BARBERVILLE, Fla. – David Gravel took advantage of a front row starting position and a track that unexpectedly took rubber to best Donny Schatz in the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions feature at Volusia Speedway Park Thursday night.
The Connecticut native blasted off on a lap 26 restart and led Schatz to the $5,000 win by a full turn, with Brad Sweet home joining them on the podium. Fourth went to Chad Kemenah, with Caleb Armstrong, Kerry Madsen, Christopher Bell and Daryn Pittman trailing.
“The rubber started on the top and just kept coming down,” declared the frustrated Schatz. “I didn’t expect that but we got it. I could have thrown a Hail Mary but it wouldn’t have worked. We could barely get through traffic the way it was.”
Many thought the track crew had deliberately slowed the big half-mile down with different prep work after Joey Saldana’s vault over the backstretch wall into the pit bleachers Wednesday night. The racing was noticeably different, with the back and forth sliders that made opening night so exciting non-existent and passing minimal throughout the feature.
Schatz turned fast time for the night while Gravel was second, with the latter then winning his dash to get in the front row for the 30-lap finale. Polesitter Caleb Armstrong took the lead when the green flew but Gravel and the third- starting Schatz both shot by the leader going down the backstretch, effectively ending the race right there.
A Shane Stewart spin on lap two brought the first yellow, with Schatz diving low on Gravel on the restart but failing to get by. Kemenah, up from seventh, had better luck as he dropped Madsen to fifth before the field got in line and strung out. Gravel began lapping on lap nine when he caught Kraig Kinser, but Schatz didn’t make his usual traffic moves, instead riding behind Gravel through lap 16, when he cranked it up and closed to within a few car lengths.
They ran that way, with Sweet a distant third, through the final yellow on lap 27 when Lucas Wolfe coasted to a stop at the top of the frontstretch. Gravel then got a terrific start when the green returned, blasting out to a substantial lead while the order behind him remained the same as he claimed his first ever DIRTcar Nationals win.
“My left rear is almost bald and the right rear is worse,” said Gravel. “I didn’t want to win like this but a win is a win. I didn’t really know how far ahead I was but in clean air on a track that’s all rubbered up, I figured I was good. I was a little nervous, because the rear tires were starting to shake, but we made it. Last night was racier but this was fun too.”
Sweet begged to differ, saying “This wasn’t much fun. The track took rubber too quick. But at least we got on the podium and there’s three nights to go yet.”
Schatz’s ace crew chief, Ricky Warner, summed the night up when he declared “Rubber. You can’t race in rubber.”
David Gravel, Donny Schatz, Brad Sweet, Chad Kemenah, Caleb Armstrong, Kerry Madsen, Christopher Bell, Daryn Pittman, Paul McMahan, Aaron Reutzel, Rico Abreu, Greg Hodnett, Brent Marks, Brian Brown, Mark Dobmeier, Joey Saldana, Justin Henderson, Ian Madsen, Caleb Helms, Kraig Kinser, Lucas Wolfe, Danny Dietrich, Shane Stewart, Steve Buckwalter.