Story By: ALEX NIETEN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – KNOXVILLE, IA – Kyle Larson continues to amaze.
With the lights their brightest. With the stage its biggest. With all eyes on him starting on the pole of the 62nd NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals. Larson put together a flawless 50 laps.
The Elk Grove, CA native led flag to flag in The Granddaddy of ‘Em All. The man who doesn’t even race a Sprint Car full-time looked as if he never takes a day off from driving one on Saturday at Knoxville Raceway. Lining up against the absolute best drivers the sport has to offer, Larson went effectively unchallenged on his way to Knoxville Nationals glory and $185,000. The win was his 32nd with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars in only his 136th career start.
The triumph was a special one for Larson who was racing with a heavy heart. A close friend of Larson’s – Lowell Moural – passed away two days before the finale. Moural, who owned Cycleland Speedway and worked at Silver Dollar Speedway, helped the Californian not only in racing, but in life.
“Lowell meant so much to my life not only my career but my life,” an emotional Larson said. “I’ve always compared Cycleland to a mini-Knoxville. I had years and years of experience there racing in the outlaw karts. Lowell and Becky (wife) have done so much for me as well as everybody in this pit area. I’m sure there’s a lot of kids in the stands and adults in the stands that have grown up racing at Cycleland. Lowell meant so much to us.”
The victory put Larson in an elite group. “Yung Money” became only the eighth driver to claim multiple Knoxville Nationals titles after also topping the 60th running in 2021. He also joined Donny Schatz from 2015 as the only drivers to lead every lap since the Feature’s total was upped to 50. An especially meaningful pair of accomplishments for a competitor who puts the event at the top of his list.
“I’m so excited to win another Crown Jewel, another Knoxville Nationals feels amazing,” Larson said. “This is my favorite week of the year. I look forward to this event all year long. It’s all I think about all week.”
When the green flag flew, Larson took advantage of his pole position and quickly jumped out to an early lead. In his pursuit of a record-tying 12th Knoxville Nationals win, Donny Schatz moved into second after starting third on the first lap.
The early laps clicked away, and Larson extended his advantage aboard the Silva Motorsports #57 each time around the track. With 36 laps remaining, Abreu regained control of the second spot from Schatz right before the race’s first yellow flew as Chase Randall lost a left rear tire. Then, under caution, heartbreak hit Abreu as his right rear went down, sending him to the Federated Car Care Work Zone.
The restart saw Larson promptly pull away again and maintain control before the yellow flew for the mandatory stop at the halfway mark. Teams were allowed to tinker with the cars, allowing Larson’s renowned car owner and crew chief – Paul Silva – to work his magic before the final half of the race. Silva has played an integral part of Larson’s Sprint Car career – a fact he made sure to acknowledge after the race.
“I’m glad we could get this black and blue #57 in Victory Lane for him (Paul),” Larson said. “He’s worked so hard. It’s amazing to see his hard work pay off. From 20 years old owning a Sprint Car to the success he’s had throughout the years. I love him. He’s the greatest at what he does.”
In the second half of the race, the battles raged on behind Larson. Logan Schuchart surged into second and appeared as if he may present a challenge. But mechanical issues brought his run to a stop late in the going.
The biggest story outside of Larson came in the form of David Gravel. After racing his way into the main event through Friday’s Hard Knox night, Gravel lined up 22nd for the finale in the Big Game Motorsports #2. Inside the last 20 laps, he surged into the top five and kept pecking away.
On the race’s final restart with 10 laps to go, Gravel battled with Schatz for multiple laps before finally securing the runner-up spot and setting his sights on Larson. But it was too little, too late as Larson was too far ahead. The checkered flag flew for Larson as he claimed the 62nd running of Sprint Car racing’s biggest race.
“He (Gravel) had me really nervous coming from 22nd there,” Larson admitted. “You can never count any of those guys out no matter where they start. 50 long laps here is a lot of time. I’m just glad I was able to do my homework this week and execute a flawless 50 laps.”
Gravel’s valiant charge led him to back-to-back Knoxville Nationals runner-ups and three top twos in the last four factoring in his 2019 victory. The second place effort was worth $85,000. The Watertown, CT native was undoubtedly proud of he and his team’s effort to rebound after an unfortunate prelim, but coming so close two years straight left Gravel feeling hungry.
“Did you guys like that show from the back?” Gravel asked an energetic crowd. “Man, I want to be a two-time winner of the Knoxville Nationals so bad. Two seconds in a row now. I gave one away last year, and tonight I needed a couple more laps. I had a really good car. The track has been really consistent this Nationals. They till the top and it’s really fast around the top. I was able to get going early and kind of had a couple bad laps about 10 laps in but then got to the top and knew that’s where I needed to be the rest of the race.”
Rounding out the top three was Donny Schatz to bank $45,000. The Tony Stewart/Curb Agajanian Racing pilot fell slightly short of tying Steve Kinser’s record total of 12 Knoxville Nationals, but he did still manage to reach an impressive mark. The third place run was Schatz’s 20th podium in the Knoxville Nationals finale, all coming in his last 24 attempts. Simply put, Schatz felt they were missing just a little something to compete for the win.
“We were kind of hanging there before when the race started,” Schatz said. “We could get to the bottom pretty good. I thought we had a chance when we had one of those restarts and went to the top and could kind of keep pace with him. I was running it for everything it was worth. It just wasn’t enough. The racetrack was definitely different than the other night. I guess we just didn’t have enough changes with it.”
Completing the top five was Giovanni Scelzi and Carson Macedo.
Gravel’s run to the front gave him the KSE Racing Hard Charger.
The Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown was claimed by Justin Peck.
After an early flat tire, Chase Randall rebounded to run 13th and claim the Knoxville Nationals Rookie of the Year Award.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars are bound for Minnesota where Jackson Motorplex will host the 45th Annual AGCO Jackson Nationals on August 17-19 with $25,000 going to the winner of the finale.
A Main (50 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson; 2. 2-David Gravel; 3. 15-Donny Schatz; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 5. 41-Carson Macedo; 6. 49-Brad Sweet; 7. 24-Rico Abreu; 8. 83JR-Michael Kofoid; 9. 55-Kerry Madsen; 10. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 11. 5-Spencer Bayston; 12. 14-Corey Day; 13. 2KS-Chase Randall; 14. 21-Brian Brown; 15. 4-Ian Madsen; 16. 8-Aaron Reutzel; 17. 3J-Dusty Zomer; 18. 9P-Parker Price Miller; 19. 13-Justin Peck; 20. 7BC-Anthony Macri; 21. 2M-Davey Heskin; 22. 10-Scott Bogucki; 23. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 24. 39-Hunter Schuerenberg