Sunday, August 13, 2017

Schatz Holds Off Larson For His Tenth Knoxville Nationals Championship

Taking the point after David Gravel's engine failure Donny Schatz then held off a late charge from Kyle Larson to win his tenth 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals championship Saturday night in front of large and boisterous crowd at the Knoxville Raceway.

Gravel and Schatz would start the fifty-lap headliner from the front row and the cheers could be heard above the roar of the 410 cubic inch engines as Gravel took the lead at the drop of the green and then pulled away from Schatz and the rest of the twenty-four car field. Running a blistering pace Gravel would start to work lapped traffic on lap six and that would allow Schatz and the third place car of Kerry Madsen to close the gap. The crowd roared as Madsen made a run at Schatz for second but the driver that has won this event in nine of the past eleven seasons squelched the bid and continued his pursuit of the leader.

Not a sound could be heard when Schatz charged under Gravel in turn three for the lead on lap sixteen, but they quickly came back to life when Gravel crossed over Schatz's slider and regained the lead down the front stretch.

The first caution of the race waved when Austin McCarl appeared to lose an engine on lap nineteen and once back to green Gravel continued to set a fast pace. It all came to an end though for the driver who scored a perfect night on Thursday when he slowed suddenly in turn four with his own motor issues giving up the lead and retiring for the night on lap twenty-two.

Schatz would assume the lead as the race went back to green, but only for two more laps before Terry McCarl slapped the guardrail in turn four causing one of the sponsor banners to fall to the track surface. Just one lap shy of the mid-race mark it was decided that the halfway pit stop would be held at that time and the majority of the fans were hopeful that somebody would be able to take the lead from Schatz following the break. Kerry Madsen would be hungry in the second spot while NASCAR star Kyle Larson had moved up from ninth to third. Some even held out hope that defending champion Jason Johnson might be able to pull off another miracle as he had raced his way to the sixth position after starting seventeenth, being one of the few drivers moving forward while using the low line around the historic half-mile oval.

On the restart Madsen made his bid with a big slider on Schatz entering turn one. Madsen would say later that he thought that he had him cleared, but then here came the green #15 with all four wheels above the cushion right back around him on the outside to maintain the lead. The big move would cost Madsen the second spot as well when Larson went driving by and the next several laps would be a high speed chase around the top side until Greg Hodnett slowed on lap thirty-eight to bring out the caution.

This excited the ABS ("Anybody But Schatz") contingent, however it was likely a benefit to Schatz who would now have a clear race track on the restart rather than having to negotiate traffic over the final twelve laps.

Larson took a look at Schatz in turn one on the restart only to have Donny pull away down the back stretch and as the laps clicked away Larson would stay within about ten car lengths. Lapped traffic running in both grooves would present a challenge for Schatz over the final three laps and when it looked like Larson might have a run on him the crowd came to their feet. Schatz handled the traffic like a master though and when the white flag waved he had them cleared while Larson had one more car to get around coming off of turn two.

With a nice run down the back stretch Larson gave it everything he had driving to the bottom in turn three, but as he slid up the race track Schatz drove around the challenging cushion one last time to pull away down the front straightaway and secure his tenth Nationals title. The win drew the usual chorus of boos from those who are getting tired of seeing him win, while many also applauded as he added to his list of amazing accomplishments here at Knoxville. Larson added to his legend, despite his young age, with his runner-up finish as Kerry Madsen finished third. Shane Stewart and Brad Sweet were fourth and fifth while Brian Brown finished sixth. Aaron Reutzel came from the nineteenth starting spot to finish seventh, eighth went to Rico Abreu, Daryn Pittman was ninth and the 2017 track champion here at Knoxville Ian Madsen completed the top ten.

