Schatz Wins Las Vegas Opener

Donny Schatz

Schatz won by a 0.046-second margin. (Photo: Paul Arch)

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As the sun sank below The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Thursday night, a cool breeze drifted through a near-capacity crowd. Specifically on the half-mile course, the intense crosswinds from the track were the product of 42 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series winged-sprints. The No. 15 Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing car of Donny Schatz was the fastest in the field, taking the first night of the FVP Outlaw Showdown.

Schatz earned his 10th career series win at the track, which has hosted the tour for 20 years sporadically. The stop marks the series’ fifth consecutive multi-day event at the track, which is an extension of its 36 total appearances since 1996. Schatz’s first victory came in 1999.

“If it wasn’t for this Stewart-Curb Racing team, we wouldn’t be up here so hats off to them,” said Schatz with his team looking-on in victory lane. “They worked their tails off all winter long and it’s getting better.”

Though the eight-time series champion has reaped the riches several times at the track, this victory offered a purse larger than years passed. A $5,000 winner’s bonus was awarded to the North Dakota-native, as a part of a four-show sponsorship from Badlands Motor Speedway. Badlands will offer a $5,000 purse to winners of the Vegas stretch and at its multi-day event, the Outlaw FanFest – a total of $20,000. Schatz earned a grand total of $15,000 for his victory, including the stack of cash presented to him in Victory Lane.

“Thank you Badlands Motor Speedway,” Schatz said. “Any time you get the extra money, out of courtesy you thank them for their support – like all you fans in the seats. It sure makes it fun to be standing up here.”

Not only did the victory have a larger payout, but it also tested a driver who has won four of the first five shows in 2017. Schatz got the best case scenario in a photo-finish at the line, winning by a narrow 0.046-second margin. He started the 26-lap feature in fourth position, and used a series of restarts to gain ground on each of the podium spots ahead of him. When the green flag dropped, he made his move into the podium and had his sights set on second.

Schatz contested for the runner-up spot in the opening laps, challenging Brian Brown from the bottom. Brown shut down his advances exiting Turn 1 for the first three laps until a red flag reset the field. Shane Stewart, who led the 25-car field into the green flag, got tangled-up in lapped traffic entering turn two of the sixth lap. The aftermath of the wreck forced Stewart to forfeit the top spot, bumping the field up by one position. Schatz thereon targeted Brown for the lead.

It only took one lap for Schatz to wedge his racecar underneath Brown’s No. 21 FVP/Casey’s General Stores car in turn two. Schatz widened the gap to nearly one-second over Brown, while Jason Johnson moved into the final podium spot by Lap 16. A red flag on that lap regrouped the field yet again; at this point, three of the top-five drivers were series regulars (Schatz, Johnson and Sheldon Haudenschild).

Several battles transpired on the restart, as Brown challenged Schatz for the lead from the bottom, and Johnson and Ian Madsen rubbed tires barreling out of the front-stretch. While Johnson was successful, Brown was not as he was penalized for an early start; he was docked one position. The field regrouped for the race’s third restart with Schatz and Johnson – the only two to win a feature event in 2017 – side-by-side in the first row.

In the closing laps, Schatz built a cushion – that did not last. Brown reclaimed second position over Johnson within the final 10 laps of the feature. The race’s final caution extended the 25-lap feature by one lap by virtue of a green-white-checkered. In the final lap, Brown launched his car to the outside of Schatz. The two barreled down the front-stretch to the checkers, and it was Schatz by a nose.

“I always want to win ones like those,” Brown said. “We got a good run [at Schatz], but when you race with a guy like him you need to make a split-decision at 130 miles per hour. I felt like I got through turns one and two pretty well, but on the backstretch I probably should’ve done something a little different. He got a good run off of four and I was like, ‘Gosh darn it, I’m not going to win this race.’ To be up there and race with guys like Donny Schatz is an honor. He’s the Steve Kinser of today.”

Rico Abreu, who was awarded the KSE Hard Charger award, rounded-out the podium in his No. 24R Abreu Vineyards/Priority Aviation car. Starting 21st in the feature, Abreu swiftly navigated through the pack and eventually bested Johnson in the closing laps.  Abreu said, “You just simply need to learn how to breathe and make good decisions.”

“When the race gets kind of strung-out, you have to pace yourself,” Abreu said. “You just need to be patient at times and be aggressive on those restarts. I knew we were going to get a few restarts where we could get a breather. Schatz and Brown are the best guys right now besides Jason [Johnson]. It feels good just to get a good finish.”

Stewart, who won his heat race and the Craftsman Club® Dash, rebounded not only from mechanical issues from earlier in the night but also from an unfortunate wreck in the feature. Stewart climbed his way into ninth, recording his second top-ten finish of the season.

Johnson, who ultimately recorded his fourth top-five performance of the season, set the night’s quick-time in time trials. He was roughly one-hundredth of a second off Danny Lasoski’s track record of 13.719. Five of the 42 drivers in time trials posted a lap time less than 14 seconds, recording an average time of 13.948 – nearly two-hundredths of a second off the record pace Lasoski set in 2004.

Related Topics:

Donny Schatz, World of Outlaws

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