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Knoxville Nationals Night 1 Preview: Format, favorites, driver’s to watch, and more

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FORMAT

Time Trials: Two laps will be taken with quick time receiving 200 points. Second will receive 198 points, with the total dropping by two points each position. The top 50 in time trials will advance to heat races. The rest of the field will be put into last-chance heat races. The first eight finishes tag the rear of the C-Main.

Heats: The top eight will be inverted into heat races. Heat-race winners will receive 100 points, with the total dropping by three points each position. The top four finishers will advance to the A-Main. Fifth through eighth got to the B-Main, with the rest of the field going to the C-Main.

C-Main: The top four finishers tag the rear of the B-Main. Fifth-place in the C-Main receives 92 points. The point total will drop by two with each position.

B-Main: The top four finishers advance to the rear of the A-Main. Fifth in the B-Main receives 142, with sixth receiving 140. The total drops by two with each position.

A-Main: Feature winners receive 200 points, with second earning 198 points. The total drops by two with each position. The first tiebreaker in points is finishing position in the feature. The second tiebreaker is time trial ranking.

FAVORITES

Donny Schatz: Schatz’s Knoxville resume looks like the gross national debt. It’s filled with plenty of scores and first-place checks, including 10 World of Outlaws championships and 10 Knoxville Nationals titles. The latter applies this week, as Schatz is still the King of this event despite finishing second a year ago. He lost to Brad Sweet in 2018 and is eager to bounce back this year.

Kyle Larson: Other than Brad Sweet, who is scheduled to run Thursday’s qualifying night, Larson has been the biggest thorn in Donny Schatz’s side. Larson has finished second and third the last two seasons and always seems to have speed when he shows up at a high-profile event. I expect the same this year, which makes Larson one of the favorites to cash the $150,000 winner’s check.

Giovanni Scelzi: I still can’t shake the image of Scelzi blowing past Kerry Madsen and Brian Brown on his way to a seven-second victory 10 days ago. Scelzi tore the Knoxville Raceway surface to shreds with a car that hasn’t seen the light of day since. The young California driver was Rookie of the Nationals a year ago with a 14th-place finish and has the speed this year to make some noise.

Aaron Reutzel: It’s tough handicapping Reutzel, because he has the third most wins in the country with eight, but he’s also had some mechanical issues that have taken him out of races. Reutzel gets high marks on this list because of his performance at the Nationals the last two years. The Clute, TX., standout finished seventh and fourth and has the chops to run well again.

Logan Schuchart: A year ago, Schuchart was one of the fastest cars during his qualifying night, but he failed to go to the scales after his heat race. That set him back for the week and forced him to qualify though Friday’s event. Still, Schuchart managed an eighth-place finish in the A-Main. After watching Schuchart contend for the Kings Royal crown, he is one to watch on Wednesday night.

DRIVERS TO WATCH

Tim Kaeding: Kaeding flies under the radar a bit at Knoxville, but he shouldn’t. Not after two top-five finishers in the Nationals under his belt, including a fifth-place run a year ago. Throw in a 20th to sixth march in Sunday’s Capitani Classic, and Kaeding is a guy who can run near the front throughout the week.

James McFadden: We tend to side with drivers who are on a hot streak coming into the Nationals. McFadden fits that mold, as he racked up a pair of Ollie’s Bargain All Star Circuit of Champions wins and a 360 Nationals prelim score in the last two weeks. It will be interesting to see if he can carry that speed into the most important stretch of the season.

Sammy Swindell: Few drivers in this field have as many laps around Knoxville Raceway as Swindell, who has qualified for the A-Main 34 times. The last time he made Saturday’s finale was 2016, but now that Swindell is behind the wheel of son Kevin’s Swindell SpeedLab machine, he has a chance to make it 35.

Danny Dietrich: Dietrich is second in the country with 12 wins, including scores outside of central Pennsylvania against the All Star Circuit of Champions and World of Outlaws. Time trials is heavily weighted during the Nationals, and Dietrich has upped his qualifying efforts this season. That could go a long way to Dietrich making his second Knoxville Nationals A-Main appearance.

STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

Schatz vs. Larson: We’ve seen this movie before, and the script has played out with Donny Schatz a couple of spots higher by the time Saturday’s A-Main is complete. Still, it’s fun to have Sprint Car acing’s King in the same field as the young phenom in a battle for points and Knoxville Nationals supremacy.

The future is bright: Logan Schuchart and Gio Scelzi have served notice that they are not only the future in this sport, but that they could be ready to win now. Schuchart battled for the win in the Kings Royal and has shown flashes at Knoxville, as has Scelzi, who dominated the facility a little over 10 days ago. Pair these guys with Donny Schatz and Kyle Larson, and you have a tasty first night of competition.

Hit or miss: Sheldon Haudenschild is tough to figure out for a variety of reasons. The Stenhouse/Marshall Racing ace annihilated the field by a jaw-dropping 10 seconds to build momentum coming into the Knoxville Nationals. On the flip side, Haudenschild has struggled this season and had a bad Nationals outing a year ago in the same car. I think the truth lies in between, and Haudenschild has a shot to make the A-Main.

Under the radar No. 1A: We mentioned Tim Kaeding flies under the radar, but so does Ian Madsen. In fact, the Aussie might be at the top of the “Underrated” list for this week’s Knoxville Nationals. Madsen is a former track championship at the facility and knows how to lay down good laps in time trials, which is critical. After finishes of ninth, 10th, and 11th in Saturday’s A-Main the last three years, Madsen is poised for another good week.

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Contact Jeremy Elliott at 1-717-805-0483
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