Column By: BRIAN WALKER / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – GRAND FORKS, ND – The only way to cure the Knoxville Nationals hangover is to start racing more, and that’s exactly what the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series is doing this weekend.
With the historic 60th Granddaddy of ‘Em All in the rearview mirror, The Greatest Show on Dirt returns focus to the 2021 championship battle as a triple-header through the Dakotas is next.
On Friday, August 20, the weekend begins in Grand Forks, ND at River Cities Speedway for the 2nd Leg of the Northern Tour. Before June’s rainout at the bullring, the Outlaws’ last appearance at the track was last August when recently crowned Knoxville Nationals champion Kyle Larson stunned Logan Schuchart and the whole world with his spectacular finish.
On Saturday, August 21, the Series moves to Donny Schatz’s hometown of West Fargo, ND for a date at Red River Valley Speedway. The 3/8th-mile oval is the eighth-most visited track in Series history with 65 previous Outlaw races at the facility. Fresh off a second-place run at Knoxville, Schatz and his TSR squad look to carry that momentum to home turf and build a second-half run.
On Sunday, August 22, Huset’s Speedway will host the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars for the 50th time in history at the Pioneer Bin Buster Bash. It’ll be all eyes on David Gravel, who attempts to put the Huset’s Speedway #2 in Huset’s Speedway victory lane for the third time in 2021.
Some of the top storylines to follow include:
HOME TURF: After a season of struggling with consistency, or lack thereof, Donny Schatz and the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing #15 team could not have chosen a better time to peak if that’s what they’re indeed doing. The Fargo, ND native will head to home territory this weekend fresh off a huge $89,000 second-place payday after nearly stealing his 11th Knoxville Nationals title from Kyle Larson on the final lap.
Sitting fourth in World of Outlaws points, the Carquest, Ford Performance powered entry has one win, 27 top-fives, and 39 top-10s through 53 Features this year. The 10-time NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion has ruled his home state over the years, particularly River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, ND.
On Friday, The Greatest Show on Dirt visits the River Cities bullring for the 27th time in Series history. In 26 previous appearances, Schatz has found victory lane a staggering 12 times for a jaw-dropping winning percentage of 46%. He’s no stranger to success at Red River Valley either, a track where he’s topped three times under Outlaw sanction.
FINISH THE JOB: All but one Crown Jewel ($75,000/Win National Open at Williams Grove on October 2) are complete, so the task at hand returns to the World of Outlaws championship for many drivers, specifically Brad Sweet. With less than three months remaining, only 24 point races are available for drivers to make their moves down the homestretch.
In pursuit of a third consecutive NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship, The Big Cat is attempting to join rarified air with Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz as the only drivers in 44 years to accomplish the three-peat. Heading into this last stretch, the Kasey Kahne Racing, NAPA Auto Parts #49 owns a 140-point advantage with a series-best 14 wins, 35 top-fives, and 44 top-10s.
Giving chase to Sweet and KKR is most notably Carson Macedo (-140) in the Jason Johnson Racing #41 and David Gravel (-144) in the Big Game Motorsports #2. Also in the mix inside the top-five is Donny Schatz (-256) and Sheldon Haudenschild (-266) in the Stenhouse Jr. Marshall Racing #17.
CONFIDENCE BOOST: The Knoxville Nationals is the annual measuring stick for teams and drivers to better understand where they rank amongst the best sprint car competitors in the world. Some years you leave Knoxville with your tail tucked between your legs, and other years you walk away with your head held high and a new sense of confidence. For Brock Zearfoss, he’s heading to North Dakota as the latter.
The first half of Zearfoss’ rookie campaign was a tough one. The numbers don’t back up the progress as he has led laps and been in contention for wins only for untimely incidents to strike. The 14 top-10s are not indicative of his season, especially as he sits ninth in points, even after missing two weeks due to a concussion this spring.
Qualifying for his second Knoxville Nationals A-Main, though, has Zearfoss feeling as good as he has all season long. The Jonestown Jet started 24th in the toughest Feature of the year and drove his family-owned #3Z to a career-best run of 14th, which resulted in an $11,000 payday. Plenty of on-track, monetary, and personal momentum to potentially propel Zearfoss to the results he’s capable of in the second half.
HUNGRY FOR W’S: For Carson Macedo (7 wins), Logan Schuchart (3 wins), Donny Schatz (1 win), and James McFadden (1 win), it’s been too long since that last trip to victory lane. All four drivers produced strong showings at the Knoxville Nationals with all four placing inside the top-1o of Saturdays’ 50-lap finale to build some momentum. Now they just want back in victory lane.
Although second in points and a model of consistency, Macedo hasn’t won since July 17 at Eldora Speedway, which is nearly his longest drought of the year. Schuchart has been missing victory lane ever since he banked $50,000 at Jackson Nationals on June 27. Schatz has been chasing win #301 since his 300th breakthrough at Dubuque, Iowa on June 18, and McFadden’s lone win came back in April at Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway.
Those four drivers will have three chances this weekend to return to the win column and build some second-half steam.
WHO’S GOT NEXT: Since Aaron Reutzel’s suspension, Roth Motorsports has welcomed Parker Price-Miller to drive at I-55 and Kasey Kahne to wheel the Beef Packers throwback at Knoxville. Both substitutes recorded excellent results with PPM earning two QuickTimes, a hard-charging top-ten, and leading laps at the Ironman 55, while Kahne was QuickTime at the Nationals and earned an eighth-place finish in the 50-lap finale.
The Roth #83, which is in a battle for eighth in the World of Outlaws owner championship, will compete in all three races through the Dakota’s this weekend. The only question is who will fill the seat next. An official announcement from the team is expected to come in the next few days.