WILMOT, Wis. — Donny Schatz couldn’t hold back the emotion any longer.
With his arms raised and cheeks pushed up by a grin, Schatz yelled with a childlike giggle, “Hell yeah, I won at Wilmot! That’s off the books.”
The 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Serieschampion and now 287-time series feature winner claimed his first victory at Wilmot Raceway Saturday night. It was his fourth win of the season.
“The older you get, you probably put more of a fine-tooth comb on places you haven’t won at and this was one of them,” Schatz said.
Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team unloaded Saturday evening with a fast race car. Schatz set the pace in hot laps and qualified second behind point leader Brad Sweet.
In his Drydene Heat race, Schatz won by 1.4 seconds. He backed that performance up by winning the DIRTVision Fast Pass Dash with a 2.7-second lead at the finish.
Dominating the night was not enough to convince Schatz he would excel in the feature, though. He admitted he didn’t know what to expect from the third-mile track, anticipating lap times to drop during the feature.
On the initial start, outside polesitter Daryn Pittman made a charge at Schatz for the lead. He kept pace with the reigning champion down the back stretch and dove underneath him in turn three. The two entered turn four side by side — the closest anyone came all night to passing Schatz. But the Fargo, N.D., native had the better run off the corner and cleared Pittman down the front stretch.
For the remaining 39 laps, the only time drivers got close enough to see the bumper of Schatz’s Toco Warranty No. 15 car was during a caution on lap 13 for a car going off track in turn two. After that, Schatz spent his night methodically navigating lapped traffic.
However, Friday night’s feature winner at Hartford Speedway, David Gravel, was not going to let Schatz cruised to the victory. Gravel, Sweet and Pittman traded positions in the top-four all night.
After battling side by side for several laps, having to be gentle on the throttle through the tight slick corners, Sweet eventually passed Pittman for second on lap 16. Gravel did the same a lap later, moving past the Roth Motorsports No. 83 car for third.
With 10 laps to go, Gravel finally put together a strong enough lap to work his way by Sweet and try to track down Schatz.
At that point, there was about a two second gap between Schatz and second-place. Gravel slowly closed it lap by lap. Every lap car that halted Schatz’s momentum was a few more tenths of a second gained by Gravel.
By the time the white flag came out, Gravel had made up close to a second on Schatz. It wasn’t enough, though. He ran out of time.
“I couldn’t get by Daryn very quick and then couldn’t get by Brad,” Gravel said. “Then it was just a little too late to make a charge a Donny.”
He and his Jason Johnson Racing team were happy with the run, though, leaving the weekend with a win and runner-up finish.
By taking the win Schatz finally broke his winless streak he’s had since the end of May when he won at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.
“I’m sure somebody was coming there at the end,” Schatz said. “I was kind of hanging. We could get through a few lap cars, but then when I had to move around in (turns) one and two I wasn’t as good. But glad to get a win. It’s been a while. Always feels good to get the win, especially here in Wisconsin.”
Schatz’s win put a small dent in Sweet’s point lead over him – he’s now 38 points behind the Kasey Kahne Racing driver.
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