Donny Schatz gunning for tenth Knoxville Nationals crown
Can Donny Schatz dethrone “The King” of the Knoxville Nationals?
Yes, Steve Kinser is the undisputed King of both the World of Outlaws — and of Knoxville Raceway, where he’s won 12 Nationals titles.
Not done yet
But Schatz, who turned 39 this week, has won nine Knoxville Nationals titles, including the last five with Tony Stewart Racing.
And he still has plenty of wins ahead of him.
Kinser was in the middle of his five-title run in 1993 when Schatz made his Knoxville debut. He qualified 63rd. Four years later, Schatz out-dueled Kinser to finished fourth in the A main. In 2000, it was a battle with Mark Kinser and Danny Lasoski that kept him from his first Knoxville crown. Schatz settled for his first of four second-place finishes before eventually breaking through in 2006.
For Schatz, 2006 was a magical season and established the Fargo, N.D., native as a perennial contender. He won 17 World of Outlaws A-features, the Knoxville Nationals title and the WoO championship.
It’s also when his first streak at Knoxville began. After two Nationals victories in the No. 15 Schatz Motorsports entry, the driver joined Tony Stewart Racing and won in 2003-2004. Together, the pair has won seven of the last eight Knoxville Nationals.
Keeping the streak alive
On Saturday night, Schatz looks to make it six straight and 10 overall.
“I am extremely excited about this year’s race,” Schatz said. “My guys – Rick Warner, Steve Swenson and Brad Mariscotti – have us prepared to make a run at it. We’ve spent a lot of the early season getting ourselves headed in the right direction.
“We raced at Knoxville in June and weren’t great the first night but got going really well in the Saturday show. So, to come out of there with not only a second and first but, more importantly, information we feel like will help us this week, was really big for us. This is a process and you do everything you can to be prepared for that qualifying night. Everything is so important and my guys are ready.”
Schatz finished second in the A main on Wednesday qualifying night after posting the ninth fastest time in time trials (15.090-sec). After the points were tabulated from the first two nights, Scatz had acquired 476 and will line up fifth for his 23rd Knoxville Nationals.
“It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that many years,” Schatz said. “I’m still not sure how I got to be out on the World of Outlaws tour for 20 years. But this is where I want to be and always have. Ted Johnson gave us a place to do what we love for a living and the Knoxville Nationals has always been a huge part of it.
“I remember those first few years vividly. It was incredibly hard. This event humbles you. You have to learn and become focused on exactly what’s in front you. I’ve had some great mentors along the way who helped me get here. My dad has been teaching me life lessons for years. Former crew chiefs like Dave Yingst and Kenny Woodruff helped me understand how hard you have to go at this to fully reach your potential. Each and every Nationals is special, so it may not have sunk in that it’s been this many years, but we’re really looking forward to this one.”
Tony Stewart confident Schatz can do it again for TSR
So is Tony Stewart. He’s seen Schatz accomplish remarkable feats since they partnered up nine seasons ago. Although he’ll be wearing his owner’s hat — and joked that he’ll be pacing in the suite on Saturday night — there’s no one Stewart would rather have behind the wheel.
“The year he won the B main (2013), started last and won made me think, as long as we’re in the A main, we’ve got a shot at winning the thing,” Stewart told motorsport.com. “I think so. When I talked to him (Thursday) night, he was feeling pretty good. He doesn’t feel overly confident, but when I asked him, ‘Is everything where you need it to be?’ He said, ‘Yeah.”
“I don’t know, man. I’d be wanting something. But when he’s says, ‘Yeah, we’re good.’ That’s all I needed to hear.”
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