Saturday Notes......The early preliminaries did not offer up much for story lines as the track slowly widened out for better racing. Rager Phillips won the E-Main, but then had his motor go up in smoke early in the D......Jamie Veal took the lead from Lee Jacobs on lap nine to win the D-Main, a big difference from last year when Veal started the Championship race from the second row and finished in sixth.....James McFadden, Brady Bacon, Bill Balog and Jac Haudenschild were the stout group of four that transferred out of the C-Main as "The Wild Child" held off current ASCS National Series point leader Sam Hafertepe Jr. in the closing laps......As it usually is the 22-lap B-Main, where four more drivers make the big show, was very entertaining especially in the closing laps. Young Trey Starks paced the field for the most of the race with former Nationals champion Tim Shaffer making the move up from an eighth-place start into the top four. Shaffer had just made the pass to take over second on lap nine when Balog slowed to bring out the caution sending Shaffer back to fourth for the restart. Once back to green only two more laps would be scored before Spencer Bayston tagged the guardrail in turn two ending his night. Before the incident Bayston had actually been racing with Dominic Scelzi for position, and for the Rookie of the Nationals title, so with Bayston's misfortune that title and bonus money would go to Scelzi. Also, an interesting question was raised tonight on Twitter wondering if, after his Wednesday night issue with the scales, was Bayston the first driver ever to race on all four nights of the Nationals?......Once back to green Lucas Wolfe replaced Justin Henderson in the top four before the caution waved again on lap sixteen, this time for a flat tire on the #19 of Brent Marks, erasing a pass by Jason Sides on Starks for the lead......On the restart both Sides and Shaffer would get around Starks and when Trey tried to battle back he slid up the track and dropped back to the fourth position. With two laps remaining Brooke Tatnell saw an opening under Starks for the necessary fourth spot and when he had to put his left front up on the berm in turn four to make the pass he clipped the starting line cone and tossed it onto the race track. The caution waved after the lap was scored, so the early leader Starks would now start fifth with just two laps left to get back into the top four. That task likely seemed impossible when Chad Kemenah passed him going down the back stretch, but when Tatnell muscled his way under Wolfe in turns three and four Starks went to the top and sailed around both Kemenah and Wolfe to claim the fourth and final transfer position behind Sides, Shaffer and Tatnell......The best A-Main finish from those four came from Tatnell who moved to 14th.......What looked so promising for Jason Johnson in the first half of the main went the other direction after halftime as he dropped back to eleventh at the finish, still an improvement of six positions from his original starting spot.....In the post-race press conference Schatz was very complimentary of Larson and said that he wished that he could run more Sprint Car events each year even though in most of the ones that he had seen him at this year, Kyle had beat him. "But not tonight! Hopefully he can go win a race in Michigan tomorrow"......Larson smiled and stated that this was in fact his fifteenth and last Sprint Car race of 2017 and that he had won nine of them and finished second three times. He thanked Chip Ganassi for letting him come back to compete tonight, something that was not in the original plans, and hoped that this extra exposure might allow his Cup team to secure a new sponsor for 2018......I would say that if you asked the 25,000 plus in attendance tonight who they wanted to win this year's NASCAR Monster Energy Cup championship, 99.9% of them would have given you the same answer. Go get 'em Kyle!.......Cup drivers with either open wheel experience or direct ties Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enjoyed listening to the drivers during the press conference while team owners Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne were also on the grounds.

Another Nationals is in the books and once again this was an event that is so much more than racing. It is a reunion of friends and racing family and I must again thank the Nachbors, Keith, Jeff, Sean, Sam, Ethan and Grandpa for allowing me to invade their space and treat me like one the family at the track while Barry, Stephanie and Aidan Johnson do the same allowing me to set up home base with them in Pella each year. It was also a special week for me to have my son Morgan back where he should be this week after missing the past two years while he was working down south.

Kendra Jacobs and the entire Spire Sports Marketing Team do an excellent job with all of the "extras" that make this more than a race while John McCoy and his officials take care of the on track action. Can't wait to do it all again in 2018!

For those of you who still want to get your Sprint Car fix next weekend remember that the Shottenkirk.com Sprint Invaders will be in action Friday night at the Lee County Speedway in Donnellson and Saturday night at 34 Raceway west of Burlington. Hope to see you there!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Defending Champ Johnson Doubles Up Friday at Knoxville Nationals

After an early end to his qualifying night on Thursday the defending champion of the 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals Jason Johnson locked himself in to Saturday night's Championship by winning the Friday night A-Main. Then, for good measure, Johnson denied Australian driver James McFadden the coveted "golden ticket" by also winning the annual Speed Sport World Challenge.

With the top four finishers qualifying for positions seventeen through twenty in tomorrow night's finale, Friday's 25-lap main event was very important and it would be Jacob Allen being perhaps a surprise leader of the opening lap. Johnson, who started outside of Allen on row one, raced to the lead on lap two just before the red flag waved when Lynton Jeffrey tipped over in turn three after getting up on the inside berm.

