View from the Stands (8/9/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Night two of the 53rd FVP Knoxville Nationals was a rollercoaster of a night for some, and a great performance from Brian Brown. It started off with the excitement of Robert Bell with new sticker tires on all four wheels, some extra cash from fans, he drew the number one pill, and he blew the engine in hot laps. I was bummed that we didn’t get to hear Robert Bell is “quick time” at the Nationals, because the crowd would have went crazy! Toug break for Sheldon Haudenschild as well as he was done for the night after contact with a car during hot laps.
Joey Saldana set quick time going out 7th in the qualifying order. Thursday night the track didn’t hold up as well in qualifying so it was certainly more of an advantage to get early draws as second quick was Bronson Maeschen (14th), third Steve Kinser (19th), fourth Bill Rose (4th), and fifth Danny Lasoski (10th). Brian Brown went out 34th in the order and qualified ninth.
Heat number one got off to a bad start for Joey Saldana who had a left rear tire go down as they completed lap one. Saldana pitted and got the tire changed and impressively drove his way to fourth and making the transfer position into the A-Main. Cody Darrah finished fifth and went to the B-Main.
Heat two was all Wayne Johnson up front with Kerry Madsen charging from sixth to second. Behind them Rico Abreu and Bronson Maeschen made contact entering turn one to bring out the caution. Abreu was somehow able to drive away after getting his right rear over Maeschen’s left front, sending them both into the fence. Maeschen had to be towed to the work area and wasn’t able to make repairs for the restart. Maeschen was one of my top ten picks in my power rankings, and I was just sick to see him get a bad break like this, but he will rebound on Friday night hopefully.
Stevie Smith won heat three after a good battle with Steve Kinser. It was great to see the King get up front and in this heat race he looked better through turns one and two than I’ve seen in a long time. Kevin Swindell quietly finished fourth.
Heat four Terry McCarl drove to the front and won over Brian Brown who flexed his muscles driving up through the field.
Robby Wolfgang won heat five, Danny Lasoski finished fifth and went to the B-Main.
Bronson Maeschen won the C-Main, then pulled in after one or two laps in the B.
Lasoski led and Darrah was reeling him in until they got to lapped traffic, where Lasoski was better and went on to win. Darrah, Abreu, and Zomer transferred to the A.
Looking at the lineup for the A-Main and seeing Roger Crockett and Scott Winters on the front row, I was thinking they were toast with so many good cars behind them, but these two guys held their own in impressive runs for them both with Crockett finishing fourth and Winters seventh.
Brian Brown came from row three and was leading by lap three, and went on to win with Kerry Madsen in his shadow.
Kevin Swindell had a great battle with Crockett and Winters and finally wrestled the third spot from Crockett.
Steve Kinser looked so good in his heat race, but his team obviously missed the set-up in the feature as he faded to a seventeenth place finish, but earned enough points to lock him into the championship race on Saturday night.
Cody Darrah started 22nd after transferring from the B-Main, and by lap ten he was running seventh, and finished sixth. That was the best I have seen Darrah at Knoxville. The KKR cars have looked really fast at times the past two night.
Craig Dollansky started ninth and finished seventh. I expected a better performance from him, but look for this team to figure it out come Saturday night and make it into the A-Main and advance forward.
Joey Saldana finished fifth and earned enough points to grab the pole on Saturday night where he will try to win his first Nationals and join his father Joe as father-son winners. Brian Brown was clearly the class of the field over the two nights in my eyes. If either of these guys win on Saturday night, the emotions will overflow as they both want to win so badly.
For Kevin Swindell to hop into a sprint car for the first time in 12 months last week, and to perform like he has so far is amazing. What a talent.
The top 16 cars locked into Saturday championship A-Main: Saldana, Brown, Stewart, Henderson, Sweet, McMahan, Gravel, Madsen, K.Swindell, Darrah, Pittman, Kinser, Lasoski, Smith, Hodnett, and Crockett.
