SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – In the week leading up to his USAC Silver Crown Champ Car Series debut at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, David Gravel said that his goals were to “finish the race first” while claiming that, realistically, a top-10 finish would be ideal.
While Gravel also said he hoped to be in the mix for the win at the end of 100 miles, even he couldn’t have drawn up exactly how it ultimately played out. Having to utilize a push start due to mechanical issues left Gravel, by rule, to start at the tail of the 26-car field.
In the end, Gravel finished second to winner Kyle Larson in the Bettenhausen 100 presented by Fatheadz Eyewear at the one-mile dirt oval, with a pair of racing veterans in crew chief Kent Wolters and spotter Mike Hess aiding him on that path.
It marked the best finish by a first-time Silver Crown race starter in more than a quarter century, since P.J. Jones finished as the runner-up at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1994.
“I’m not really sure what happened, but I kind of went where they weren’t,” Gravel explained. “I got past (Kody) Swanson and (Chris) Windom in the beginning and I thought I was doing really good. Then, I slowed down too much, and they passed me back. I think we got to about 10th or 11th and then I got more aggressive and started to pass guys around their right rear. This Mark Swanson Encore Team car felt really good; I felt comfortable by about lap five or six.
I got here at 10:30 a.m., sat in the car for the first time, got the belts changed up, but the pedals were uncomfortable for me. My knees are killing me; I’m getting old.”
The 28-year-old, who won the Knoxville Nationals in 2019, was in the midst of a busy weekend that included a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series start on Friday, a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series start on Saturday and a Silver Crown start on Sunday.
Gravel credits his impressive run on Sunday to not only his versatile experiences over the weekend, but everything observed and experienced firsthand leading up to that point.
“I honestly haven’t watched that many Silver Crown races,” Gravel acknowledged. “I know you have to be patient around the bottom. We race in the rubber sometimes in a winged sprint car, so I just used what I’ve learned there and translated it to today. I hope I’ll be back.
“I don’t know what my schedule is for next year, but I know I’ll be in a winged sprint car a lot. Hopefully, I get to do a lot of fun things like this again.”
Gravel’s Springfield performance ranks as one of the best debuts in Silver Crown history. He’s now one of just 12 drivers to finish inside the top-two in his first career series start.
Seven drivers won their first Silver Crown start: Jim McElreath (Nazareth 1971), A.J. Foyt (Illinois State Fairgrounds 1971), Danny Smith (Eldora 1982), Rick Hood (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1982), Jimmy Horton (Nazareth 1983), Herb Copeland (Oklahoma City 1983) and Marv Carman (Minnesota State Fairgrounds 1984).
Only four drivers had previously finished second in their first Silver Crown start: Arnie Knepper (Nazareth 1971), Barry Camp (Williams Grove 1981), Jac Haudenschild (Indiana State Fairgrounds 1985) and Jones (Indianapolis Raceway Park 1994).
Additionally, Gravel’s starting spot of 26th at Springfield was the furthest back any top-five finishing debut driver had started, besting Jimmy Caruthers’ charge from 20th to fifth in the 1971 race, which – incidentally – was also at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
Meanwhile, the previous worst starting spot for a driver finishing second or better in his first Silver Crown start was Arnie Knepper, who began his race from the 14th position in the inaugural series event in 1971 at Nazareth, Pa.
Gravel’s run marks the third occasion that a debuting Silver Crown driver has finished inside the top-five this season with both occurring in the opener at Selinsgrove (Pa.) Speedway.
Bryan Gossel finished fourth there while Carmen Perigo took fifth.