Tuesday, August 8, 2017

2017 Knoxville Nationals Preview

Knoxville Raceway always draws a big crowd, especially on Nationals weekend!

Knoxville [noks - vil] (noun): A small city in Iowa, about 30 miles southeast of Des Moines, population 7,000. 

One word.  There are some things in life where you hear one word and you know exactly what the other person is talking about.  To Dirt Racing fans, Knoxville is one of those words.

A Sprint Car on a stick greets fans walking from the campsite, to Knoxville Raceway


For those who don't know, Knoxville is the home of the Knoxville Sprint Car Nationals, one of the most prestigious Dirt races in the world.  2017 marks the 57th annual Knoxville Sprint Car Nationals where the winner will, again, pocket $150,000!  However, if you ask drivers, I believe most would say that it's not about the money.  It's about winning one of the longest-tenured, most prestigious Dirt races, against hundreds of the best Sprint Car drivers, in front of thousands of the biggest Dirt Racing fans!  Knoxville is the Sprint Car Capital of the world and it is home of the Sprint Car Hall of Fame Museum.  As a fan of Dirt Racing, I feel that it would be difficult to put into words what it must be like for a Sprint Car driver to win on one of the biggest stages, at one of the most hollowed grounds!  Essentially, the Knoxville Nationals are an event that all Teams spend weeks preparing for.  Winning the Knoxville Nationals would not only change a driver's season, but it would change a driver's legacy.

Knoxville Raceway is the Sprint Car Capital of the world and home of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum

Here is a view of turn 2 at Knoxville Raceway, from the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum


It's easy to say that some of Sprint Car racing's most legendary drivers have won at Knoxville.  In fact, one could argue that it was their win(s) at Knoxville which made them legendary.  Steve Kinser will forever be known as "The King" of Sprint Car racing and he backed that up, with 12 career Knoxville Nationals victories.  Love him or hate him, but Donny Schatz is not far behind The King's record.  Donny enters 2017 having won 9 of the last 11 Knoxville Nationals and had a chance at winning the 2010 event where he experienced engine problems late, before being passed by Tim Shaffer with 2 laps to go.  Plus, who could forget last year's epic battle between Schatz and defending Knoxville Nationals Champion, Jason Johnson?  Bottom line, Donny Schatz has been in contention to win the Knoxville Nationals for the past 11 straight years, which is simply mind-boggling.  Other notables who grace the record books of Knoxville include Doug Wolfgang, who has 5 Nationals victories and Kenny Weld, who has 4.  Like any big event, no one can ever try to take that win away from you and it will go down as one of the biggest wins of any driver's career!

Steve Kinser is a member of the Sprint Car Hall of Fame and has the most Knoxville Nationals victories, with 12



Donny Schatz enters 2017 with 9 career Knoxville Nationals victories, second only to Steve Kinser

Donny Schatz will go down in history as one of the best Sprint Car drivers, ever.  This will happen, no matter what else he does in his career, or if he never wins another Knoxville Nationals event.  What if?  Sometimes you have to ask yourself "what if"?  What if Donny Schatz continues the un-human tear he has been on, during the past 11 years and he rattles-off a few more Knoxville Nationals wins?  If Donny Schatz can surpass Steve Kinser's record of 12 career Knoxville Nationals victories, then it would just further cement his legacy and, in my opinion, prove that he is the best Sprint Car driver to ever get behind the wheel.  Look for Donny to get his 2017 Knoxville Nationals started-off on the right foot on Wednesday, August 9th!

Shane Stewart is a 5-time winner of the 360 Knoxville Nationals and looks to claim his first 410 triumph in 2017!
Shane Stewart has entered victory lane at a Knoxville Nationals event 5 times in his career.  However, all of those wins came aboard a 360 cubic-inch power plant, as Stewart has yet to claim victory in 410 competition, at Knoxville.  2015 appeared to be his year, as he raced a yellow and red #16 Sprint Car, done-up to pay respect to Jeff Gordon.  However, it was not meant to be that year and he settled for a 4th place finish in the big event.  There is no doubt that Shane Stewart is a fierce competitor at Knoxville Raceway and he hopes that 2017 is the year he can get his first 410 Knoxville Nationals crown.  Look for Shane to challenge Donny Schatz for the victory on Wednesday's preliminary night!

"The Big Cat" Brad Sweet has proven to be fast at Knoxville Raceway and seeks his first Nationals victory

"The Connecticut Yankee" David Gravel looks to add to his already stellar 2017 season!

