Gravel records perfect qualifying night

KNOXVILLE, IOWA — For the first time since 1992, a driver had a perfect qualifying night at the Knoxville Nationals.

On Thursday night, David Gravel, of Watertown, Conn., scored a perfect 500 points by setting fast time, winning his heat race, and the 25-lap main event both from the eighth starting spot.

Gravel’s perfect night also earned him the pole position for Saturday night’s 50-lap Knoxville Nationals A-main. He earned $12,000 for the win, plus a $2,000 bonus for being high point man from

‘The King of the Outlaws’ Steve Kinser, who has 12 Nationals A-main wins, was the last to have a perfect score about two months after Gravel was born in the Summer of ’92.

“It’s surreal right now,” Gravel said. “It’s awesome to win and get up here again. I won in my own car a couple years ago. I’m happy to win another race at Knoxville. Starting up front, there’ll be a lot of pressure Saturday. Nobody’s done this for a while, so hopefully I can enjoy this tonight and have a solid, solid run on Saturday.”

After setting quick time, Gravel started eighth in the first heat race, and blasted to victory.

“They knocked the cushion way down,” Gravel said referring to track maintenance after qualifying. “It was like running on a brand new race track with a bunch of grip. I just ran it wide-open. It was really awesome. The third, fourth, fifth heats weren’t able to do that because the curb built up and it got real rough up there. I was fortunate enough to be in the first heat race.”

At the start of the feature, the caution flag flew before a lap was completed when fourth starter and defending Nationals winner Jason Johnson and Dominic Scelzi crashed on turn three.

Officials called a false start on the next attempt.

When the race finally got going, Mark Dobmeier gained control as Gravel raced toward the front taking second with 16 laps to go.

He took the lead from Dobmeier as they raced into turn one, but the caution flag flew before Gravel got back to the start/finish line.

Brian Brown was back up to third after falling back on the third restart. He and Gravel traded second for a few laps following the restart before Gravel secured the spot again.

His winning move came off the second corner with six laps to go.

“With our type of racing, clean air is so important,” Gravel said. “Mark was probably just as fast as I was. When we caught lapped traffic, Mark probably didn’t really know what to do. It sometimes is better running second. I found something down low a couple laps and got a run on him. Sometimes you’re just a sitting duck in the lead. Fortunately, I took advantage of it. It was an awesome night.”

Gravel controlled the remaining laps as Brown took second with three laps to go, but finished 3.413 seconds behind. Dobmeier, Ian Madsen and Daryn Pittman completed the top five.

Johnson, Terry McCarl, Gettysburg’s Danny Dietrich, who started 11th, Spencer Bayston, who started 12th, and B-main winner Rico Abreu rounded out the top 10.

Gravel’s quick lap was 15.072 over the 53-car field. Gravel, Chris Martin, Thomas Kennedy, Dale Blaney and Josh Baughman won the 10-lap heat races. Lee Jacobs won the C-main and Abreu the B-main.

The top 10 starters for Saturday night’s 50-lap, $150,000 to win 57th Annual Knoxville Nationals will be Gravel and nine-time Nationals champion Donny Schatz on Row One, Brad Sweet and Kerry Madsen Row Two, Brown and T. McCarl Row Three, Pittman and Spring Grove’s Greg Hodnett in Row Four and Kyle Larson and Shane Stewart Row Five.

It was announced Friday afternoon that Larson was given approval by his NASCAR cup series owner Chip Ganassi to race in the Nationals tonight. Under his contract, Larson normally cannot race a Sprint car within 24-hours of any on track cup series activity. He’ll race the No. 42 for Ganassi Sunday at Michigan Int. Speedway. He won his Nationals qualifying night race Wednesday night.

Hodnett is the only Pennsylvania driver locked into the field. Mechanicsburg’s Lucas Wolfe will start fifth in the B-main Saturday night and Dietrich will start seventh.

Washington state native Trey Starks, who drives for Scott Gobrecht of New Oxford, will start second in the B-main. Dale Blaney, who drives the famous Zemco No. 1 sprinter was scheduled to race Friday night, along with Pennsylvania drivers Brent Marks, Jacob Allen and Logan Schuchart, who race regularly with the World of Outlaws. Mechanical issues ended Elliottsburg’s Tyler Bear’s Nationals earlier in the week.