ROSSBURG, Ohio – He may have gotten off to a slow start this year on the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series trail, but Donny Schatz has proved in the last two weeks that he’s found his groove again.
After earning just three wins in the first four months of the year, Schatz has scored wins on back-to-back Outlaw weekends, at Wilmot (Wis.) Raceway and Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway, respectively.
That’s not only bumped his season victory total to five with the Outlaws, it’s also given Schatz a total of 288 victories across his storied Outlaw career and trimmed his deficit to point leader Brad Sweet from nearly a hundred points down to just 30 markers entering the formal portion of Kings Royal weekend.
“We’re making a charge and I feel like we’re finding a good rhythm, but right now, we’re focused on Saturday,” Schatz noted. “We want to learn from tonight and apply that to the rest of the weekend, because we don’t know exactly what we’re going to get in that one and we want to have the best shot possible as taking home that $175,000.”
Eldora would seem to be the perfect place for Schatz to stage a second-half championship assault. Including his sweep of #LetsRaceTwo, Schatz has now won six of the last nine Outlaw races at Eldora.
He didn’t chalk that up to a particular proficiency at the race track however, but instead to a concerted push by his Tony Stewart Racing crew to improve and continually get better.
“These guys … I don’t think that anyone sees the work that they put in day in and day out,” said Schatz of his crew, led by Steve Swenson. “Even though we won a race tonight, they’ll still go to bed thinking about ways that we can be even better than we were. They’re incredible in that regard.
“The misconception is that there’s one thing that you can do to make yourself better, and there’s not, because it’s 10,000 little things,” he added. “All those tiny pieces make a big difference and I feel like we’re starting to show that here a little bit more than we have recently.”
– In an odd coincidence, both Schatz and USAC winner Tyler Courtney completed May-to-July sweeps of the #LetsRaceTwo doubleheader at Eldora’s half-mile dirt oval, despite a rain postponement of more than two months before the second night could be completed.
The pair of former series champions were both victorious during the opening night on May 10.
– David Gravel counted himself lucky that he was able to muster a runner-up finish on Wednesday night, considering his Jason Johnson Racing team had to change the engine on his No. 41 car between the DIRTvision Fast Pass Dash and the 30-lap main event.
But with a fresh bullet under the hood of his car, Gravel charged from third on the grid up to second and chased Schatz for the final laps of the race, though he was unable to quite get to the eventual winner.
“We were just off a touch; I think we were the second-best car,” noted Gravel. “Donny was pretty good out there tonight, even though I closed down a little bit on him on lap traffic. I have a good feeling that we’re really close, but we have to keep tuning on this thing a little bit if we’re going to beat that No. 15.”
– Rico Abreu was the KSE Hard Charger in Wednesday night’s main event for the World of Outlaws, climbing from 14th up to finish sixth in his familiar No. 24 Abreu Vineyards-backed sprint car.
Abreu is hoping to build some momentum as he chases his first Kings Royal title. He’s a past winner of the $20,000 Ironman 55, held annually at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo.
– Having speed in qualifying didn’t translate to being fast in the Outlaw feature on Wednesday night, as flight-A fast qualifier Brian Brown finished ninth in the 30-lapper and overall quick-timer Shane Stewart was a distant 15th.
Both drivers hope to turn their luck around over the next three days at Eldora.
– Wednesday night’s most notable performance arguably went to Englishman Tom Harris, who competed in both the World of Outlaws and USAC portions of the program at Eldora.
Harris was particularly impressive in the non-winged feature, racing from 18th to seventh and earning hard-charger honors for the USAC set, as well as showing arguably one of his best flashes of brilliance yet in a sprint car on American soil.