KNOXVILLE, Iowa — David Gravel held off a late-race charge from Brad Sweet to claim top honors during Thursday night’s Fraternal Order of Eagles Qualifying Night during the 59th annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals at Knoxville Raceway.
As a result, Gravel was high point man for the night and will start outside the front row for Saturday night’s $150,000-to-win feature.
Gravel battled for the lead with Brock Zearfoss through the first nine laps and inherited the point when the Pennsylvania driver blew a tire on lap 10.
Gravel led the rest of the distance aboard the Jason Johnson Racing Axalta-sponsored entry, but was not without challenges as Sweet got close to him on numerous occasions, including in the final laps.
“I felt like my last five laps were pretty terrible,” Gravel explained. “I don’t know if Brad got close to me or not. I felt like I hit a couple good laps before that. If I could hit three and four the way I wanted to I could put some good laps together, but I struggled there at the end. We are going to check her out and make sure we are good. We got some good points tonight and we should be up in the first three or four row. Happy to get the job done tonight.”
Gravel racked up the second-most points of the Nationals behind Aaron Reutzel, who ran on Wednesday, despite drawing a high number for qualifying.
“I was really nervous tonight drawing a 71 out of 75 but we’ve been qualifying really well all year and we were able to capitalize on that,” said Gravel, who also won Sunday’s Capitani Classic. “It is an awesome night. All of the Axalta people are here.”
Sweet, the defending Nationals winner, said he made too many mistakes to win the race, but he ended up sixth in combined points and will start sixth on Saturday.
“We didn’t time that great at the end and we didn’t do a good job at the beginning of the race,” said the driver of the Kasey Kahne Racing No. 49. “I was trying to search around and find my spots. Just a little bit off. I think we learned a lot tonight. David did a good job in lapped traffic. I thought we were going to make a run at him at the end. We got close but he covered his lines and a few lapped cars messed me up. And I honestly missed my marks there a little bit. Now we are locked into Saturday night.”
Carson Macedo drove the Kyle Larson Racing entry from 13th on the grid to finish third.
“I started 13th, so anywhere they weren’t, was the place for me,” Macedo said. “But if you are going to win the Knoxville Nationals, you’ve got to run the bottom. You have to move around to get some clean air. Being behind someone is not good for your race car.”
Cory Eliason and Rico Abreu rounded out the top five, while 2010 Nationals winner Tim Shaffer, who won the B Main, romped from 21st to seventh to wind up fourth in overall points.
Reutzel and Sweet will start on the front row, with Joey Saldana and Shaffer in row two.
To see full results, turn to the next page.