KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Kyle Larson’s pursuit of victory in the 59th NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals is officially over.
Larson qualified ninth during Wednesday’s opening night at Knoxville Raceway before finishing seventh in his heat, relegating him to the Last Chance Showdown.
Larson finished sixth in the Last Chance Showdown and failed to advance to the feature, meaning he’d have to run Friday’s Hard Knox program if he had any hope of making Saturday’s $150,000-to-win main event.
With NASCAR responsibilities on Friday at Michigan Int’l Speedway making it nearly impossible to Larson to make it back to Knoxville for the Hard Knox program, Larson made the call to end his Knoxville Nationals bid.
The California driver does plan to be on hand for Saturday’s finale as a spectator.
• Passing was at a premium during the 10 heat races run during the first two nights of the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals.
As a result, the points were greatly shuffled and several drivers will have work to do on Friday night in an attempt to qualify for the sport’s biggest event.
Fifteen of the 20 drivers who started in the fourth row of their heat race due to the inversion failed to transfer to features through the heat races. For many years, the heat-race inversion was 10 drivers, making the format easier than it was for decades.
Still, drivers the likes of Donny Schatz, Brian Brown and Kyle Larson found themselves on the outside looking in after two nights of racing.
• Schatz’s Tony Stewart Racing team changed an engine on the No. 15 between the fifth heat race and the B main on Wednesday night. Members of other crews, including the No. 41 Jason Johnson Racing team pitched in to help.
Schatz raced from seventh to finish fourth in the B Main and romped from 24th to 11th in the feature.
• Fifty-three cars signed in on the opening night of the NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals, with another 56 taking the green flag on Thursday.
• Versatile Missouri veteran Hunter Schuerenberg landed a ride in the McGhee Motorsports No. 11 for the Knoxville Nationals.
Schuerenberg filled in for regular driver Dale Blaney, who opted to sit out the Nationals, but will return to the car when the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions campaign resumes next week.
• Knoxville Raceway officials recognized the late Greg Hodnett with a tribute video prior to the start of Wednesday night’s program.
Hodnett, who was killed at Pennsylvania’s BAPS Motor Speedway last September, won the Wednesday night preliminary feature during last year’s Knoxville Nationals. It was Hodnett’s 286th and last victory.
• Jac Haudenschild and his son, Sheldon, were both in Wednesday’s field, while the brother combinations of Jeff and Sammy Swindell and Austin and Carson McCarl also participated.
Sheldon Haudenschild finished third in the feature and Jac Haudenschild was eighth.
• Tanner Thorson showed great speed driving the No. 88 CJB Motorsports machine, a team car to the No. 5 that Shane Stewart raced Thursday night. Thorson qualified 25th, but transferred through his heat and finished seventh in the 25-lap feature.
• Tim Kaeding, making another appearance in one of Jason Sides’ No. 7s machines, was steady throughout the Wednesday program and had the second-highest point total for the evening.
• Brent Marks continued to perform during sprint car racing’s biggest weeks. Marks, who raced from 16th to finish third in last month’s Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, finished sixth Wednesday and qualified for Saturday’s feature.
• Spencer Bayston wheeled the California-based VanDyke Motorsports No. 5h on Wednesday night. Bayston and the team were here for the All Star Circuit of Champions race in late July.
• When Paul McMahan qualified for Saturday night’s feature, he became the seventh driver to make 20 Knoxville Nationals A mains. He joined Steve Kinser (35), Sammy Swindell (34), Danny Lasoski (26), Terry McCarl (22), Stevie Smith (21) and Donny Schatz (21) with 20 starts or more.
• Veteran sprint car driver Johnny Herrera is turning the wrenches for ASCS Lucas Oil Sprint Car Series regular Harli White.
• Fast-qualifier Shane Stewart took a wild flip in turns three and four on the first lap of the first heat race, destroying his CJB Motorsports No. 5. He climbed from the car under his own power.
Stewart will be among those competing in Friday night’s Hard Knox program, looking for one of the four transfer positions.
• Longtime World of Outlaws sprint car driver Andy Hillenburg, who retired nearly two decades ago, attended Thursday night’s event.
• Brian Brown failed to transfer through his heat race on Thursday and ended up in the B main, where he cut a right-rear tire. He missed the feature and will be racing on Friday.
• Sye Lynch, the son of legendary Western Pennsylvania racer Ed Lynch Jr. and the grandson of Hall of Famer Jean Lynch, was impressive in his Knoxville Nationals debut on Thursday night, making the feature after battling David Gravel in a heat race.
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