The only damage was to the wings so after a quick change in the work area Jeffrey rejoined the field for the restart. Johnson would pull away from Allen while Jeffrey would have his newly replaced top wing collapse just a couple of laps later sending him to the pits. With Johnson driving away Allen was doing his best to try to stay in the top four as Aaron Reutzel chased him, while the man to watch was Allen's Shark Racing teammate Logan Schuchart. Starting from row six Schuchart was on the move cracking the top four and not letting up there as he was then up to second with ten laps remaining.

What a story line it would have been if the two underfunded World of Outlaws regulars could have made the show on Saturday, but when Allen got sideways in turn four and then hopped up onto the berm in order to save it with eight laps remaining he quickly dropped out of third and eventually faded to twelfth at the checkers.

Johnson would win this one going away with Schuchart in second while second row starters Aaron Reutzel and Cory Eliason also transferred to Saturday's headliner finishing third and fourth respectively. Chad Kemenah tried to run down Eliason over the final five laps, but could not get to him in fifth as Spencer Bayston, Sheldon Haudenschild, Brooke Tatnell, Tim Kaeding and Sammy Swindell rounded out the top ten.

After his victory lane celebration wrapped up Jason Johnson would line up fourth for the twenty-lap Speed Sport World Challenge where the winner, if not already qualified for Saturday's A-Main, would lock himself into the big show. Front row starters James McFadden and Thomas Kennedy both needed that "golden ticket" and it would be McFadden taking the lead at the start. Kennedy, who switched to his own equipment tonight, had his night come to an early end when something popped under the hood on lap five when he was running a strong second.

Shortly after the restart Johnson would drive under McFadden for the lead and, just like he had a half hour earlier, Jason would open up a large gap on the field. McFadden would do his best to keep pace and as the laps wound down, with the leader now working traffic, he started to close back in. With two laps remaining Johnson had three cars racing for position front of him and when he showed his patience that allowed McFadden to close in quickly and he had a run at Johnson coming to the white flag. However, when he caught the berm coming off four that squelched McFadden's momentum and he could not make a run on Johnson who earned his second checkered flag of the night.

McFadden's second place run will help his checkbook, but he will start from fourth in tomorrow's C-Main. Brad Sweet made a late charge up to third and he just might be your dark horse for Saturday night. Dominic Scelzi was fourth and Brian Brown continued to show that he has the speed to win this week by passing Lynton Jeffrey late for fifth.

The field is now set for Saturday night with David Gravel and Donny Schatz starting from the front row. Both Brad Sweet and Brian Brown have proven that they are capable of challenging, Jason Johnson served notice tonight that he would like to defend his title even though he will have to do it from the ninth row and, if you haven't already heard, NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi has given Wednesday's winner Kyle Larson permission to fly back from Michigan after practice to start ninth for the fifty lap main event.

Who will win the 57th Annual 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals? Come join us and find out first hand!

Gravel's Perfect Score First Since '92 at Knoxville Nationals

In 1992 Steve Kinser tallied a perfect score of 500 points on his qualifying night of the Knoxville Nationals; 200 points for setting quick time, 100 for winning his heat race from a full invert of ten cars, and then winning the feature from the eighth starting spot. Back then, while still impressive, it was not an uncommon feat, but even with the domination by one driver over the past decade nobody has done it again until Thursday night when David Gravel swept the night and then perhaps motivated the lion by pointing out in victory lane that Donny Schatz had not achieved what he just had.

The eighth car out to qualify Gravel laid down the fastest lap of the night at 15.072 and othat would start him eighth in the first heat as the number of cars inverted was changed several years ago when it was agreed upon that the competition had become more balanced throughout the field. The advantage of running the first heat is that the track above the cushion is ironed in after qualifying so drivers have an opportunity, at least for the first few laps, to run above the cushion and use the entire track which is exactly what Gravel did. Running "four high", or with all four wheels above the cushion, Gravel literally flew by the competition and even after taking the lead on lap four he continued to use the high line around the speedway to take the convincing win.

