Schatz Holds Off Larson at Volusia

Donny Schatz

Schatz celebrates in Volusia Speedway Park Victory Lane. (Photo: Paul Arch)

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For the third time in his last four attempts, and for the 16th time in his career, Donny Schatz is an Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions main event winner, this time during night two of the 46th edition of the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park. The victory, a mere .113 second advantage at the final checkers, came over Elk Grove, California’s Kyle Larson; the main event’s 15th starter who charged to second in 30 circuits aboard a second Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing entry. 

“This is all because of this race team,” Donny Schatz explained in Volusia Speedway Park victory lane. “I’ve been racing with these guys for a long time; Ricky [Warner] and I have been together for nearly 10 years. This is not something that is built overnight. They work their tails off and do an incredible job. We never fail to learn from our mistakes and I learn from mine. We have Mark Miller from Arctic Cat with us here tonight, so we want to wish him the best. We’re glad to have him here to see a victory. He missed a few last weekend, but this is a great way to start the new week.” 

Chad Kemenah jumped to the early advantage from the outside of the front row, utilizing the very  topside of the Volusia Speedway Park half-mile to officially lead lap one over pole sitter Donny Schatz and fourth starting Brad Sweet. By lap five, Kemenah’s advantage stretched to nearly three seconds, catching the tail of the field for the first time on lap six. Schatz allowed traffic to work to his advantage, slowly erasing all of Kemenah’s lead by lap ten and taking command for the first time on lap 14. 

The main event’s first of two red flag incidents appeared on lap 17 involving Brownsburg, Indiana’s Joey Saldana and Eunice, Louisiana’s Jason Johnson, each racing in reach of a podium position at the time of the caution. Saldana and Johnson, who started sixth and tenth on the main event grid, commenced a three car battle for second with Chad Kemenah on lap 16, only to make contact the following circuit. Although unable to return to the speedway, Saldana and Johnson walked away unharmed. 

Green flag action returned to the speedway for two circuits before the main event’s second and final red flag appeared on lap 20, this time for Myerstown, Pennsylvania’s Brent Marks. Like Saldana and Johnson, Marks walked away unharmed, but was unable to return to action. 

A caution on lap 22 would halt the feature field for the final time, giving Donny Schatz an open track and clean air. In the meantime, Larson, aboard the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing/No. 14, was already in striking distance; taking advantage of all three cautions to inch himself forward to third in the running order. By lap 28, Larson moved by Chad Kemenah for second, resetting his focus toward the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing/Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/No. 15 of Donny Schatz. 

“I couldn’t feel anybody coming. It’s not my job to pay attention to what is behind me,” Donny Schatz explained in victory lane. “Somebody had to be coming. That’s what racers do and Kyle [Larson] is a great racer. He’s an aggressive racer and that helped put him in the position that he was in. I know he’s driving a really good race car, so that obviously helps, too.”

With slower traffic blocking Schatz's momentum, one final lunge on lap 30 would put Kyle Larson on the back bumper of the North Dakota native, ultimately racing through the final corner nearly side-by-side. Schatz would hang on to win by .113 seconds, followed by Kyle Larson, Chad Kemenah, Daryn Pittman, and Brad Sweet. 

“I was coming up on traffic and I couldn’t get off the top,” Schatz said. “I tried to slide the lapped car in the last corner, but he ended up finding some speed somewhere and kept himself going. That forced me to kinda go back to the top and park myself there.”

For Larson, it was his first-ever appearance at Volusia Speedway Park, as well as his first time in the cockpit of the Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing/No. 14. 

“Tonight was a lot of fun,” Kyle Larson explained. “I had a decent start and was able to get in line right away. I made up most of my time down the straightaways and was able to slide people through the corners, then get going back the other direction. That was the biggest key to me moving forward. I can’t thank Tony Stewart and everyone on this team enough. I called Tony today and told him I was going to put my seat in his car and race since Christopher Bell couldn’t make it. It all worked out great.” 

Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions will continue their 2017 tour of the Sunshine State on Thursday evening, February 16, with the second of two DIRTcar Nationals programs at the Volusia Speedway Park near Barberville, Florida. “America’s Series” will once again battle for a $5,000 top prize during their Volusia County takeover; the fifth and final Florida appearance for the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions in 2017. 

Eight-time World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz is the defending Thursday night winner with the Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions at Volusia Speedway Park, holding off Hartford, Ohio’s Dale Blaney and eventual Knoxville Nationals champion Jason Johnson for the four-digit payday on Thursday, February 11, 2016. 

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