World of Outlaws–Shane Stewart Kicks Off FVP Knoxville Nationals with Qualifying Night 1 Win

Shane Stewart Kicks Off FVP Knoxville Nationals with Qualifying Night 1 Win
Donny Schatz leads the event standings after quick time and second place finish
KNOXVILLE, Iowa – Aug. 12, 2015 – Shane Stewart’s bid for his first ever FVP Knoxville Nationals title got off to a smashing start Wednesday night at Knoxville Raceway as he led wire-to-wire and held off Donny Schatz on a late restart to score the qualifying night victory.

Stewart, who came into the night with two straight wins, said he learned a lot at Sunday’s Capitani Classic at Knoxville. The experience helped as he maneuvered through traffic in the 25-lap feature.

“It’s all about momentum here and you’ve got to keep your speed up,” Stewart said. “Anytime you slow down it allows the guys behind you to catch up or the guy in front of you to pull away.”

As much as momentum and traffic were on his mind tonight, Schatz may have occupied a larger space.

“The 15 is coming,” is what Stewart said he was thinking on the final restart of the night with ten laps to go. The two drivers have spent much of the 2015 World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series season battling each other.

“I knew that my car was pretty good around the top and when you’re out leading here sometimes it’s the worst spot to be. Of course, when the caution comes out, you just try to hit your marks. It was a heated race, there were 10 laps left. These races, 25 laps, the laps click off pretty quick.”

All week at Knoxville, Stewart’s car is sporting a special paint scheme honoring retiring NASCAR star Jeff Gordon and his early sprint car career as well as the children’s cancer charity Kick-It which Gordon’s foundation is heavily involved in.

“Just really happy for everybody with Kick-It and really cool to have (Jeff Gordon) in the house and witness us winning it,” Stewart said. “Kick-It has been a big supporter of mine for a while.”

For his part, Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, jokingly said in victory lane that the No. 16 yellow and red paint scheme ran much better tonight than it did when he was driving it.

“I would have never run like that when I was running at Knoxville,” Gordon said.

Stewart started from the pole in his No. 16 Kick-It/Eneos car and out powered Daryn Pittman and Wayne Johnson in the early going. Sheldon Haudenschild charged early as he battled up to fourth at one point in the opening laps before he fell back.

It was Schatz and Gravel though who were on the move as the feature wore on. Schatz took over fourth in his No. 15 Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance car on lap 7 after he started the night in eighth. Gravel, who started on Schatz’s inside, threw a couple of sliders on Ian Madsen to take over fifth just a lap after Schatz took the fourth position.

Stewart hit traffic on lap eight and he sliced and diced his way through, keeping that all important momentum going.

The crucial moment of the race came on lap 15 as the caution flag flew for the No. 18 of Madsen. On the restart, Johnson, then in second, tried a slider on Stewart that did not work. Schatz used the move to get around Johnson and then Gravel followed that up with a big move around Pittman and Johnson for third. Schatz began running down Stewart in the closing laps of the feature but he ran out of time.

“It was good – it gave us a chance to get with Shane there, keep pace with him and we really did,” Schatz said of the restart. “We kept trying to do some things different, move around on the race track, I just couldn’t seem to get any faster by moving around.”

“It’s a solid night, all you can ask for. We had an awesome racecar, drew a decent pill which is always very important when you come here with that many cars. Making it through that heat race here is ultimately important and we were able to get that.”

Following night one, Schatz leads the Knoxville points standings with 492 points over second place Gravel, who has 485 points. Paul McMahan, Sheldon Haudenschild and Shane Stewart round out the top five positions.

For Gravel, the night was a big momentum booster for his No. 7 Destiny Motorsports team. Gravel said they have struggled of late trying to get a good balance for the car.

“Sprint car racing is a tough sport,” Gravel said. “I haven’t run a full season in the same car in three years. It’s really hard for me. Right now we’re definitely gaining on things – motor program and car and I think we figured a couple of things out.”

He said they have a little work to do in the next couple of days as they prepare for Saturday’s final but he is happy with where they are at.

Stewart said as he looks toward Saturday and the finals of the Knoxville Nationals, the win tonight is what he and his team need as they face the prospect of running down a familiar foe in Saturday’s final.

“Anytime you can get a win at a big event like this it feels good,” Stewart said. “We’ve been chasing the 15 car all year long and it looks like we’re going to be chasing him come Saturday.”