BARBERVILLE, Fla. – Despite losing the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series title last year in a nail-biting finish, Donny Schatz proved Friday night that his will to win hasn’t diminished at all.
Schatz came out on top of a thrilling duel with Shark Racing’s Logan Schuchart to capture the victory during the Outlaws’ season opener, the third of five nights of sprint car action during the 49th annual DIRTcar Nationals presented by Bozard Ford at Volusia Speedway Park.
The 10-time Outlaw champion started from the pole and darted past Schuchart on the second circuit, but then had to play catch up for most of the night after Schuchart re-passed him on lap seven.
From there, it was a game of cat and mouse through slower traffic for the remainder of the 30-lap feature, with Schatz ultimately making the winning move off the outside of turn four coming to three to go.
It marked the 295th triumph of Schatz’s legendary Outlaw career.
“It’s always good to win the first one. That means you’re going to have a good year, but it’s that two through 84 race that counts more than the first one and the last one,” Schatz noted in victory lane. “Hats off to this whole team, though. What a rebuilding winter. Anybody that knows my guys knows they put in a lot of effort, and the hardest guy in the pit area to work with is me … so Steve Swenson and all these guys have their work cut out for them and they’ve done a great job … so hats off to them.
“That race was awesome. It was just a little greasy to start, but I moved up the race track and we were running around there wide open,” Schatz added. “I’m sure those were some of the fastest laps of the race, and when (the track) started to go, it was kind of crazy. Logan got by; he was really good, and then towards the end it started to get a little abrasive and rutted up, and I saw him move down in three and four and figured I had nothing to lose.
“I decided to run the top again and we were able to squeak by.”
Though Schatz led the field to green, it was the outside lane with Schuchart that prevailed on the initial start, with Schatz falling in close behind and then railing the top to gain an advantage in turn one on the second rotation.
Slower traffic played a major factor in a hurry, however, with Schatz’s lead evaporating by the seventh round and Schuchart sneaking back past when Schatz lost his momentum down the backstretch.
As Schuchart reclaimed the lead, defending Outlaw champion Brad Sweet came calling and eventually began trading jabs with Schatz for second, allowing the Shark Racing No. 1s to escape to a comfortable margin before the yellow lights flickered on for the spinning car of Chad Kemenah in turn four.
With 17 laps still to run, Schuchart led the field back to green and held serve over Schatz through the halfway point, but found traffic again near the 10 to go point that allowed Schatz to creep in once again.
Schatz took his first stab at reclaiming the lead coming to seven to go, using the middle groove to try and squeeze underneath Schuchart for the top spot. Schuchart hung on and the die appeared to be cast.
But Schatz wasn’t about to be denied. He went back to the top, where he’d been successful most of the night, and went on the hunt.
Coming to the end of lap 27, Schatz banged the cushion in turns three and four and got a huge run off the corner, powering around Schuchart to take the position away for good.
From there, all Schuchart could do was watch as Schatz drove away over the final mile and a half of racing, settling for second but still wearing a bright grin as he stood beside his car after the race.
“When you’ve got that car (Schatz) behind you, nothing is ever wrapped up,” Schuchart said. “I knew it was going to be close there. He showed his nose (with) five, six, seven laps to go. I knew he was there. He set me up just right. That’s why he’s so good. But we had a lot of fun tonight.”
Defending series titlist Sweet completed the podium and retained his point lead in the Big Gator standings, with Parker Price-Miller crossing fourth in his first outing with the new Dietz Motorsports team.
Fresh off ARCA Menards Series practice on Friday afternoon, David Gravel finished fifth in the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41, ahead of Kerry Madsen, Carson Macedo, Daryn Pittman, Tim Shaffer and Thursday winner Aaron Reutzel.
Hard charger Sheldon Haudenschild climbed from 22nd to finish 11th for Stenhouse Jr./Marshall Racing.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.