KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Trey Starks surprised everyone, including himself, during Wednesday night’s Brandt qualifying night program for the 59th annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals at legendary Knoxville Raceway.
The Washington native who flies to Iowa weekly to compete at the historic half-mile oval aboard the No. 44 J&J sprint car co-owned by Jeff McCall and Scott Gobrecht, took the lead on lap five and held off a late charge from Australian James McFadden to earn his first victory at the track and his first with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series.
Starks victory came on a night when eight of the top 10 qualifiers failed to transfer into the feature through their heat races.
“We were a product of our circumstances here tonight,” Starks explained. “A lot of fast guys didn’t make it through their heat, and that cut out a lot of guys that you have to beat. I can’t believe we won our preliminary night at the Knoxville Nationals.”
Still he held off McFadden in uncharacteristic fashion by running the bottom groove around Knoxville Raceway.
“I almost never run the bottom,” Starks said. “That’s the point of running here is to get better at this race track. I used to be a strictly top guy, but I knew that is where Mark was going to be … We were best on one and two on the bottom and I’m not sure where I was fastest in three and four.”
McFadden, who won the Knoxville 360 Nationals last week aboard Kasey Kahne Racing’s No 9, brought the KKR entry home second
“It’s been really cool to get a lot of laps at Knoxville before the Nationals,” he said. “I’ve never had a chance to do that before and it’s really helped, and it’s been a really great time.
“I was annoyed at that caution. I felt like we were better on the long runs but in clean air we weren’t going to be able to handle them. If the race was longer, I feel like we might have had a little better shot at them.”
Sheldon Haudenschild, who won the Ironman 55 at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, last weekend, finished third.
“I can’t complain after that,” Haudenschild said. “Too many driver errors. I would make a mistake and bounce it off the wall. I have to clean it up on my end. Our car was fast. I made those mistakes and I was still able to run them down.”
Polesitter and early leader Mark Dobmeier finished fourth with fast-qualifier Aaron Reutzel, who was the high point man on the night, coming home fifth.
The victory capped a difficult week (see separate story) for Starks and his team, including a crash and an engine failure.
Donny Schatz raced from 24thin feature to finish 11thafter he and Kyle Larson shared the fourth row in the B main. Larson missed the feature and because of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule at Michigan Int’l Speedway, his participation the remainder of the week is in limbo.
Reutzel ended up with 487 points with Tim Kaeding second with 466 points.
To see full results, turn to the next page.