KNOXVILLE, Iowa — There was plenty of action during Wednesday night’s preliminary feature that opened the 58th annual 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals, but not much of it was at the front of the field as Greg Hodnett led all 25 laps of historic Knoxville Raceway.
Driving the familiar Heffner No. 27, the Central Pennsylvania regular grabbed the lead from polesitter Brock Zearfoss on the opening lap and was up to the task on three-single file restarts, holding back 2010 Knoxville Nationals winner Tim Shaffer’s last-lap charge for his second career victory at the half-mile track.
“I had no idea, I was holding on for dear life and trying not to make any mistakes,” Hodnett said. “I didn’t know anybody was there, I was just driving the wheels off of it.”
Hodnett, who in recent years has only raced at Knoxville during the Nationals, said the track fits his driving style.
“I really like Knoxville. I like the way it races,” said Hodnett, who was runner-up in the Knoxville Nationals in 1997. “You can drive pretty straight and drive pretty hard. It lends itself to my driving style. I always felt comfortable here and I love the atmosphere. It gets me, I won’t say excited, but up in the seat.”
Hodnett knew he didn’t want to leave the bottom lane on restarts.
“I don’t have enough experience leading a race here, I don’t think I ever had the lead on a restart here,” he said. “I didn’t want to leave the bottom open. Whoever leaves the bottom open is usually getting passed. I was in block mode on the restart and hoped nobody would drive by on the outside before I got back to the top.”
Shaffer started fourth and came home second.
“We got closer and I thought we had a shot, but Greg wasn’t making a mistake and that’s what it takes to win,” Shaffer said.
Kyle Larson raced from sixth to finish third and was the high-point driver for the night, essentially locking him into Saturday night’s main event.
Larson’s night was a success despite being the last of 42 qualifiers to hit the track.
“Paul (Silva, crew chief) and I were both a little stressed out in the pit area,” said Larson about his draw. “I was able to run a decent second lap, but I hit the bottom real nice on the second lap and was able to be 10th quick. The heat race was important too, and once it got single file I was able to move us forward and get some points, and the same thing in the feature.”
Nationals rookie Gio Scelzi, who will likely become the youngest driver to ever start the Knoxville Nationals feature on Saturday night, finished fourth. Scelzi is 16.
Ten-time Nationals winner Donny Schatz, who failed to qualify through his heat race, romped from 21st to finish fifth in the feature. He was second high-point man on the night, racking up 474 markers.
Logan Schuchart was the fast qualifier on the night, but was disqualified after winning the B main when he failed to present his car to the scales before returning to his pit area. Schatz inherited the B main victory.
Aaron Reutzel and Kerry Madsen tied for third in points with 473, while Shaffer picked up 471 and Scelzi earned 468 markers.
Hodnett ended with 462 points.
To see full results, turn to the next page.