Editor’s Note: In advance of the 2018 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 2017 running of the event.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — When the big money was on the line Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway, Donny Schatz held off Kyle Larson’s last-lap challenge to win Knoxville Nationals for a 10th time.
Schatz earned $150,000 for driving his Tony Stewart Racing No. 15 under Doug Clark’s checkered flag just ahead of Larson’s Paul Silva-owned No. 57 to win the 57th annual 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals.
The two faced off during Wednesday night’s qualifying program, with Larson getting the victory.
Schatz turned the tables on Saturday.
Schatz started outside the front row, while Larson, who flew back from Michigan Int’l Speedway earlier in the day after receiving permission from his NASCAR team owner, Chip Ganassi to compete in Saturday night’s race, started ninth.
Early on, the field — including Schatz and Larson — was chasing David Gravel, who started on the pole after earning a perfect points score of 500 during his qualifying run on Thursday.
Gravel got the jump on the initial start and was far ahead of Schatz, who was running second, when he stopped in turn four with engine failure after 22 circuits of the half-mile, black-dirt oval.
Schatz inherited the lead and when Terry McCarl brushed the wall in turn four on lap 24 to bring out the yellow flag, officials called for the mandatory half-way fuel stop and teams had three minutes to add fuel, change tires and make other changes.
Schatz led Kerry Madsen and Larson, who worked his way up to third during the first 24 laps, on the restart.
Madsen made wild attempt to pass Schatz entering turn two and came up short, allowing Larson to move into second.
“I had a shot at him on the restart,” Madsen said. “I figured if he left the door open I was going to go for it and unfortunately that cost me second.”
Schatz was 2.7 seconds ahead of Larson when the final yellow flag of the race appeared on lap 38 when Greg Hodnett stopped on the track.
From there, the chase was on.
Larson stayed within striking distance of the eight-time World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion and when the pair raced through lapped traffic during the closing laps, with Larson getting alongside with four laps remaining only to see Schatz split two lapped cars and pull away again.
Larson had one final chance as the pair drove into turn three on the final lap, but his slide job came up short and Schatz was a 10-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals.
“I went to slide a lapped car and he kept going, but killed my momentum,” Schatz said. “I knew I had to get back to the top. I had no prayer at the bottom, and that worked. I saw Kyle coming on the last lap, he tried a slider there and didn’t quite make it.”
“That was a fun, tough race,” Larson said. “We had some good restarts there and we got to second. I was just trying to wait until we got to lapped traffic. I knew he’d be good in lapped traffic, but I thought he might get tight in traffic, but I got tight in traffic, too.”
Schatz has won 10 of the last 12 runnings of the event, ranking him second behind only Steve Kinser, who won sprint-car racing’s biggest events a record 12 times.
“Nothing feels like the first one, but when you have to race that hard for 50 laps it feels as good as the first one,” Schatz said.
Madsen came home third, and said he thought he “had a better car” than the top two finishers.
Shane Stewart finished fourth and Brian Brown came home fifth.