A Knoxville Raceway regular, Ian Madsen looks for a strong run at the 2017 Knoxville Nationals

Terry McCarl is always a front-runner at Knoxville Raceway

"The Ragin' Cajun" Jason Johnson looks to defend his 2016 Knoxville Nationals victory!

Rico Abreu is always a fan favorite and hopes to compete (and finish) in the 2017 Knoxville Nationals

The Knoxville Nationals have one of the best pre-race pyro shows, allowing fans to truly feel the electricity of the event
"The Big Cat" Brad Sweet is always a contender when he straps-in to the number 49 KKR Sprint Car.  While Sweet hasn't had a lot of success at Knoxville Raceway, he has a history of making the A-main, which is almost like a win, with over 100 cars competing throughout the event.  Sweet finished 3rd in 2015, then followed that up with an 11th place finish last year.  Sweet has been solid all year on the World of Outlaws tour and currently sits 2nd in points.  Don't be surprised if you see the number 49 competing for the win on Wednesday, including the big show on Saturday!


"The Connecticut Yankee" David Gravel has had a stellar 2017 season on the World of Outlaws tour!  Gravel enters Knoxville 3rd in points, with 12 wins on the year.  David has also made the A-main event consistently, the past few years, having finished 13th in 2015 and 10th last year.  With the way David and his CJB Motorsports Team are performing, we won't be surprised if he contends for the win on Thursday, or for the big money on Saturday!

"Insane" Ian Madsen is a regular visitor to Knoxville Raceway, as he races in 410 & 360 competition against the locals.  Ian currently leads Brian Brown by 341 points, in the 410 Knoxville Raceway regular season standings.  Madsen hasn't faired quite as well at the Nationals, though.  Ian finished 8th in the B-main in 2014, then back-slid to 19th in the B-main in 2015.  However, Madsen finished a solid 9th place in last year's A-main!  Combining Ian Madsen's improved performance with his familiarity with Knoxville Raceway, we won't be surprised if he contends for the win on Thursday and makes the A-main!

"T-MAC" Terry McCarl is a legend at Knoxville Raceway.  While he hasn't claimed a Knoxville Nationals victory in 410 competition, yet, he is a 4-time winner of the Knoxville 360 Nationals!  T-MAC has a history of making the A-main at the Knoxville Nationals, having made the "big show" the last 3 years straight, with finishes of 7th in 2014, 11th in 2015 and 17th in last year's event.  However, I'm sure that McCarl wouldn't be satisfied with simply making the A-main event, as he would prefer to compete for the win.  Don't be surprised to see the familiar 24 car running up-front on Thursday and competing for the win on Saturday!


Friday is always an interesting race at Knoxville, as the "big guns" are usually locked-in to Saturday's race (the top-16 point earners are locked in, following the results from Wednesday and Thursday.  Point earners 17-26 are offered the top-10 starting spots in Saturday's B-main, or they can "try their luck" in Friday's Hard Knox Qualifying race).  The top-4 finishers in Friday's A-main earn starting spots 17-20 in Saturday's A-main.


Obviously, it's difficult to predict exactly who will be in Friday's race, prior to knowing how Wednesday and Thursday's races go.  However, here is who we think you may see contend for the win on Friday and attempt to lock themselves in for Saturday's A-main the "Hard Knox" way:

Rico Abreu is a fan favorite wherever he goes.  After earning a starting spot in the 2015 Knoxville Nationals, but having another driver start and park his famed 24 Abreu Vineyards Sprint (he had a conflicting commitment to NASCAR, at the time), he was able to successfully start and finish the 2016 Nationals, ending-up in 12th!  While Rico fans hope he transfers in on Thursday, look for him to contend for the win on Friday, if necessary.

Not only does "The Ragin' Cajun" Jason Johnson have one of the sharpest looking Sprint Cars, he is the defending Champion of the Knoxville Nationals.  Johnson did the near impossible last year, going toe-to-toe with Donny Schatz and coming out on top!  Essentially, it was like David slaying Goliath.  Johnson will also be competing in Thursday night's festivities and hopes to lock himself into the A-main then.  However, don't be surprised to see "The Ragin' Cajun" contend for the win on Friday, if he needs to.

Other Notables (Wednesday)

Kyle Larson returns to his roots and looks for another strong finish in a 410 Sprint Car!  Larson went on a tear in Pennsylvania and Ohio earlier this year, winning 6 races consecutively, that he competed in.  Don't be surprised to see Larson compete for the win on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday!

