Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in National Speed Sport News’ 30 Days of Knoxville countdown to the 52nd annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals. During the coming days we will revisit past races, drivers and statistics, while previewing this year’s event.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The 49th annual SuperClean Knoxville Nationals ran an extra 10 laps this year and that was a good thing for Donny Schatz.
The three-time defending champion of sprint-car racing’s biggest prize, took the lead from Joey Saldana on lap 35, and drove away over the final five laps to earn another $150,000 for winning the Knoxville Raceway event for the fourth-straight year. The race was held Sunday night after rain washed out Saturday’s program with the B and A mains remaining.
“We worked so hard all year for this,” Schatz said. “To be able to do it, once, twice, three times is awesome, but you’re only as good as your last race and that is tonight.”
Stevie Smith started on the pole and drove into the lead off turn four, but Saldana took the top spot in turn one.
Next time by, Smith put a slider on Saldana in the first turn and emerged the leader off turn two, but a spinning Jason Meyers brought out the caution and negated Smith’s pass.
Saldana and Smith pulled away from the field as everybody raced around the cushion. Meyers brought out the caution again on lap eight when his right-rear tire exploded in turn one.
Schatz, who started sixth, took fourth from Dale Blaney on the restart. The yellow flag waved on lap 10 when Brian Brown stopped in turn four. Steve Kinser, who was up to ninth from 20th, spun and did a wheelie in turn two, but maintained his position.
Schatz ducked to the bottom again in turn one and took third from Tim Kaeding on the restart. Saldana pulled away, but Smith caught up when they reached lapped traffic. The red flag waved on lap 22 for the much-talked-about fuel stop.
Saldana drove away on the restart, but with 10 laps to go, Smith and Schatz closed in on lapped traffic. Schatz moved under Smith in turn one to take second. Then he made a move on Saldana for the lead in turn two, but Saldana took it back and Schatz had a close call lapping Jason Johnson off turn four.
The next lap, Schatz threw another slider at Saldana in turn three and he slid in front of him in turn four as Saldana got a little too high.
Once in front, Schatz drove away from the battle for second.
“We needed lapped traffic and we got it and forced Joey into a couple of mistakes,” Schatz said. “It was a really awesome track around the top and you had to be really patient on the bottom. He’s a great competitor and I know what he’s feeling right now. I’ll never forget the seconds, but the wins are what we want to do here.”
Saldana earned $75,000 for his third runner-up finish in the Nationals. Schatz finished second four times prior to his first victory.
“That’s the way it goes, you’ve got to get better,” Saldana said. “We had a good week and there’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
Smith, Kaeding and Shane Stewart, who started 14th, filled the top five.
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