Gravel would line up eighth for the 25-lap main event, a race that had trouble getting started as on the first try a pair of 41's got together in turn four. Defending Nationals champion Jason Johnson started fourth, but got shuffled back through turns one and two so far that when the tenth starting Dominic Scelzi spun in turn four, Johnson made contact and the resulting damage was enough to end his night. This would now slide Gravel up to the sixth position for the restart, but when the front row of Mark Dobmeier and Wayne Johnson could not settle on a common pace the next try was waved off. The third time would be a charm, especially for Gravel who flared out and pulled even with the fourth starting Brian Brown as the front row hit the chalk line and he would complete the first lap in fifth behind Dobmeier, Brooke Tatnell, Johnson and Daryn Pittman as Brown found himself shuffled back to seventh. Gravel would then steadily work his way to the front taking second away from Tatnell on lap eight and then two laps later as Dobmeier started to work traffic Gravel charged by him on the bottom of turn one to take the lead. Just behind them though Tatnell's right rear tire blew and the caution waved putting Dobmeier back on the point for the restart.

Brown lined up third and he was able to make a run at Gravel as the green flew allowing Dobmeier to get away a bit as his two primary challengers traded the second position. Once Gravel regained the spot he closed back in on the leader waiting for lapped traffic to come into play once again to make his challenge. That came on lap seventeen when Dobmeier had to choose a line into three as he closed on a pair of slower cars and with that split second of hesitation Gravel went flying by to take a lead that he would not relinquish. Brown made the pass of Dobmeier soon after and while he could keep Gravel in his sights over the final five laps he could not reel him in as the twenty-five-year-old driver from Connecticut completed the perfect night to earn the pole position for Saturday's Championship race.

Brown's runner-up finish will start him fifth on Saturday night while Dobmeier's third-place run lands him in the 13th starting spot on Saturday. Ian Madsen came from ninth to finish fourth locking him into Saturday's finale while Daryn Pittman's fifth-place finish will put him the seventh position on Saturday. Wayne Johnson was sixth, Terry McCarl seventh, Danny Dietrich finished eighth, while Spencer Bayston and Rico Abreu waged an entertaining battle through the final laps to complete the top ten.

5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals Thursday Notes......Bayston was allowed to compete again tonight after it was determined that the scales had an issue Wednesday when what would have been his third fastest time was wiped out for not meeting the minimum weight. Unlike Wednesday when he was one of the first few cars to take to the track in qualifying, Bayston went out in the second half of the field tonight and was 26th on the time charts. He then qualified fourth out of the first heat and with his ninth-place finish in the feature his Thursday point total ranked 30th sending him to Friday night's show......Sammy Swindell had a rough night after qualifying 17th. He looked to have Kyle Reinhardt passed in turn four on the final lap of the second heat race only to have Reinhardt nip him at the line by just 0.004 seconds. In the B-Main Sammy was losing positions quickly on the opening lap and then slowed in turn one while in the middle groove. The caution waved for him as Swindell continued to move and even though he was told to go the back, Sammy rode around a couple of laps trying to get back in his position before finally pulling into the infield.......Tim Kaeding had the field covered in the third heat race, but as he was exiting turn four to take the checkers his right rear tire exploded. Kaeding was somehow able to keep the car off of the guardrail and limped toward the finish line with only Thomas Kennedy beating him to it.......When Paige Polyak stepped out of line and pulled even with the car in front of her on the start of the fourth heat, it was called back for another try. On this one Brian Brown would get into the back of Polyak as the green flag waved causing his front end to hop and Brown then had to calm himself down to recover. He did just that working his way up from eighth to pass Don Droud Jr. with two laps to go for fourth and then Jason Johnson for third coming to the checkers......A pair of Aussies, Brooke Tatnell and James McFadden got together on the start of the fifth heat sending both drivers to the work area for repairs. Tatnell was able to recover and get qualified for the feature while McFadden would come up one spot short of transferring from the B-Main when he could not chase down Jason Sides in the final laps.

The top sixteen in Saturday's Championship main event is set and will look like this with of course the question being whether or not Kyle Larson will return to compete:

David Gravel - Donny Schatz
Brad Sweet - Kerry Madsen
Brian Brown - Terry McCarl
Daryn Pittman - Greg Hodnett
Kyle Larson - Shane Stewart
Austin McCarl - Paul McMahon
Mark Dobmeier - Rico Abreu
Ian Madsen - Wayne Johnson

The top four finishers in tonight's (Friday) main event will start 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th with the top four from Saturday's B-Main competing the field. Oh yes, and don't forget the "Golden Ticket" that will go to tonight's winner of the Speed Sport World Challenge so join us tonight for another night of exciting qualifying action at the 57th Annual 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Larson Wins Opener, Will He Come Back On Saturday?