"The Dude" Danny Lasoski is the winningest driver in 410 Sprint Car history, at Knoxville!  A 4-time winner of the Nationals, Lasoski is always a contender when strapping-in to a Sprint Car at the famed half mile.  Lasoski is back aboard the Mark Burch Motorsports 1M machine for the 2017 Knoxville Nationals and looks to build upon his 13th place A-main finish from last year.  Bottom line, when "The Dude" races at Knoxville, you can look for him near the front of the field!

Greg Hodnett is representing PA Posse well at Knoxville, in 2017!  Hodnett claimed a 360 preliminary feature on Friday night, earning himself a starting spot near the front, for the finale on Saturday.  Unfortunately for Hodnett, he spun by himself on the entrance of turn 1, on lap 1, causing a complete restart and sending himself to the back.  Greg charged from last to finish 10th, with aid from only 1 additional caution flag.  Greg also strapped a 410 in and raced on Sunday, in the Capitani Classic.  He qualified well, giving himself a chance to race for his starting position.  He knocked-off several challengers until Kerry Madsen beat him for the pole.  Hodnett would jump to the early lead and led several laps, before waging a fierce battle with Brian Brown.  Blackjack eventually got the better of Hodnett, as Greg slipped near the end and settled for 4th.  Whether you're Posse or not, you have to admit that Hodnett will be one to challenge for the win on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night!

 Other Notables (Thursday)

"Blackjack" Brian Brown is a regular contender in 410 Sprint Cars at Knoxville and currently sits 2nd in Series Standings to Ian Madsen.  Not only is Brown a fan favorite, but he is good whenever he straps-in to his famed 21 Casey's General Stores Sprint Car!  Brown claimed the 2014 Knoxville 360 Nationals, but hasn't found victory in the 410 Nationals, yet.  2014 was a good year for Brownie, as he went wheel-to-wheel with Donny Schatz, with 5 laps to go, only to come-up just short and settle for 2nd place.  Blackjack is off to a great start in 2017 at Knoxville Nationals week, as he won the Capitani Classic on Sunday, after finishing 2nd in the 360 Nationals on Saturday.  I don't think anyone will be surprised if this is the year that Brown wins his first 410 Knoxville Nationals!

Another member of PA Posse, Danny Dietrich is always a strong competitor, especially when adorning the famous Weikerts Livestock 29 colors on his Sprint Car, at Knoxville!  "Double D" missed the A-main last year, finishing last the in the B-main, but finished 15th in the A-main in 2015.  Dietrich may be outspoken on social media, but he lets his driving speak for himself, especially at the Nationals.  Don't be surprised to see the Weikert's 29 ride up-front on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday!

It's fitting that "Slammin'" Sammy Swindell celebrates his National Sprint Car Hall of Fame induction this weekend.  On top of being one of the best Sprint Car drivers in history, Sammy is a previous winner of the 410 Knoxville Nationals (1983) and the 360 Knoxville Nationals (2016).  While some would argue that Sammy's performance has dropped somewhat recently, no one can argue that he hasn't lost his competitive spirit.  Some people disagree with Sammy's demeanor, but no one can argue his talent behind the wheel of a Sprint Car!  Look for Sammy to contend for the win on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.


It's difficult to put into words what it's like being at the final night of the Knoxville Nationals.  You can feel the electricity in the campsites, on the way to the track and in the stands.  Thousands of fans from all over the world represent their favorite driver and adorn flags from their native land, including Australia and Canada!  Anticipation begins, as the "alphabet soup" heat racing action begins.  Much like the coveted Chili Bowl Nationals, the Knoxville Nationals receives over 100 entries.  

 This results in B, C, D and even E-main racing action.  It can be difficult seeing a driver's efforts and dream end, as they miss the A-main at Knoxville.  However, this is the reality for over three quarters of the entries, as only 25 of the best Sprint Car drivers in the world take the green flag on Saturday night.  Anticipation culminates, as those 25 drivers give the best sight in all of Motorsports; the 4-wide salute to the fans.  Fireworks and pyrotechnics accompany this beautiful sight, as Johnny Gibson's voice fills the ears of everyone on the facility:  "Knoxville Raceway, you wanted the best, you got 'em 4-abreast!  Often imitated, never duplicated, the Greatest Show on Dirt.  It's the World of Outlaws 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals!"

Regardless of what happens on track, this is the exact place that every Sprint Car driver and every Dirt Racing fan wants to be.  Time will tell who will be Champion of the 2017 Knoxville Nationals, but I guarantee you one thing:  it will be one hell of a show

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