Editor’s Note: In advance of the 2017 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway, we’re taking a look back at past runnings of the legendary event. Below is the race recap from the 2016 running of the event.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Jason Johnson did what few thought could be done.
The veteran driver known as the “Racin Cajun,” upset nine-time 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals winner Donny Schatz to win the 56th running of sprint car racing’s biggest event Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway.
Johnson took the lead for the final time with 13 laps remaining and held back every charge Schatz made, taking the checkered flag a half a car length (.168 seconds) under Doug Clark’s twin checkered flags as a raucous Knoxville crowd that had watched Schatz win nine of the last 10 Nationals A-mains cheered its approval following a race that many longtime observers termed the best Nationals feature they’d ever seen.
The two had traded the lead multiple times during the closing laps and nearly made contact on several occasions. Schatz pulled up beside Johnson on the cool-off lap and showed his displeasure with the aggressive nature of Johnson’s driving.
“I knew Donny wasn’t really happy with me after the checkered flag and that bothered me because I respect him as a driver,” Johnson said. “I want to race everybody clean and I want them to respect me too, but like I told him, ‘God damn, this is the Knoxville Nationals, man.”
After the race Schatz had nothing but good things to say about Johnson’s drive to victory, ending his streak of five consecutive Nationals triumphs.
“He did one hell of a job,” Schatz said. “Leading this race is the toughest spot in sprint car racing. He figured out how to do it and get first. I would have liked to have won, but he earned it. He learned what to do and he did it.”
Despite losing a cylinder in his Larson Marks No. 2, Shane Stewart raced from 10th to finish third.
“About halfway through the second segment it went down a cylinder,” Stewart explained. “I just stayed on it. If you have a chance to win this race or to finish on the podium, you just have to give it all you have.”
Daryn Pittman, who started on the pole, finished fourth, while vacationing NASCAR driver Kyle Larson raced from 21st to fifth.
Johnson started outside the front row, but polesitter Daryn Pittman took the point at the start and led the first 10 laps of the race before Johnson blasted into the lead on lap 11. Pittman came right back to lead on lap 12, but Schatz had made it a three-way fight and blasted under both Pittman and Johnson to lead lap 13.
Schatz hugged the inside rail, while Johnson rode the cushion around the half-mile Marion County Fairgrounds oval, keeping within striking distance until the yellow flag waved after 25 laps for the mandatory fuel stop.