KNOXVILLE, Iowa — It’s not very often that the sixth starter leads all 25 laps of a sprint car feature but Brad Sweet did it on Casey’s Stores Toyota Night Thursday during the 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals.
Sweet made a daring move entering turn one on the first lap and came off turn two second. He dragged past polesitter Mark Dobmeier exiting turn four and led at the start-finish line.
From there Sweet’s Kasey Kahne Racing No. 49 was far ahead of the rest of the field, and even despite several restarts, cruised to a seemingly easy victory.
“One thing our new engine does is that it makes a really good first lap,” Sweet explained. “When you have a lot in the tank like that on the start you are able to take off very well. After all these years of coming here and getting our butt beat by some of these guys we’re beginning to feel like we have hit”
It was the second victory of the week for Sweet, who won the Capitani Classic in similar fashion on Sunday night. It was also his fourth career victory at the legendary half-mile dirt track.
Sweet was high point man on the night — and for the week — putting him on the pole for Saturday night’s $150,000-to-win main event.
“This year I had a lot more confidence coming here,” Sweet said. “I definitely wanted to be ahead of the other guys. It’s basically two 25-lap races and you race the first one to get in position for the second one. Now, we’re in position, we just have to capitalize on Saturday night.”
Rico Abreu started second and finished second, continued his mid-season string of strong results. He is also locked into Saturday night’s feature.
“It felt good. We just keep getting our car better,” Abreu said. “It is cool to be the environment of the Knoxville Nationals. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s a lot like the Chili Bowl, two races that I’ve had a lot of success at. Locked into the feature three years in a row, that just shows you how good this race team is.”
After qualifying 29thin the 51-car field, David Gravel romped from 15thin the feature to finish third. But he’ll have to start Saturday night in the B main.
“It wasn’t what we wanted today, but we made the best of it tonight,” Gravel said. “I had to race my butt off just to make it through the heat race there with Shane. It’s just disappointing how our night started. We think we have a fast enough car that we can make it through the B.”
Tim Kaeding finished fourth in a second Jason Sides Racing car, while Terry McCarl was fifth.
Chad Kemenah finished sixth on Thursday, but accumulated 479 points putting him outside the front row for Saturday.
Kyle Larson and Donny Schatz, who were the top point earners on Wednesday night will start in the second row.
Brian Brown, who has won seven features at Knoxville Raceway this year, withdrew from the program after qualifying 38th. He’ll run again on Friday night, trying to earn his way into the main event.
To see full results, turn to the next page.