Column By: DERICK KRINER / RPW – KNOXVILLE, IA – After the first qualifying night of the 62nd Knoxville Nationals, the Thursday competitors see the benchmark to beat.
Donny Schatz scored the win after a late race restart, using his knowledge of the track, to pass Blake Hahn, Chase Randell, and Kerry Madsen, all within the span of a few laps.
Schatz sits as high point man going into tonight’s action with 479 points.
At the moment, it would be reasonable to think the top five in points, should be safe and should lock in to Saturday’s show. What drivers will have to do is make sure they time well and qualify through the heat. This was something very few driver’s did in Wednesday’s program, one being Schatz. Who are the favorites to top him? Let’s dive in.
Brad Sweet comes to mind when comparing drivers with similar skills and mental strength, to that of Donny Schatz. The four-time Outlaw champ won the 2018 edition of the Nationals. Brad ran up near the front in last year’s finale as well, and has a way of being consistent that few other drivers have. This could land him in victory lane Thursday and potentially put him on the pole come Saturday.
A second driver that is no stranger to making the right turn into Knoxville victory lane is Brian Brown. The Missouri runner has long been a driver that finds the front. Brown picked up the Thursday night win in 2021 and is still searching for that elusive Saturday night trophy. Be on the lookout for Brain Brown to potentially end that search this year.
The Shark Racing 1S car of Logan Schuchart has always seemed to have a knack for finding speed at Knoxville during the Nationals. After winning the Capitani Classic and his qualifying night last year and picking up the Eldora Million this year, the Hanover, Pennsylvania native seems to have speed in the big money shows.
Schuchart has a podium run in the finale and looks to build on recent success with a strong qualifying night.
A young driver that has long caught the eyes of sprint car fans is Michael ‘Buddy’ Kofoid. The California native has been fast in almost every car he’s been in, and speed at Knoxville has been there in 2023. After a strong showing with the All Star Circuit of Champions a few weeks ago, Buddy looks to put the Roth 83JR car at the front of Saturday’s 50 lapper, and could run the format just right to do it.
Continuing the strong list of drivers racing in Thursday’s program is the Elk Grove, California star, Kyle Larson. A former Nationals champion, Larson always seems to find a way to kick his car into another gear and pass others, putting himself in a good position to hoist the Saturday night checkered.
No one would be surprised to watch the driver of the Silva wrenched 57, win tonight, or on Saturday.
A short list of other contenders who we may see have good runs and be strong on Saturday include, Carson Macedo, Rico Abreu, Austin McCarl, and Cory Eliason. All of these racers have either had success in the form of wins at the Knoxville Raceway, or have been strong in recent attempts to capture a Knoxville checkered flag.
Being that this is racing, it is unpredictable by nature, but history doesn’t tend to lie. All nine of these drivers look to build on their strong history at the Knoxville Raceway and be remembered as a Nationals champion.
That starts with a strong run tonight.