KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Knoxville Raceway officials instituted a new format for the Friday program at the Knoxville Nationals this year in an attempt to bring some excitement to a lackluster night of racing.
Justin Henderson won the 25-lap feature in which the top four finishers earned starting positions 17-20 in Saturday night’s A Main at the historic half-mile dirt track.
With 67 cars taking part in qualifying, seven heat races, three B mains and a feature, action was fast and furious and the feature was action-packed with two and three-wide racing throughout the field and positions changing constantly.
Henderson started sixth and briefly took the lead from fast-qualifier and leader David Gravel on several occasions, finally moving to the point on lap 21. Gravel made several more challenges for the lead, but Henderson held on for his fourth career Knoxville victory and second of the season.
“It has been a roller-coaster all week,” Henderson said. “I am so excited I can’t even talk right now. This new format threw us for a loop tonight. We didn’t know what to think about it. It’s not all bad I guess. We would have been starting 11th in the B main under normal circumstances, so to come out here and win this race is kind of a historic night.”
But most importantly a starting spot in the 52nd annual Knoxville Nationals.
With Henderson and Gravel out front, a three-car battle waged for third and fourth positions.
Dale Blaney, who had the low point total of the week after scratching from Thursday’s program with a blown engine, qualified third and finished third to make his way to Saturday night’s finale.
“After where we were last night after sitting last in points, this is quite a turnaround,” said Blaney. “Thanks to all the guys that came up with the format, it really helped us.”
Early leader Cody Darrah traded the fourth and final transfer position with Kerry Madsen several times in the closing laps before sliding past Madsen on the final lap to secure a place in Saturday’s feature
Madsen finished fifth and will start 11th in Saturday night’s B main. Saturday’s programs will include the traditional E, D, C and B mains leading up to the 50-lap finale.
Steve Kinser finished ninth in the feature and will start 15th in Saturday night’s B main in an attempt to keep his consecutive Knoxville Nationals A main streak alive after 35 straight years.