Shane Stewart scored a convincing win in the 2013 opener at Knoxville Raceway’s Pella Motors Race for Your School night Saturday. The Bixby, Oklahoma native was running the Indy Race Parts #71x for Bernie Steubgen.
Clint Garner scored his 16th career win in the 360 class, while Larry Ball Jr. won the opener for the 305 class.
Pole-sitter Don Droud Jr. led the first circuit in the 20-lapper, while Stewart worked his way by front row starter, Terry McCarl. He then made the move for the lead sliding in front of Droud to complete lap two.
While Stewart pulled away and got into traffic, McCarl pressured Droud for second, taking the spot on lap eight. Dusty Zomer was able to move into third a lap later. With nine laps in the books, Austin McCarl, who had moved up to 13th, went up in smoke. The restart saw Stewart leading, McCarl, Zomer, Droud and Ian Madsen.
A frontstretch tangle involving Jody Rosenboom and Mike Moore slowed the pace on lap 12.
It would be the final slowdown. Brian Brown, who suffered mechanical difficulties in his heat and made the feature by winning the B, was on the move from his 19th starting spot. By lap 13, he was into sixth and pressuring Droud for a top five spot.
Madsen worked by Zomer on lap 14 to move into third.
Up front, Stewart was unchallenged to the finish for his fifth career 410 win here, with McCarl and Madsen in tow. Zomer held off Brown for fourth. Droud, Mark Dobmeier, Davey Heskin, Bronson Maeschen and Lynton Jeffrey rounded out the top ten.
Madsen set quick time and won his heat. Dustin Selvage and Shane Stewart won heats and Brown took the B. Jarrod Schneiderman was a flip victim in the B. He was uninjured.
“I’ve been absolutely terrible here at the weekly shows,” said Stewart in victory lane. “I have to thank all the guys at Indy Race Parts. The car got kind of evil for me. I’d have a couple laps with some good lines…and then, I don’t know if I had a steering issue, or maybe a tire getting big on me, but the cautions really saved me.”
Tyler Groenendyk paced the field in the 18-lap 360 main event early on. A caution for debris came out with a lap in the books. Clint Garner loomed in second, but stumbled coming out of turn four on the restart, allowing Nate Van Haaften to cruise by. It would take three laps for Garner to move back by him.
With six laps recorded, Lee Grosz took a nasty ride down the backstretch after contact with Jon Agan. He was uninjured. It was the second season opener in a row that Grosz suffered a hard crash here.
Groenendyk led Garner, Van Haaften, Russ Hall and Jamie Ball back to green flag racing. Groenendyk set a good pace and maintained his lead. Garner would make his winning move on lap 12 in heavy lapped traffic. He would pull away after a restart with five laps to go for a stopped TJ Muths, and score the win. Groenendyk held onto second, ahead of Van Haaften, Russ Hall and Agan. Joe Beaver, Matt Moro, Ball, Randy Martin and Lou Kennedy Jr. completed the top ten.
Ball claimed quick time honors, while Martin, Thomas Kennedy and Tony Shilling took heat race wins. Muths won the B.
“I timed the restart wrong, and I don’t know if (Van Haaften) hit me or what,” said Garner of the early restart that saw him shuffled back. “I was crossed up, spun out and about ready to hit the cone…at least go on the wrong side of the cone. I did my best to fix it and nobody hit me. We were able to chase Tyler down and he did a great job. I can’t wait to race with him the rest of the season.”
J Kinder held the early advantage in the 12-lap 305 feature. Rookie Jake Strayer and Mike Mayberry were in tow early on before a lap two caution for Denny Dollison. Larry Ball Jr. restarted fifth, and on lap seven, he took the runner-up position from Strayer.
Ball used the low side of the track to reel in the leader, and he made his winning move coming for the white flag. It was his third career 305 win here. Kinder, Strayer, Matthew Stelzer and Matt Stephenson followed him. Mayberry, Alan Ambers, hard-charger, Stacey Alexander, Bob Hildreth and Mark Widmar completed the top ten.
Stephenson set a new track record in qualifying at 16.846 seconds. Stelzer and Ball Jr. won heat races.
“That’s what I love about Knoxville…the lapped traffic,” said Ball in victory lane. “I never would have caught him without that. Everyone is here to have fun in this class. It was a good time, I loved it.”