Schatz Fends off Larson to Win DIRTcar Nationals Opener
The Wheatley Chronicles – Volume V, No. 1
Lonnie Wheatley, BARBERVILLE, Fla. (February 15, 2017) – Kyle Larson was on the move from the eighth row.
But it wasn’t quite enough to put a stop to Donny Schatz’ early hot streak as the reigning World of Outlaws champion reeled off his third win in four tries this season with the All Star Circuit of Champions as the DIRTcar Nationals kicked off at Volusia Speedway Park on Wednesday night.
After starting from the pole position, Schatz battled past Chad Kemenah for the lead just prior to the midway point of the 30-lapper and then denied a late charge from Larson to take the $5,000 winner’s share aboard the TSR/Curb-Agajanian Racing Arctic Cat No. 15 Sprint Car by a mere car-length.
“It’s a tribute to this race team,” Schatz said of the quick start to the 2017 season. “It’s not built overnight, they work their tails off to make it happen.”
It proved to be a TSR/Curb sweep of the night with Larson filling in aboard Tony Stewart’s No. 14 before Christopher Bell takes command the rest of the week. It was Larson’s first outing atop the ½-mile Volusia Speedway Clay oval.
The defending WoO and All Star champs led the field to the green flag with Kemenah gunning into the early lead. With lapped traffic in play after just a handful of laps, Schatz moved in to challenge for the point on lap seven to no avail.
With Brad Sweet and Joey Saldana closing in on the lead mix, Schatz went to work on Kemenah and finally took command exiting turn four on the 14th lap.
While Schatz quickly opened up a ten car-length lead, the battle for second in his wake heated up with Jason Johnson throwing his hat into the ring as well. The battle soon boiled over when Johnson and Saldana made contact exiting turn two on the 17th lap, sending Saldana into a wild series of flips out of the park. Both drivers were uninjured.
With Kemenah and Sweet back up to second and third, respectively, behind Schatz after the Johnson-Saldana collision, Schatz slipped away as Kyle Larson began to make his presence known.
Working his way forward from 15th, Larson was sixth after the lap 16 red flag and then worked his way past Brad Sweet for fourth just prior to another red flag flying three laps later.
When a final caution flew with just nine laps to go, Larson had worked his way around Pittman to take over third behind Schatz and Kemenah.
Larson’s charge seemingly stalled until he finally slid past Kemenah in turn two on the 28th lap and began trying to chop into Schatz’ ten car-length advantage. That advantage stood as the white flag flew, but traffic gave Larson a run.
Forced to nearly park it exiting turn four, Schatz held off the charging Larson by a mere car-length as the checkered flag flew.
“I couldn’t feel anyone coming, you don’t pay attention to what’s behind you,” Schatz said afterward. “I tried to slide that lapped car in the final car, but he found some speed and I had to almost park it to get on the top.”
Larson made the most of his outing in Smoke’s No. 14. “It was a lot of fun,” he said afterward. “I got in line early, then I could really make up a lot of ground on the straightaways and slide ‘em in the corners.”
“I almost got him coming to the line,” Larson said of the finish.
After leading the initial 13 circuits, reigning ASCoC champ Kemenah settled for third. “We’re pretty good, but I hate to give up a front row starting position to these guys.”
Kasey Kahne Racing teammates Pittman and Sweet rounded out the top five with Kraig Kinser earning Hard Charger honors by rallying from 22nd to sixth.
(World of Outlaws photo)
Series: All Star Circuit of Champions
Track: Volusia Speedway Park (Barberville, FL)
Car Count: 35
Quick Time: It was “Blackjack” time as Brian Brown was the 30th car to hit the clocks and set the standard at 13.221 seconds in a rare Florida start. Others among the top four qualifiers (Jason Johnson, Daryn Pittman and David Gravel) were among the first 18 cars out.
Heat Winners (starting position in parentheses): Donny Schatz (2), Chad Kemenah (2), Lucas Wolfe (2), Greg Hodnett (1).
Heat Moments: Helms led seven laps of the first heat race only to watch Schatz race by on the high side in the final pair of corners; Ryan Smith led the opening three laps of the third heat until his left rear tire departed, putting him into the wall; while Wolfe took advantage of Smith’s misfortune to win the heat, Reutzel capitalized as well by battling past I. Madsen for the fifth and final transfer while Sweet snuck under Stewart in the final corner to take the second Dash lock-in position.
Dash Winners (starting position in parentheses): Donny Schatz (1), Chad Kemenah (1).
Dash Moments: Daryn Pittman was sent from second row to third when officials deemed he jumped the start of the first Dash, with Schatz and Kemenah going on to set up a front row of defending series champions.
“B” Main Winner (starting position in parentheses): Rico Abreu (3).
“B” Main Moments: A Haudenschild bobble in turns one and two less than three laps to go was enough for Ian Madsen to steal the final transfer.
“A” Main Cautions: Three
16 Laps – The red flag flies when Jason Johnson and Joey Saldana make contact exiting turn two in the battle for second with Saldana going for a wild end-over-end ride out of the park. Both drivers were okay.
19 Laps – Another red flies when Brent Marks jumps the cushion exiting turn four, tags the wall and bounces upside down. Marks was okay.
21 Laps – A debris caution is necessary when the checkered flag blows out of the flag stand towards turn one.
“A” Main Hard Charger: Larson did nearly all he could with the run from 15th to second, but Kraig Kinser passed the most by rallying from 21st to sixth.
