2011: Schatz Sails To Number Five

    Donny Schatz (center) won his fifth Knoxville Nationals in 2011 by holding off Shane Stewart (left) and Sammy Swindell. (Mark Funderburk Photo)

    Donny Schatz (center) won his fifth Knoxville Nationals in 2011 by holding off Shane Stewart (left) and Sammy Swindell. (Mark Funderburk Photo)

    Editor’s Note: This is the 29th 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 — Donny Schatz grabbed his fifth Knoxville Nationals title Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway.

    The Tony Stewart Racing No. 15 was flawless after starting 13th in the 50-lap main event. The win paid Schatz $150,000, and was his mind-numbing 10th finish of either first or second in the last 12 years at the biggest event in sprint-car racing. All have come with J&J Chassis and Ron Shaver Engines.

    Before the field could get a lap in the books, 18-year-old Austin McCarl, hopped the turn one cushion and took a nasty ride. He was uninjured.

    Once the event went green, pole-sitter and high point man for the week, Sammy Swindell, led lap one. Outside row one starter, Brad Sweet, shot to the fore on the next go around and held the lead through four laps, when Davey Heskin came to a stop in turn four.

    The restart saw Sweet leading Swindell, Jason Meyers, Dale Blaney and Daryn Pittman back to green. Swindell pressured Sweet and shot under him to lead lap six. Schatz was on the move from his starting spot inside row eight. He took fifth from Pittman on lap seven, and fourth from Blaney on the next circuit.

    Schatz passed Meyers for third before the red flag came out with 14 laps down for Kerry Madsen, who got upside down on the backstretch. That set up the restart of the event, with Swindell leading Sweet, Schatz, Meyers and Pittman. The lead trio went three-wide for the lead when the race went back green. Schatz was able to sneak by the leaders to grab the point.

    A lap later, Sweet worked past Swindell for second. Pittman began to gain momentum as well, and snatched third from Swindell on lap 19, before capturing second from Sweet on lap 20.

    The mandatory open red flag period came with 27 laps down. After teams were allowed to make changes to their cars, Schatz led Pittman, Swindell, Sweet and Meyers back to green. Shane Stewart restarted sixth after starting 17th, and other hard-chargers included Tim Shaffer, who was eighth after starting 19th, and Lance Dewease, who was up to ninth from 24th.

    Pittman continued his good run and shot around Schatz in another three-wide battle for the lead. It was short-lived, however, as Schatz used the low side to jet back by and pull away. By lap 32, Stewart was by Meyers and Sweet to fourth. Meyers retired while running sixth shortly, thereafter.

    Swindell would take second back from Pittman and begin his pursuit of the leader. Stewart would make the same charge he had made all week long, grabbing third from Pittman on lap 41, and second from Swindell on lap 48. He was gaining on the leader, but simply ran out of laps, as Schatz crossed the line as Nationals champion.

    “We raced hard, and raced smart,” said Schatz. “I had an awesome race car to drive. This is an amazing group of guys. I was able to move all over the race track. We were just going to put some new tires on at the halfway point and keep going. It was good enough to win, and that’s all you can ask for.

    “This is a heck of a back-up engine,” said Schatz, who lost his primary on his qualifying night. “I felt a little bit awkward beforehand, but it felt awesome all night long.”

    Stewart settled for second in Paul Silva’s No. 57 and earned $75,000.

    “I have to thank all my fans,” Stewart said. “I don’t know what to say. My car always seems to be coming on late in the race…I can’t even say that, because I felt I was competitive the whole 50 laps. I saw the white flag come out, and I thought they had to be kidding me. That 50 laps went so quick.”

    Schatz was complimentary of Stewart’s run as well. “You know what is cooler than this? The kid in the #57 came from 17th to second, not once, not twice, but three times. He’s a hell of a racer. I’m glad I’m standing in front of him tonight. Thank God it was only 50 (laps).”

    “I was trying to conserve and make it,” said Swindell who earned $37,500 for third in the Big Game Treestands No. 1. “I just missed it (in turn three) and stayed parked there for an hour and let Shane by.”

    Shaffer made a late run to fourth ahead of Pittman. Mark Dobmeier was sixth, and Brian Brown, Sweet, Dewease and Craig Dollansky rounded out the top 10.

    Hurry and enter! Winners will be announced Saturday at the Knoxville Nationals finale! Chance to win a $2,500 VIP prize package to the 2013 Knoxville Nationals and be on Donny Schatz’s pit crew!