View from the Stands (8/8/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Night one of the 53rd FVP Knoxville Nationals was a good one. Everyone wants to see someone besides Donny Schatz win on Saturday night, and we just might get that after his performance on Wednesday night
Paul McMahan won the qualifying portion on Wednesday, setting quick time going out 27th in the qualifying order with a lap 15.218. Knoxville Regular driver (from Australia) Lynton Jeffrey was second quick, he must have a fresh engine as he was fast this past Sunday night as well, Justin Henderson third in what is a shoe-in for best appearing car with his Sundby #1D, Shane Stewart fourth, and another Knoxville Regular Davey Heskin rounding out the top five. The race track held up well in qualifying. Kraig Kinser barely completed one lap before his engine let go as he timed 30th. It was no surprise to see McMahan at the top of the qualifying finish, this was his third career Knoxville Nationals quick time, and it earns 200 points, the same as the feature, just not as much glory or money, but equal in points.
The eight invert in the heat races is what makes the Nationals format so great. Drivers take chances to get into the top four to transfer into the A-Main. The heats are ten laps instead of the typical eight laps to give the teams a little more time to get to the front. Some do, some don’t.
Don Droud Jr. drove the wheels off the Gil Sonner 47 to win the first heat race. Paul McMahan had to work for it, but he made it to fourth in the first heat and transferred. Jason Sides who was sixth quick and started seventh in the heat did not make it and finished seventh. David Gravel would slow on the final lap while running second, and he coasted to a third place finished with a blown motor. They would get the engine changed in time for the feature. Unlucky to blow an engine, but you make your own luck being in position to coast to a third place finish as well.
In heat two Brandon Wimmer won handily, meanwhile Brad Sweet came from the seventh to third and looked really fast. Lynton Jeffrey started eight and finished sixth, but looked like he might make the top four early with a good start, but he got over the cushion and lost his momentum. Sammy Swindell started fifth and finished seventh. It wasn’t a good night for the 1983 champion.
Randy Hannagan looked impressive coming from fourth to win heat three, as did Justin Henderson driving from eighth to second. Brady Bacon started on the front row and held on for third, while Ian Madsen came from sixth to fourth by half a car length to hold off Donny Schatz at the checkers. The crowd went wild as Schatz was forced to run the B-Main after his fifth place finish.
Tim Kaeding timed 24th but drove straight to the front of the fourth heat to win it. Shane Stewart started eighth and made his way to second with no issues. Knoxville Regular Josh Schneiderman looked the best he has all year when he timed 14th, started sixth in the heat, and finished fourth. Skylar Prochaska had to be smiling finishing third and making the feature. Daryn Pittman started seventh and finished fifth. Chad Kemenah struggled to ninth and went to the C-Main.
In heat five Johnny Herrera started on the front row and walked away with the win. Kraig Kinser was able to get a new engine in and he finished second. Kyle Larson and Davey Heskin were top ten qualifiers and started in the fourth row, but neither driver was able to get to the top four and were sent to the B-Main.
Chad Kemenah won the C-Main.
As usual at Knoxville preliminary shows, the B-Main was stacked! Jason Sides would win after pasing leader Lynton Jeffery in lapped traffic. Donny Schatz finished third, Daryn Pittman fourth as those drivers would advance and tag the tail of the A-Main. Drivers not advancing were Heskin, Larson, Sammy, Selvage, Allard.
The race was slowed by four cautions. Herrera lost his engine with only one lap complete to bring out the first caution. Greg Hodnett would lead early and David Gravel would make the pass for the lead on lap three and lead the rest of the way making it look easy.
Don Droud Jr. started ninth and looked like the fastest car on the track coming up to fifth, but something broke and he got into the turn fence to bring out a caution.
On lap nine the caution came out again when Ian Madsen had to pit with a front wing down, he started third and was running fourth, tough break for Madsen.
Another Knoxville Regular Josh Schneiderman was running third and slowed with problems to bring out another caution. It was a heartbreaking night for several of the Regulars who had qood qualifying times and feature finishes going, but they were snake-bitten.
Gravel continued to drive away from the field with his “third best engine” in the trailer he would say in the press conference. I said this in my Nationals Preview blog. “This is the coming out party for Gravel I have a feeling.” I like it when my predictions pan out from my crystal ball! First pump!!!
Brad Sweet looked impressive coming up to second.
Tim Kaeding started twelfth and finished third in a good race for him. I love watching TK on the high side.
Greg Hodnett fourth, and Pittman came from twenty-fourth to fifth to save a good night.
Shane Stewart was up to fourth at one time, but his car went away at the end, something clearly went wrong and the car wasn’t as fast the last ten laps, but he held on to finish sixth and is the overall point leader after night one.
Paul McMahan went from eighth, back to eleventh at one point, and finished eighth. McMahan just hasn’t been able to figure out Knoxville come feature time.
Jason Sides came from 21st to ninth, and Donny Schatz 23rd to tenth.
Kraig Kinser looked really fast, making it up to fifth by lap twenty, but pulled in at the end with problems.
Preliminary nights are the two best nights of racing all season, it’s a shame more people don’t understand that and come see it in person. The fast guys always have to work hard to race their way to the front and that’s what makes Knoxville so exciting. Thank You once again to Ray and Naomi Grimes for creating the Nationals scoring system back in 1977!
Shane Stewart and Justin Henderson are on top of the points after night one with 481 with Shane having the tie-breaker with a better feature finish. Sweet, McMahan, Gravel, Pittman, Hodnett, Jeffery are the top eight, as I project the cut to make make the top sixteen and be locked in for the Saturday championship feature. The next five are projected to be locked into the Saturday B-Main, Sides, Schatz, Kaeding, Ian Madsen, and Don Droud Jr. The rest of the field will have to come back to race in the “Friday Hard Knox” program.
481 is a little low however for points, so we will see how they stack up after the two nights are combined. Wouldn’t surprise me if only six cars from Wednesday are locked in for Saturday, and ten come from Thursday.
Thursday night doesn’t have as many WoO teams, but it’s a larger field with a more well rounded group of cars in my opinion. Should be a great night!
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*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.