KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The pressure was on for David Gravel on Thursday night at Knoxville Raceway.
First he had a full compliment of Axalta executives, including four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, who helped his Jason Johnson Racing team land the sponsorship, secondly, he drew the No. 71 qualifying pill and finally he’s driving the No. 41, which Jason Johnson landed in victory lane during the Knoxville Nationals in 2016.
Gravel rose to the occasion. Despite being one of the final cars to hit the track for qualifying, Gravel was ninth quick in the 56-car field. He finished second in the fourth heat and led the final 16 laps of the main event.
Gravel also won the Capitani Classic at the half-mile, black dirt oval at the Marion County Fairgrounds.
“It’s the same hot rod as the Capitani and it ran just as good, so we really feel good about where we are at,” Gravel said. “I was really nervous tonight drawing a 71 out of 75 but we’ve been qualifying really well all year and we were able to capitalize on that. It is an awesome night. All of the Axalta people are here.
“This stuff is so tricky,” Gravel said. “I was really nervous even though we are a good qualifying team. We had a good qualifying lap and got through our heat race. Everything went our way to night except for the pill draw.”
Two years ago, Gravel had a perfect point night during qualifying and started on the pole for Saturday’s feature while driving for CJB Motorsports. Gravel blew an engine while leading.
He hopes this is his year to win the NOS Energy Knoxville Nationals.
“It’s 50 laps, so much could happen,” Gravel said. “Donny (Schatz) has won it from the B main before so I think it’s possible. I feel like this is as good a shot as we are ever going to have and you never know when your next shot to win the Knoxville Nationals will be.
“You are not always going to get shots to win like Kyle Larson did the last few years or ‘Brownie’ (Brian Brown) did before that. They were in contention each year to win.
“All I ask is for a shot to win the race. I feel like when we blew up a couple years ago it got taken from me.”
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