny Lasoski has missed the show the past three years and hasn’t run a 50 lap Nationals yet. He hasn’t had a stellar season, but he did get a win in July. If the Dude gets in the show with 50 laps around Knoxville, he is a threat to win no matter where he starts.
Sammy Swindell and Steve Kinser both missing the championship feature two years in a row? Using this season and last year’s Nationals as indicators and measuring sticks, I think this trend continues. Be thankful to watch these two guys race while we can. The King turned 59 in June, and Sammy will be 58 in October. It’s been thirty long years since Sammy won his only Nationals in 1983.
Jac Haudenschild, Chad Kemenah, Kraig Kinser, Jason Sides, Brady Bacon, Brian Paulus, Jason Johnson, Wayne Johnson, Brandon Wimmer, Johnny Herrera, Kevin Swindell, Jason Solwold, Jonathan Allard, Danny Holtgraver, Brooke Tatnell, Randy Hannagan, Bill Balog, Ed Lynch Jr., Greg Wilson, Austin McCarl.
Anyone on this list could make the championship race on Saturday. And any of them could be ending their run in the B or C Main.
Jac Haudenschild has been good recently against the Outlaws with several top ten finishes, but it seems like something always trips him up at the Nationals. In thirty entries at the Nationals he has made the championship race seventeen times, has ten top ten finishes, three top five’s, but he hasn’t made the race since 2009.
Kriag Kinser finished fourth last year at the Nationals, but has had a trying season on the road with the Outlaws. Karig could be in the top ten again this year, but he could be racing through the alphabet.
Last year Brian Paulus only drove a handful of races and showed up at Knoxville to drive by Sammy late in the B-Main to put himself in the A. Similar deal again this year. Will lightening strike twice?
Jonathan Allard is having a great season out west, and he started in the second row of the Nationals last year before fading to a thirteenth place finish. He has made the championship race twice, and his fiver average finish is 33.2 (B Main 13th).
We have 18 rookies entered (15 last year and the record is 31 entries in 84, 89, & 90). They are: Jacob Allen, Indiana; Brad Foster, Australia; Dakota Hendrickson, Nebraska; Lee Grosz, North Dakota; Bill Boles, Iowa; Jimmy Light, Indiana; Rico Abreu, California; Danny Dietrich, Pennsylvania; Kevin Thomas Jr,. Alabama; Cole Wood, California; Garrett Dollansky, Minnesota; Brad Loyet, Missour, Skylar Prochaska (Minnesota), Brent Marks (Pennsylvania), Jody Rosenboom (Iowa), Paul Morris (Australia), and Thomas Kennedy (Canada), Trey Gustin (Ohio).
Of this rookie class I think the drivers who have the best chance to make it into the Saturday A Main is Rico Abreu and Danny Dietrich. Kevin Thomas Jr. is the first driver to come to Knoxville from Alabama, and although he is a non-wing master in Indiana, he has never seen Knoxville Raceway, or drove a sprint car with a wing before. Sink or swim, have to respect the guts he has.
You can follow me all week on Twitter @_EricArnold, and the tracks results and stats @KnoxvilleRaces, @KnoxvilleNats, and each day on the Knoxville Blog at www.KnoxvilleRaceway.com
Let’s see how it pans out on Saturday night!!!
*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.