KNOXVILLE – Another great night of racing ended at the Knoxville Raceway with Connecticut’s David Gravel in Victory Lane. The driver of the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41 will start next to Wednesday high-point driver Aaron Reutzel in Saturday’s $150,000 finale of the 59th Annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals. Thursday’s Fraternal Order of Eagles Night saw a lot of twists and turns.
Quick qualifier Shane Stewart endured a scary crash in turn three of his heat race, but walked away. Unfortunately, he was done for the night after setting quick time during time trials.
The 25-lap feature saw Brock Zearfoss take off from the pole position to lead early over Brad Sweet, Gravel, Cory Eliason and Matt Juhl. Gravel used the high side to pass a low riding Sweet for second seven laps in. He then set his sights on the leader, and got by Zearfoss on lap eight. As the leader entered lapped traffic, however, Zearfoss used a lapper to get back by Gravel to lead lap nine.
At that point, Sye Lynch blew a right rear tire. Zearfoss led Gravel and Sweet back to green, but soon lost power with an electrical issue. Gravel assumed the lead for the restart. Joey Saldana moved into fourth at that point, and Carson Macedo followed him into fifth.
Tyler Courtney lost a driveline 11 laps in, bringing the final caution of the event. Gravel led Sweet and Eliason back to green. Eliason grabbed second, while Macedo moved into fourth.
The leaders were back in lapped traffic on lap 16. Eliason ran high, while battling a low riding Sweet.
Sweet would shoot under Eliason for second with eight laps remaining. With five laps to go, Sweet began to reel Gravel in, but the leader was masterful in traffic in holding onto his fifth career win here.
At the checkers, it was Gravel ahead of Sweet, Macedo, Eliason and a late charging Rico Abreu. Saldana, B main winner and hard-charger Tim Shaffer, Parker Price-Miller, Juhl and Daryn Pittman rounded out the top ten.
Jason Sides, Harli White, Zearfoss, Lynch and Sweet won heat races. Bill Balog won the C main. TJ Stutts turned over in the B main, but was uninjured.
“This is the car we ran in the Capitani, and it ran just as good,” said Gravel in Victory Lane.
“We didn’t time that great,” said Sweet, who clocked in 15th quick. “We just didn’t do a good job at the beginning of the race.”
Odds and Ends
A total of 56 cars were entered for qualifying time trials.
Despite the win, Gravel said he needed to improve even more for Saturday.
“This place is the hardest place to get the lead and keep it and win,” Gravel replied.
Macedo stated in the pressroom, “You have to hit the bottom to win the Knoxville Nationals.”
Gravel said it was a tricky race track.
Former NASCAR racing star, Jeff Gordon was on hand for the event. Gordon helped Gravel land the Axalta sponsorship for the car.
Perry Bell contributed to this story.
A main, 25 Laps, NT: 1. David Gravel (6); 2. Brad Sweet (3); 3. Carson Macedo (13); 4. Cory Eliason (2); 5. Rico Abreu (10); 6. Joey Saldana (7); 7. Tim Shaffer (21); 8. Parker Price-Miller (8); 9. Matt Juhl (5); 10. Daryn Pittman (22); 11. Jason Solwold (12); 12. Jason Sides (18); 13. Thomas Kennedy (17); 14. Lance Dewease (4); 15. Mason Daniel (20); 16. Kraig Kinser (15); 17. Scott Bogucki (23); 18. Brooke Tatnell (11); 19. Brock Zearfoss (1); 20. Clint Garner (9); 21. Jacob Allen (24); 22. Sye Lynch (14); 23. Harli White (19); 24. Tyler Courtney (16). Lap Leaders: Zearfoss 1-7, Gravel 8, Zearfoss 9, Gravel 10-25. Lap Leaders: Zearfoss 1-7, Gravel 8, Zearfoss 9, Gravel 10-25. Hard-charger: Shaffer.