Kyle Larson went flag-to-flag to win Wednesday night's opener of the 57th Annual 5-Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals and as he was celebrating in victory lane the burning question was whether or not the NASCAR Cup Championship contender would be able to return to compete in Saturday night's headliner.

Larson started Paul Silva's #57 from the pole for the 25-lap main event, but it was the driver to his right Austin McCarl who got the jump on the start and led the field into turn one. Larson powered by McCarl on the inside of turn four though to officially lead lap one as the opening night crowd kept an eye on Donny Schatz who quickly moved from eighth to fifth. The only caution of the race came on lap three when Parker Price-Miller slowed on the back stretch so that he could get to the work area and allow his Townline Variety crew to replace a broken front wing.

On the restart Schatz continued his march to the front driving past Greg Hodnett and then McCarl to then set his sights on the leader. With Larson working down low, Schatz tried the cushion and he was almost to within striking distance before lapped traffic came into play. Larson worked it like a pro though and Schatz could never get close enough to make a bid for the lead as Larson scored his third career victory here at the Knoxville Raceway. Schatz would earn the most points on the night with his second place finish, Greg Hodnett continued his strong trip to Iowa with a third place run, Brad Sweet tallied the second most points on the night after finishing fourth while Austin McCarl may well have locked himself into Saturday's finale by finishing fifth.

Kerry Madsen  made a run at Schatz for third early on, but the night's fastest qualifier faded back to sixth at the checkers which was still good enough to rank him third in qualifying points for the evening. Shane Stewart was seventh and Paul McMahan posted a strong showing in eighth and that could put him in the top sixteen that will lock themselves into the Championship race after Thursday's qualifying. Another budding NASCAR star Christopher Bell finished ninth and Bill Balog came from the 18th starting spot to complete the top ten.

Wednesday Notes......Qualifying early was a definite advantage as Madsen was the first car on the clock, the second car out Lucas Wolfe was third quick and the third driver on the track A.J. Moeller was fifth......Moeller, the young driver from Rockwell City, Iowa, started eighth and finished eighth in his heat race, but when he is out front he is a rocket and he appeared to have a win in the B-Main within his grasp until something broke on the car sending him over the cushion and into the turn four guardrail with just four laps remaining......My pick for the Rookie of the Nationals, Spencer Bayston posted what was the second best lap at the time when he went out sixth, but he was then light at the scales dropping him all the way to the bottom of the list. The team, owned by Kevin Swindell, must have then decided to save their equipment for Friday night where a top four finish in the feature still locks you into Saturday night's finale (Thursday afternoon update: The Knoxville Raceway posted on its Facebook page today that the two drivers who were disqualified at the scales during qualifying, Bayston and Chase Wanner, have been offered the opportunity to qualify again tonight due to a diagnostic issue with the scales) .....Aaron Reutzel finished fourth in the first heat race, but was then disqualified for losing a muffler during the race. He too then packed it up for the night with Friday's new format allowing for a second chance.....Scott Bogucki was running a strong second in the third heat race before his engine let go allowing Paul McMahan to then fight off Lucas Wolfe for that fourth and final transfer spot.....The final transfer position from the B-Main came down to the final lap as Tim Shaffer raced around the outside of Sheldon Haudenschild to make the main event. Sheldon appeared to be in a position to slide up the track and shut the door on Shaffer in turns one and two, but instead held his line through the middle......Larson's full-time job has him racing at Michigan this weekend, a track that he runs very well at so it will be interesting to see if car owner Chip Ganassi will allow his Championship contender to fly back to Iowa to start mid-pack (Larson is fifth in points after night one) in a Sprint Car race that doesn't carry the meaning to him as much as it does to Kyle and all of us. The correct business decision would be to say "no", but we will see what happens......Meanwhile, barring dominating performances from two drivers on Thursday night, Donny Schatz will start from the front row of the Championship race and given his performance tonight I would say that he is ready to return to victory lane.

