KNOXVILLE, Iowa — It’s safe to say that night one of the 53rd annual FVP Knoxville Nationals played out differently than most in attendance expected.
An up-and-coming driver (David Gravel) from Connecticut — of all places — claimed an unlikely victory while Donny Schatz, the winner of six of the last seven runnings of the Nationals, was never in serious contention.
And when it all shook out in the all-important points column at the end of the night, five-time Knoxville 360 Nationals winner Shane Stewart and Knoxville Raceway regular Justin Henderson sat tied atop the points.
Gravel blew an engine while transferring to the feature through his heat race and ran out of gas on the last lap, but still claimed the biggest victory of his career.
Stewart and Henderson were quick every time they went on the track, with each ending the night with 480 points out of the possible 500. Brad Sweet, who won the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway earlier this year, was a single point behind with 480 markers. Paul McMahan, who was fast qualifier, was fourth with 477, while Gravel was fifth in points with 474.
Meanwhile, Schatz’s night went a little differently. He timed eighth quick, but struggled through the first portion of his heat race. He came on strong at the ending, exchanging slide jobs with Ian Madsen on the final lap, but losing the final transfer spot to the Australian racer by less than a foot.
As a result he ran the B main, finished third and had to start 24th in the feature. Mired in traffic, he struggled to a 10th-place finish and ended up 10th in points with 456 after the first night. It seems quite likely at this point that Schatz could end up in Saturday’s B main.
Daryn Pittman also found himself in the B main, finishing right behind Schatz. But he went on a tear in the feature, romping from 24th to finish fifth. He wound up sixth in points at 464.
Kraig Kinser went through a pair of engines and ranked 21st on night one, while Sammy Swindell missed the feature and ended the evening 26th on the charts.
Kyle Larson struggled to find grip on the slick half-mile oval. He also missed the feature and wound up 20th. Larson hopes to return from practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Friday in time to compete for one the locked in spots in Saturday’s program.