The Box Score…
Qualifying: 1. 21-Brian Brown 13.221, 2. 41-Jason Johnson 13.295, 3. 9-Daryn Pittman 13.801, 4. 5-David Gravel 13.338, 5. 49-Brad Sweet 13.341, 6. 17s-Joey Saldana 13.370, 7. 10h-Chad Kemenah 13.385, 8. 2-Shane Stewart 13.440, 9. 2m-Kerry Madsen 13.442, 10. 5w-Lucas Wolfe 13.472, 11. 1z-Dale Blaney 13.524, 12. 27-Greg Hodnett 13.529, 13. 59h-Justin Henderson 13.539, 14. 14-Kyle Larson 13.550, 15. 15-Donny Schatz 13.573, 16. 11k-Kraig Kinser 13.593, 17. 17-Caleb Helms 13.613, 18. 24-Rico Abreu 13.614, 19. 93-Sheldon Haudenschild 13.629, 20. 19-Brent Marks 13.640, 21. 59-Ryan Smith 13.683, 22. 8m-T.J. Michael 13.698, 23. 13JT-Mark Dobmeier 13.699, 24. 18-Ian Madsen 13.753, 25. 4-Paul McMahan 13.763, 26. 13d-Danny Dietrich 13.985, 27. 07-Jacob Wilson 14.092, 28. 87-Aaron Reutzel 14.101, 29. 7c-Caleb Armstrong 14.179, 30. 13-Brandon Matus 14.274, 31. 17b-Steve Buckwalter 14.327, 32. 7w-Tasker Phillips 14.362, 33. 51-John Garvin 14.402, 34. 33-Brent Matus 14.996, 35. 7s-Jason Sides NT.
Heat One (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to “A” Feature): 1. 15-Donny Schatz (2), 2. 17-Caleb Helms (1), 3. 1z-Dale Blaney (3), 4. 5-David Gravel (4). 5. 19-Brent Marks (7), 6. 24-Rico Abreu (5), 7. 93-Sheldon Haudenschild (6), 8. 13-Brandon Matus (8), 9. 7w-Tasker Phillips (9).
Heat Two (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to “A” Feature): 1. 10h-Chad Kemenah (2), 2. 9-Daryn Pittman (3), 3. 41-Jason Johnson (4), 4. 13JT-Mark Dobmeier (5), 5. 8m-T.J. Michael (1), 6. 13d-Danny Dietrich (6), 7. 7c-Caleb Armstrong (7), 8. 51-John Garvin (8), 9. 33-Brent Matus (9).
Heat Three (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to “A” Feature): 1. 5w-Lucas Wolfe (2), 2. 49-Brad Sweet (4), 3. 2-Shane Stewart (3), 4. 4-Paul McMahan (6), 5. 87-Aaron Reutzel (8), 6. 18-Ian Madsen (5), 7. 17b-Steve Buckwalter (9), 8. 07-Jacob Wilson (7), 9. 59-Ryan Smith (1).
Heat Four (8 Laps – Top 5 finishers transfer to “A” Feature): 1. 27-Greg Hodnett (1), 2. 17s-Joey Saldana (3), 3. 2m-Kerry Madsen (2), 4. 14-Kyle Larson (6), 5. 21-Brian Brown (1), 6. 59h-Rodney Henderson (5), 7. 11k-Kraig Kinser (7). DNS: 7s-Jason Sides.
Dash 1: 1. 15-Donny Schatz (1), 2. 17-Caleb Helms (2), 3. 5w-Lucas Wolfe (5), 4. 9-Daryn Pittman (4), 5. 27-Greg Hodnett (3).
Dash 2: 1. 10h-Chad Kemenah (1), 2. 49-Brad Sweet (2), 3. 17s-Joey Saldana (5), 4. 21-Brian Brown (4), 5. 41-Jason Johnson (3).
“B” Feature (12 Laps – Top 4 finishers transfer to “A” Feature): 1. 24-Rico Abreu (3), 2. 11k-Kraig Kinser (2), 3. 59h-Justin Henderson (1), 4. 18-Ian Madsen (5), 5. 13d-Danny Dietrich (6), 6. 93-Sheldon Haudenschild (4), 7. 7c-Caleb Armstrong (8), 8. 7w-Tasker Phillips (11), 9. 07-Jacob Wilson (7). 10. 33-Brent Matus (13), 11. 17b-Steve Buckwalter (10), 12. 13-Brandon Matus (9), 13. 51-John Garvin (12). DNS: 59-Ryan Smith, 7s-Jason Sides.
“A” Feature (30 Laps): 1. 15-Donny Schatz (1), 2. 14-Kyle Larson (15), 3. 10h-Chad Kemenah (2), 4. 9-Daryn Pittman (7), 5. 49-Brad Sweet (4), 6. 11k-Kraig Kinser (21), 7. 1z-Dale Blaney (13), 8. 2-Shane Stewart (11), 9. 5w-Lucas Wolfe (5), 10. 4-Paul McMahan (17), 11. 5-David Gravel (14), 12. 2m-Kerry Madsen (12), 13. 17-Caleb Helms (3), 14. 27-Greg Hodnett (9), 15. 18-Ian Madsen (24), 16. 24-Rico Abreu (21), 17. 13JT-Mark Dobmeier (16), 18. 7c-Caleb Armstrong (25), 19. 8m-T.J. Michael (19), 20. 19-Brent Marks (18), 21. 17s-Joey Saldana (6), 22. 41-Jason Johnson (10), 23. 21-Brian Brown (8), 24. 87-Aaron Reutzel (20), 25. 59h-Justin Henderson (23). Note; 7c-Caleb Armstrong started the feature via a provisional.
Lap Leaders: Chad Kemenah 1-13, Donny Schatz 14-30.
The Wheatley Chronicles brings insight and highlights from all variety of racing series throughout the nation in 2017 and beyond along with the Open Wheel Power Rankings on a regular basis. Please send any comments, questions or advertising inquiries regarding The Wheatley Chronicles at www.sprintcarmania.com to Lonnie Wheatley at firstname.lastname@example.org.