Thursday night's action gets underway with hot laps at 7:15 and if you have not experienced a Friday night at the Nationals under the new format, well then you are just missing out on some of the best racing you will see anywhere. Come join us at Knoxville!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Simpson, Kile and Plummer Dominate West Liberty's Tuesday Show

Three drivers put on dominant performances as Coors Light, through Fleck Distributing, and Arnie Ranta Motorsports presented the annual Open Late Model Shootout at the West Liberty Raceway Tuesday night. A large crowd was on hand as the Farley Speedway Promotions crew not only booked Late Model legend Scott Bloomquist for the evening, they also made arrangements for Brian Birkhofer to take a brief break from his retirement to thrill his fans at the track where he made his first laps.

For the second night in a row Birkhofer, driving the Arnie Ranta Motorpsorts car #30, would set quick time over the sixteen car field and he would then draw the number one pill for a straight up start the remainder of the evening. The reason for the #30 on the car? Brian had stated the night before in Farley that the #15B had been retired so he went with the number of his favorite basketball player, Steph Curry.

Birkhofer would start on the pole of a stacked first heat, but would fade to sixth at the finish as Chris Simpson took the win. This would then put Simpson on the pole for the forty-lap $10,000-to-win main event and even with Bloomquist lined up directly behind him Simpson quickly opened up a comfortable lead. A slowing Jay Johnson would bring out the first caution of the event on lap seven and Simpson would again drive away from the field on the restart.

Joel Callahan's right rear tire shredded on lap twenty-four and as Chris pulled away once again on the restart his brother Chad Simpson did battle with Bloomquist for second. Chad would gain the advantage for a couple of laps before Bloomquist took back the position and by then the leader was more than a straightaway ahead as Chris Simpson completely dominated this race. Bloomquist was a distant second followed by Chad Simpson, Rodney Sanders came from tenth to fourth while Monday's winner at Farley, Spencer Diercks was fifth. Birkhofer was passing cars over the last half of the race and finished sixth after starting eleventh, Brent Larson was seventh, Tyler Bruening eighth, Denny Eckrich was ninth and Matt Furman filled out the top ten.

Nick Marolf was the other heat race winner on the night and he was impressive racing in the third position for several laps before fading and then dropping out of the event.

A solid field of eighteen Modifieds were on hand, but when Kurt Kile finally had some luck in a redraw they would all be chasing him for twenty-five laps. Until tonight it seems that I am always writing about Kile starting in the fifth or sixth row and then racing his way into a top-five finish, but after starting second here he was unchallenged on his way to a convincing victory. Jeff Waterman and Brandon Banks literally raced each other throughout the entire distance and, up until lap seventeen when Derrick Stewart drove around them both, it was for the second position. At the checkers it would be Waterman who prevailed in the battle to finish third behind Kile and Stewart, Banks took fourth and young Jarrett Brown completed the top five.

Colton Livezy would lead the opening laps of the twenty-lap main event for the Sport Mods before Tim Plummer drove around him on the outside going down the front stretch on lap four. The race would then be delayed by three different cautions on lap ten before Plummer again left the field in his wake. One final caution waved with two laps remaining when Cory Van Zante and Ryan Walker tangled in turn one while racing for fifth and on the restart there would be no challenge to Plummer as he eased on in for the win ahead of Dalton Simonson and Charlie Weber. Cody Harris would hold down the fourth spot while Van Zante used the top shelf to pass five cars in those final two laps to get back to fifth.

I'm sure that there was, and will be much discussion as to how to get more than sixteen cars for a $10,000-to-win Open Late Model show here in eastern Iowa, just like there was last year after this event and even earlier this year when the MARS West crew pulled out of the Slocum 50, just as they did at this event. We might just have to accept the fact that first, there just aren't very many open cars in Iowa anymore, and second that the open late model drivers that are to the east and south of us are used to racing on little bullrings that make West Liberty look like the dirt equivalent of Talladega. Short counts are not just happening here as there was a $5,000-to-win Super Late Model race in Kentucky this past weekend that only drew nine cars and even the Friday night MARS West event at Lebanon's Midway Speedway in the heart of their southwest Missouri region had only seventeen.

Creative promoting like bringing in Bloomquist and getting Birkhofer back on the track for a couple of nights packed the stands and, from what I saw of the people in attendance on Tuesday night, they were plenty happy with what they saw.

Tonight kicks off the 57th Annual Five Hour Energy Knoxville Nationals and you will find coverage of all four nights here on the Back Stretch!