SAN TAN VALLEY, Ariz, – Last year, inconsistency through the summer months dampened Donny Schatz’s march toward an 11th World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series title.
But over the last dozen races that capped an uncharacteristic season, the 43-year-old regained some of his authoritative character, winning twice in that span.
On Friday, during night one of the Wild Wing Shootout at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway, Schatz practically picked up where he left off.
In the first 410 sprint car race of the new year, Schatz set quick time and finished second to 19-year-old open-wheel star Buddy Kofoid. Schatz started fifth and challenged the eventual winner for the top spot before a caution came out with seven laps left.
After that, Schatz just couldn’t track down Kofoid and was left fending off Carson Macedo just to finish second.
“I actually thought we were going to have a good shot at [Kofoid] there,” said Schatz, whose car was too tight to roll the preferred lane, the bottom.
It was a convincing and telling run for Schatz, who started the season with a bang, setting the fastest time in qualifying with a lap of 12.793 seconds. His owner, Tony Stewart, posted the second-quickest lap of 12.805 seconds, putting Ford Performance’s power on display.
After drawing fifth in the redraw, Schatz buzzed his way to the front. He picked up two spots on early restarts to power to third. By the halfway mark on lap 15, he moved around a fading Aaron Reutzel for second and began running down Kofoid.
In five laps, Kofoid’s 2.3-second cushion narrowed to just three car lengths, as Schatz pressured the 19-year-old to get to the bottom. Right when Schatz appeared to challenge for the lead, a caution for debris was signaled with seven laps left.
From there, Schatz gave it his all just to hang on.
Even though he didn’t have enough to overtake Kofoid, Schatz felt the way his car reacted was a positive omen for the races ahead.
“My car, that’s what you hope for: it gets tighter as the race goes on,” Schatz said. “That’s what we were trying to do and that’s what it did. I’m happy about that fact. Normally you don’t see something that stays that moist and throws that much moisture out there.
“I just got way too tight at the end and I couldn’t stay on the bottom anymore,” Schatz added. “I kind of had to roll the middle, then I lost a spot to second when I tried making something happen for the lead.”
On the outside, last season was a reasonable year for Donny Schatz, with five wins and a third-place finish in the World of Outlaws points chase.
But when you break it down, it didn’t measure up to the 10-time champion’s prowess. In 2018 and 2019 combined, Schatz compiled 100 top fives in 143 races for a 70 percent clip.
Last year, Schatz finished in the top five 24 times in 54 races – a 44 percent clip.
In 31 races over the summer, he posted an average finish of 7.7. But over the last 12 races of the season, Schatz picked up two wins, six top fives and had an average finish of 5.3, as Stewart’s race team grew more accustomed to Ford Performance’s new motor program.
On Friday, it was more of the same for Schatz, who looks to add to his already-decorated career this season.
“Hopefully we get another couple nights to play around and get going in the right direction,” Schatz said.