KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Shane Stewart finished third in Friday night’s Hard Knox feature and as a result will start his 19th consecutive NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals feature on Saturday night.
It’s a big deal for Stewart considering his CJB Motorsports team has struggled all season, and the fact that he wrecked the Barry Jackson-prepared No. 5 while leading his heat race on Thursday night.
Still, Stewart nearly ran out of fuel on the final lap Friday night.
“We were completely out of fuel. We were lucky to finish that race,” Stewart said. “This is a huge relief. When you come here your goal is to sit on the front row for the A-main. People like myself and a few others had a mishap on their qualifying night. Hats off to Barry and Tyler for working their butts off yesterday and last night. I am really happy I can make this A main for the team.”
Stewart and his team have struggled this season, but Knoxville Raceway is a place the Oklahoma driver has excelled during his career. He has seven top-five finishes in the Knoxville Nationals and he’s won the 360 Nationals five times.
“I have a lot of emotions. The 5 car hasn’t had the best season,” Stewart said. “There were big expectations going into this race. I have had a lot of success here and Barry has over the last several years, too, with different drivers. The plan is always to try to shoot for the front row. We felt like we jumped over the first hurdle of having quick time.”
But that’s when things got ugly and Stewart wrecked on the first lap of his heat race Thursday night.
“My wreck, honestly, it happened so quickly. There was a little greasy moisture before you got to the cushion,” he explained. “I thought the cushion was going to hold me and it didn’t. So I thought, ‘OK, if I get on the brakes I’m going to wreck no matter what, so maybe I can power through it and get back out of the cushion.’
“It is a lot of high emotions for this race,” Stewart added. “The amount of effort that goes into it is hard to explain. Fortunate and happy to be in this situation. My guys worked hard to get another car put together for today. We were completely out of gas coming under the checkered flag. We were very fortunate and happy that the CJB car is in the show.”
Stewart hopes Friday night was the turning point for his team.
“I hope it turns it around for us. This team deserves to run better than we have all year,” he said. “Some things happened this year that you start second guessing everything. We have all the key ingredients to make a good cookie, but we haven’t been making a good cookie. That’s been the frustrating part.
“Everything is there. It is up to Barry and I to keep working,” Stewart continued. “He has struggled getting me comfortable in the race car. It is pretty obvious that car has been fast the last few years and we had high expectations going into the year. We started the year strong and we kind of hit a wall and haven’t been able to get out of it.”
The CJB Motorsports team brought in Tanner Thorson to drive a second car this week and Stewart acknowledged he’s been lacking confidence.
“A lot of it is confidence. Sometimes like last night, you set quick time and you are nervous about the heat because I haven’t felt that great here since we unloaded on Sunday, and you are trying hard,” he said. “Every driver is on the edge. The start of my heat race wasn’t very good and then when you crash, none of it makes any sense. I don’t think I ever crashed at the Knoxville Nationals.
“You start second guessing things and a lot of it is getting your confidence back and knowing you can do your job the right way. Hopefully, this is a turning time for our team because they deserve it.”
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