CONCORD, N.C. – With a third of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series’ season complete, 10-time series champion Donny Schatz has already set himself up for another championship run.
Three wins. Nine podiums. Fifteen top-five and 21 top-10 finishes – the most of all drivers. He currently sits atop the points standings by 48 points over Brad Sweet.
To most drivers, that would be an A-plus start to the season. But to Schatz, “it’s a straight C.”
“We would’ve liked to have more wins, but when you can’t win races you’ve got to do the next best thing, that’s get the best finish you can,” said Schatz, who had nine wins at this point last year. “We’ve had a lot more respectable finishes than years prior, we just don’t have the wins to go along with it. That’s just part of racing.”
There’s no discouragement, though. Schatz said he and is Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team are focused on winning more and they’re heading into the part of the season when they typically do just that.
Starting off the summer stretch of the races, the series heads to Fairbury Speedway Tuesday, then treks north to Schatz’s home state of North Dakota for the Northern Tour at River Cities Speedway on Friday and caps the week off at Granite City Speedway on Saturday.
Schatz has been one of the most successful drivers at River Cities Speedway and Granite City Speedway. He’s won nine of the last 12 races at the North Dakota track and he’s won two of the three times the Series has raced at Granite City Speedway.
But for Fairbury Speedway, he said he’ll have to pick up the pace a little bit from last year. In the series’ first visit to the quarter-mile Illinois track, Schatz finished eight, while Sheldon Haudenschild claimed the victory. Schatz called the track, “racy,” though and knows it can put on a good show, having seen videos of stellar late model races there.
While he’s been dominate at River Cities Speedway in the past, Schatz acknowledged that doesn’t guarantee him another win this year.
“We’ve had a lot of success there, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to do us any good going there this time,” he said. “We’ll do our best to get ourselves qualified well and try to fight for the win. It’s one of them places you know when you go, get a good baseline, you can run around the place really well and you can race from the back if you have to.”
He wouldn’t call racing in his home state a “home-field advantage” either. With the World of Outlaws racing at several different tracks week to week, he said there never really is a home-field advantage.
Although, with the track being an hour down the road from his house, he said that probably plays into the psychological factor.
He credits the work of his team for his success at the speedway. This year, though, he’ll be working with a new crew chief.
His Crew Chief Ricky Warner went to work for Ford this year, to help develop Ford’s 410 Sprint Car engine. Filling his position is the team’s longtime Car Chief Steve Swenson – the backbone of the team, according to Schatz.
“We’ve both been at Tony Stewart Racing the same amount of time,” Schatz said. “He’s doing a great job. We communicate well. We’ve been around each other long enough to know what our expectations are. He settles for nothing less than the best. So, if I’ve got an ass chewing coming, I’m going to get it. And likewise. There’s a lot of history, a lot of comradery there.”
Coming into the season, Schatz said there were some new things he and Swenson wanted to try. So far, they’ve worked. A few tracks they weren’t good at before, Schatz said, they’ve run better at this year.
“You learn from your mistakes,” Schatz said. “That’s all you can do.”
Shocks have been one of the biggest changes he’s focused on this year. The team has never been loyal to one particular shock company, Schatz said, but he wanted to make sure Penske shocks were on all four corners of the car this year.
“To me, they’ve got the best product and they’ve had to work overtime and we’ve had to work overtime to get the feel I want, but they’ve got it,” Schatz said. “And that’s shown the last couple of weeks. We’re happy about that. That means we can only build from here. Hopefully it starts turning into wins.”
He and his team recently made history by winning the World of Outlaws’ first ever race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for the inaugural Music City Outlaw Nationals. After the win, his C grade for the season didn’t change. There are still many races to go. Still many chances to turn consistent top-five finishes into consistent wins.
“The important part with this is it’s our livelihood, it’s our love, but also you’ve got to have fun at it,” Schatz said. “And we’re having a lot of fun. Some days when you don’t have the result you want, the fun factor is what you look at. You try to turn that fun into wins.”