BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Donny Schatz etched his name into DIRTcar Nationals history Sunday, winning both the afternoon and night show at Volusia Speedway Park.
The trip down victory lane gave Schatz 17 career wins at the half-mile and he captured three of the five sprint car shows this weekend.
With the victory, Schatz joined Jeff Swindell and Sammy Swindell as the only Outlaws to win multiple series races in one day. Jeff Swindell first accomplished the one-day sweep at Rolling Wheels (N.Y.) Raceway Park on Oct. 8, 1994. Sammy Swindell matched his brother’s feat in 1999 at Bloomington (Ind.) Speedway.
Though Schatz won the majority of the week’s sprint car races, those he did not win proved to test his No. 15 Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing team. In the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series opener, Schatz qualified 24th in a 36-car pack and placed fourth in his heat race.
Sunday night was similar, as Schatz only qualified seven positions better and placed fifth in his heat. What differed for the eight-time champion this time was his ability to move through the 26-car feature field.
“We didn’t change anything,” Schatz said. “I thought the car felt really good. I actually thought I could get to the middle pretty well, but that changed once we got that going. These guys are incredible with what they do. I love it.”
Schatz started 17th in the 30-lap feature, but made quick work of those between him and a podium position. By the 12th lap Schatz skidded through the bottom, passing multiple drivers into fourth. The next lap Schatz made his move for third, getting under quick-timer Brian Brown. Brown won his way through the program, setting the quick time and eventually leading the feature into the green flag.
Within the final 10 laps and one position later, Schatz threatened for first. David Gravel, who took the lead on the fifth lap, maintained the top spot by building speed on the top cushion. Gravel said he felt comfortable “staying on top and running alone,” but Schatz began to close the gap with each lap by cutting the corners out of turns three and four.
Lapped traffic gave Gravel enough real estate to not alter his line. However with two laps remaining, the two barreled down the front stretch side by side – only for Schatz to catch him in turn one. Gravel said where he saved time with lapped traffic, he ended up giving time back at the end.
“We wanted to win there,” Gravel said. “Lapped traffic got us. Sometimes we’re better running second. I don’t know what I could have done differently, but I did the best I could. Just leading all those laps you want to win.”
Despite Gravel’s shortcoming, in hindsight he said he had a good week. Having battled through four motor changes – the CJB Motorsports team had to get three more Kistler engines delivered to even be able to run the finale – he still advanced to the Craftsman® Club Dash in both shows. Because of the consistency, Gravel took home the coveted ‘Big Gator’ trophy, which is awarded to the top performing driver overall.
“We just need to continue to get better and run well,” said Gravel, whose focus is helping refresh and replenish his team’s inventory.
The program was plagued by a wild crash that sent three spectators to the hospital.
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