Henderson Savors New Friday Format at Goodyear Knoxville Nationals

Henderson Savors New Friday Format at Goodyear Knoxville Nationals
The Sioux Falls, S.D., native wins the final qualifying night to lock into Saturday’s feature
KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Aug. 10, 2012 – Justin Henderson capitalized on a new format to the Friday portion of the 52nd annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals.
With a new team and a unique opportunity to start from scratch, Henderson took advantage to lock himself into Saturday’s $150,000-to-win main event at the famed Knoxville Raceway after outlasting David Gravel in the final qualifying night.

“I was very worried coming into tonight,” Henderson said. “It puts a lot of extra pressure and stress on the guys that aren’t already locked in, but I have to say the finale came out good in our favor this time. I’m a fan of it now, but I think every year it’s going to change for sure.”

A total of 67 drivers competed with the new format, which erased everyone’s qualifying performance and locked in the top four finishers from Friday’s feature. For Henderson, who would have been mired in the middle of the B Main under the old format, Friday worked out perfectly.

He qualified 15th quickest and finished second in a heat race, grabbing the final transfer and a spot in the 25-lap main event. Henderson started the feature sixth and he ran fifth for the first nine laps.

However, on a lap-10 restart after Danny Lasoski brought out a caution with a flat tire, Henderson quickly powered to third. He passed Cody Darrah for the runner-up position with 11 laps remaining and then tracked down Gravel, who started on the pole.

Henderson railed the outside groove, while Gravel ran the inside lane. The duo entered traffic with six laps remaining and Gravel was slowed in turn two with five to go, allowing Henderson to rocket into the lead off turn two. He then survived a strong bid from Gravel, who finished less than half a second behind Henderson.

“I really felt like I was rolling the bottom nicely,” Gravel said. “I thought I was on cruise control there. I slipped off the bottom a few times and that’s when Henderson got by me.

“He had an advantage in (turns) one and two, and I had the advantage in (turns) three and four. I was really trying to win there, but when Justin had a few car lengths I was just trying to stay straight, hit my marks and get to the finish line.”

If anyone is a poster boy for the new format, it’s Dale Blaney. After failing to change an engine in time before time trials on his qualifying night, Blaney scratched from the rest of the night. Under the old format, he would have started in the back of the E Main on Saturday.

On Friday, Blaney took full advantage of the clean slate and charged to a third-place finish to lock himself into Saturday’s main event.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s just a great opportunity. I want to thank everybody from Knoxville for making the format. It fit us perfectly this year.”

Darrah held off a late charge from 13th-starter Kerry Madsen to finish fourth, earning the final transfer to Saturday’s main event.

With 20 drivers locked into the highest-paying feature of the season, the remaining competitors will be placed in mains based on their finish on Friday.

Friday night concluded with the Speed Sport Knoxville World Challenge – a 24-car, 20-lap feature pitting top drivers from the United States against stars from other countries.

Donny Schatz, who started 10th, claimed the $10,000 victory and savored the extra laps on the track before Saturday’s main event.

“I think being able to come on nights like this is a big help,” he said. “It definitely does help for tomorrow night. You get your car that much better and you see what the race track is going to do. I think it’ll be similar tomorrow night.”