As I look at this lineup I see Joey leading early and Brown settling into second and waiting for the second half of the race in stalker mode. It will be interesting how hard the leaders pace will be. Shane Stewart is finally in position to win as well starting in the front two rows. Justin Henderson has 970 HP in his engine at their dyno test at Parker two weeks ago. Sweet looked strong on Wednesday night, especially on the bottom. Paul McMahan is in good position but has yet to show he is a contender in the features and get his car dialed in. Steve Kinser made it. Danny Lasoski made it after missing the race the past three years, and he will race the 50 lap A-Main for the first time. Lasoski with 50 laps at Knoxville is going to be good.
The B-Main cars are: Jeffrey, Winters, Sides, Schatz, Kaeding, Dollansky, McCarl, Ian Madsen, Zomer, and Dobmeier. Schatz was due for a bad year after the streak he has been on. But fourth in the B-Main and he is still a threat. He is good enough to come out of the B-Main and still win the whole thing. Can’t wait to see how far he can charge up to the front, but we all want to see someone else win, right? Watching Tim Kaeding will be awesome too. Hope some of our Knoxville Regulars can get up there and transfer as well.
“Friday Hard Knox” lineup looks like this. Former champions Sammy Swindell, Kraig Kinser, and Tim Shaffer. Add in drivers Droud, Abreu, Hafertepe, Hannagan, J.Johnson, Heskin, Haudenschild, Wimmer, Kyle Larson, Tatnell, W.Johnson, Bacon, McFadden, Herrera, Paulus, Maeschen, Blaney, Dietrich, Allard, DeWease, Kemenah, just to name a few. With starting spots 17-20 up for grabs in the Saturday championship A-Main on Friday night, how can it not be exciting!
Stats from the past two nights. Joey Saldana set quick time for the second consecutive year at the Nationals, and fourth time over all. Paul McMahan set quick time for the third time in his career.
Johnny Herrera won his seventh career Nationals heat race, which ranks fifth all-time in heat race wins (Sammy has the most at 18). Terry McCarl & Stevie Smith won their sixth career heat races. Randy Hannagan and Wayne Johnson won their third career heat races. Don Droud Jr., Tim Kaeding, and Jack Dover won their second career heat races.
Brian Brown and David Gravel won their first career Nationals Qualifying night preliminary features.
The National Speed Sport News World Challenge is going to have a 25th starting spot available for the Saturday championship race. I looked back and did some homework, over the past ten years, the winner of the World Challenge would have been able to use that “provisional” starting spot in nine of the last ten years. The only exception would have been last year in 2012 when Schatz won the event, but Sammy Swindell finished second and would have been able to take the spot. So the likely hood of someone in the top three of the World Challenge earning the 25th starting position is 100% it seems. This is an interesting twist to the event and I’m excited about it. It gives more meaning to the race, and more interest for the average fan who will now stay in their seats to watch this race, because in recent years, a lot of fans get up and leave before this race ever starts.
This is an important race for the international community and that community supports this whole heartedly. Some traditionalists are against this idea, and I can understand why. It’s been a 24 car field since 1986, and it was 22 cars before that. And to get in by virtue of one race instead of the typical qualifying night looks cheap in a way. But I think am OK with this tweak. You still have to earn your way in by racing, and it’s only the top three who can get in. It’s not like a guy from Mexico can just show up, enter the race, finish 22nd, and get in the Saturday championship just because he was there. Looking back at the history of the event, odds are this will benefit a driver who is capable of getting to the A-Main anyway most years. Over the past ten years this rule would have benefited; 2012-Sammy, 2011-Wolfe, 2010-Dollansky, 2009-Jeffery, 2008-Madsen, 2007-D.Jacobs, 2006-Tatnell, 2005-Pittman, 2004-Pittman, 2003-Rilat.
Last year the Friday Hard Knox format that came from this mad scientist (me) worked out well and I see no reason why it won’t continue to do that with the prize at sake. Good luck to all the competitors and congrats to pole winner Joey Saldana!
*Bob Wilson and I will be selling our history book, Knoxville Nationals: The First 50 Years, Friday in front of the Hall of Fame, and Saturday in front of the ticket office under the main grandstand. Books are $35.
*Be sure to use the official hash tag, #KXVNATS13
*Eric can be contacted at email@example.com 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.