KNOXVILLE, Iowa – David Gravel took perhaps one of the hardest-fought wins of his World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series career on Friday night with a thrilling triumph at Knoxville Raceway.

After a back-and-forth second-half duel with Australian Ian Madsen – including twice where Gravel passed Madsen only to lose the lead before finishing the lap – the pilot of the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41 took control of the World of Outlaws Invitational at the half-mile dirt oval coming to the white flag.

It was then – exiting the fourth corner – that Madsen washed high and got up over the cushion with his KCP Racing No. 18, losing momentum as Gravel darted past on the bottom lane to seize the lead.

After that, all Madsen could do was watch as Gravel drove away on the final circuit. The Watertown, Conn., native repeated his win from the Knoxville Nationals last August for his second-straight World of Outlaws victory at the Marion County Fairgrounds half-mile and 52nd career series win overall.

Gravel also became the fourth different winner in four races this season on the Outlaws trail.

It was a unique night, with an invitation-only field of 48 drivers and no fans in the stands, but a record crowd watching live on DIRTvision and a barn-burner of a finish worthy of their attention.

“We don’t really feel how many people are watching, maybe tens of thousands of people are watching tonight (on DIRTVision) and hopefully that was a good race for everyone to get their blood pumping again,” Gravel said. “Me and Ian just battled and battled and battled. He got tripped up there in (turns) three and four and we were able to capitalize. If not for that, I’m not sure if we’d have gotten to him. Traffic was not working out in my favor there and we got held up a few times, but we kept fighting.

“For us to be the only race this weekend and win it is just good for everybody,” Gravel added. “It’s good for JJR. Good for (team owner Bobbi Johnson’s son) Jaxx’s birthday. His favorite number is five. We drew that in the Dash. It was all meant to be.”

The night carried a very strange feel to it due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with temperature checks before anyone could enter the facility, no fans in the grandstands and strict social distancing in the pit area – including for the DIRTvision pre-race and post-race interviews during the course of the night.

Despite that, however, the action was both fast and furious all night long.

David Gravel (41) battles to the inside of Ian Madsen Friday at Knoxville Raceway. (Trent Gower Photo)
David Gravel (41) battles to the inside of Ian Madsen Friday at Knoxville Raceway. (Trent Gower Photo)

Madsen dominated the DIRTvision Fast Pass Dash to earn the pole for the 30-lap main event, but it was Daryn Pittman who raced into the lead at the kickoff of the main before Madsen soared around the outside to pass Pittman for the top spot on the ninth revolution.

By the halfway point, Gravel was running third behind Madsen and Pittman, but started his charge at that point as he dispatched Pittman to move into second on lap 16.

It took Gravel just two rocket laps to move onto Madsen’s rear nerf bar, and he nearly made the pass for the lead in turn four coming to 11 to go before being held up by slower lap traffic.

In fact, on both laps 22 and 24, Gravel had slid Madsen for the race lead. Both times, however, Madsen was able to get back past and Gravel was left wondering if a win on this night wouldn’t be meant to be.

But Madsen got four tires up over the cushion in turns three and four on the penultimate lap, allowing Gravel his long-awaited opportunity to race to the bottom and race away with the lead – a lead he wouldn’t relinquish.

Though Gravel was the one celebrating in a virtually-empty victory lane, he was quick to admit that Friday night wasn’t one of the cleaner races in his World of Outlaws sprint car career.

“We haven’t been in the race car a lot, and Ian and I both made a lot of mistakes,” said Gravel, who won more than $15,000 after various contingencies and donations boosted the original $10,000 winner’s share. “I was glad it was a 30-lap race, though. If it was 25, I would have lost that one. I was really good on the bottom of one and two, but I could not come off. If I hit my marks, we were fast, but man, it was hard to do.

“Hopefully, this was a good race for everybody (watching at home) to get everyone’s blood pumping again. Ian and I just battled, and lapped cars were in my way,” Gravel continued. “He gave me a chance in three and four. It’s just good to get back in a race car and be competitive.”

Madsen came home second and noted that he was “devastated” not to pick up the win, but still seemed optimistic about where he and his KCP Racing team are at so far this season.

Logan Schuchart completed the podium and assumed the point lead as a result, followed by Pittman and California’s Cory Eliason, who was on his way to a front-row starting spot for the main event when he lost an engine in the DIRTvision Fast Pass Dash and slowed to a halt from second place.

Donny Schatz, Lynton Jeffrey and Brian Brown finished sixth through eighth, respectively, with Brad Sweet earning KSE Hard Charger honors via a run from 19th to ninth.

Kyle Larson filled out the top 10 in his first race of any kind since losing his NASCAR ride with Chip Ganassi Racing following the use of a racial slur on an iRacing event in early April. Former NASCAR star Kasey Kahne was 11th in the Last Chance Showdown.

The night’s only major incident came on lap 12 of the feature, when Kerry Madsen shredded a left-rear tire entering turn three and Sheldon Haudenschild launched over the back of Madsen’s car after having nowhere to go to avoid the No. 2m.

Haudenschild flipped in the third turn, but climbed out of his mangled car under his own power.

To view complete race results, advance to the next page.