KNOXVILLE, Iowa – For Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star and long-time sprint car team owner Kasey Kahne, Brad Sweet’s victory in the 58th annual 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals was a breakthrough 14 years in the making.
Ever since founding his team in 2005, Kahne had dreamed of seeing one of his cars pull into victory lane at the end of sprint car racing’s most prestigious event. Saturday night, that dream became a reality.
“This is unbelievable for Brad and for this team,” said Kahne. “It feels so good to finally have a Knoxville Nationals title under our belts and to beat Donny (Schatz), who’s one of the best that has ever raced at Knoxville. It’s hard to describe all the emotions it brings out … but we’re here. We did it.
“The whole night was something extremely special and a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Sweet broke through for Kahne on the biggest stage in the sport after years of near-misses for Kasey Kahne Racing at ‘The Sprint Car Capital of the World’.
In the team’s first Knoxville Nationals in 2006, Joey Saldana piloted the No. 9 Budweiser entry to an outside front-row starting spot and ran second to perennial Knoxville Nationals champion Donny Schatz.
Saldana backed that effort up with another runner-up finish in 2007 and added a third bridesmaid performance in 2009. Sweet joined the team in 2011 and started from the front row in the Nationals A main, but his best finish was third in 2015.
Perhaps the team’s best shot to win the Knoxville Nationals before Saturday night came two years ago, when Daryn Pittman started on the pole and led 11 laps, but he was overhauled by Schatz and Jason Johnson and had to watch as that pair settled the Nationals among themselves, with Johnson emerging as the eventual victor.
In all four of KKR’s Nationals podiums, the team was beaten by Schatz, something Kahne said drove them to fight back even stronger.
“He’s made it so hard on us to get that win here,” said Kahne of Schatz. “We’d started on the front row and battled been so close but just hadn’t quite been able to seal the deal. It’s awesome to finally end that wait and it’s something that everyone on this team has dreamed of for a long, long time.
“We’ve worked towards this moment for years. That first Knoxville (Nationals) we came to as a full-time Outlaws team in 2006, when Joey (Saldana) started on the front row and ran second to Donny … man, that was tough to swallow but it told us we could do it. We’ve been knocking on the door for a while.”
This year, they finally kicked that door clean off its hinges, with Sweet dominating the entire week at the black-dirt half-mile. Sweet won the Capitani Classic in a wire-to-wire performance, dominated his preliminary night feature to win and led all but two laps in the Nationals A main on Saturday.
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