KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The night after Kyle Larson and Paul Silva stole the spotlight yet again at Knoxville Raceway, David Gravel and Philip Dietz reminded everyone they are still the duo to beat around these parts.
In round two of The One and Only sanctioned by the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, Gravel led all 25 laps and fended off Larson to win the second $10,000 preliminary feature.
The 2019 Knoxville Nationals champion earned a .203-second victory over the guy who holds 30 wins on this backlogged season, setting up for Saturday’s Capitani Classic. Gravel’s win locks him into Saturday’s dash, along with Larson, two-time Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions champ Aaron Reutzel and World of Outlaws point leader Logan Schuchart.
“All I have to say is Kyle Larson and Paul Silva are really good,” Gravel said, “but when Philip Dietz and David Gravel are on, we can compete with the best.”
Gravel’s third-place effort in time trials and his eighth-to-third charge in his heat put him in Friday’s dash, where he drew the pole and ultimately led all eight laps to start on the point for the 25-lap feature. Larson, meanwhile, dug out of a mid-pack qualifying placement for the second night in a row to position himself fourth for the main event.
By lap one, Larson had taken third, while Gravel raced into clean air. After two quick cautions with 18 laps to go for Brian Brown and Spencer Bayston, both running fourth before their problems, Larson overtook Rico Abreu for second and the battle for the lead was on shortly after.
Gravel’s 1.5-second advantage over Larson with 12 to go shrunk to three car lengths with five laps remaining, but when Larson sucked closer off turn four with three laps left, he got sideways and lost considerable ground.
Larson gathered himself and ripped around the top while Gravel stayed even-keeled working lapped traffic and closed back in as the two rounded the front stretch taking the two to go signal. Larson had generated enough momentum to clear Gravel with a slide job into turn one, but by the time Larson committed, Daryn Pittman, who held the bottom one-lap down, foiled the chance.
That allowed Gravel to roll the middle good enough to eventually get the job done, leaving Larson scrambling to get back to the top with one last Hail Mary attempt as the two took the white flag.
But Gravel never cracked as he navigated lapped traffic like a Knoxville Nationals champion would and proved you still have to get by him and Dietz at the sweeping oval.
“It feels good,” Gravel said. “We’re right where we want to be. We did our jobs. … It’s been an up and down year. We aren’t where we want to be, but hopefully we can keep this going.”
For the second night in a row, Larson timed outside the top 20.
“Our race car was really good,” Larson said. “David just did a little better job than me at some points, the early parts when we go to traffic. [Turns] one and two was so good you can kind of go anywhere. I couldn’t make up enough ground to stay close to him off turn two. We’ll take a second. A good points night. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
“It’s definitely a cool format,” Larson added. “I feel like it rewards guys who move forward when they hit the race track. We were able to do that. Put us in position to go for a big win tomorrow.”
As for Brad Sweet, he rebounded from an ugly opening night with a third-place finish Friday. On Thursday, Sweet crashed out of the feature and finished 24th with four laps to show. Friday, though, he charged from 10th to a much-needed podium.
“It feels like a win for us,” Sweet said. “We needed a good rebound after [Thursday].”
Abreu finished fourth while Shane Golobic placed fifth.
To see full results, turn to the next page.