Kyle Larson was thinking through the logistics about trying to come back for a shot at the Knoxville Nationals A-main, but NASCAR duty calls first. Chad Leistikow, email@example.com
KNOXVILLE, Ia.Â âÂ Can’t say we saw any of thisÂ coming to open the 59th Knoxville Nationals.
You could haveÂ predicted that Donny Schatz and Kyle Larson âÂ two titans in recent Nationals history, and the 1-2 finishers here in 2017 â would find themselves racing side-by-side in Wednesday’s crucial qualifying night.
But … in Row 4 of the B-main feature?
Also true: When the night ended, a Knoxville semi-regular who hasn’t done anything noteworthy hereÂ was your A-main winner.
A crazy night indeed.
One that left Schatz and Larson in disbelief.
Schatz, the 10-time Nationals winner, is almost certain to be returning his No. 15 to Friday nightâs last-chance qualifier. Even after a valiant engine change and making Wednesdayâs A-main, Schatz finished the night 10th in points â hardly the performance he needed to lock himself into Saturday nightâs biggest race in sprint-car racing.
Larson, meanwhile, was left to wonder if he could even make it back at all Friday.
The NASCAR star would like toÂ give it a shot, but his race for the playoffs in the Monster Energy Cup Series comes first.
Heâs got Cup qualifying that starts at 4:05 p.m. CDTÂ Friday at Michigan International Speedway near Detroit.Â Itâs theoretically possible he could find a planeÂ and get here, even if he misses the nightâs hot laps â which usually begin around 7 p.m.
âAs bad as we were (Wednesday),â Larson said with a grin, âIâd like to do hot laps.â
Heâll have to get the OK from NASCAR boss Chip Ganassi, as he did in 2017 when he pushed Schatz to the finish in his No. 57.
Knoxville marketing director Kendra Jacobs said Larson would need to be here by 7:30 to have a shot at qualifying. Thatâs a tight turn, even if the weather was good and the plane was quick and timely.
And even if that all came together, he’d need to be back for the start of NASCAR Cup practice in Michigan by 7:35 a.m. CDT Saturday.
Larson loves coming to Knoxville. That’s why he is even considering it an option. A super-talented young driver with dirt-racing roots, heâs been trying to cross a Knoxville Nationals title off his bucket list for years.
He finished fifth in the A-main in 2016, second in 2017, third in 2018.Â
And what makes Wednesday’s performance especially dispiriting (he was 21st out of 53 in points) is that because NASCAR changed its Cup schedule, he almost certainly wouldn’t be able to compete here in 2020.
Even if LarsonÂ somehow made the logistics work and he qualified for Saturdayâs 50-lap feature â the top four finishers Friday night start in spots 21 to 24 the following night â itâd be a seriousÂ uphill battle to contend.
âI always want to race and give it another shot,â he said as a line of autograph-seeking fans waited for him to finish media interviews. âI had to run the Friday-night show in 2013. My night was very similar to what it was tonight; we qualified OK and missed the show. Then came back Friday and won.
“So, yeah, I mean I could do it.â
But would he have the car to do it? Changes would need to be made.
âI just didnât have any grip all night,â Larson said. âHopefully I get to come back Friday, and weâll be a lot better.â
Aaron Reutzel was Wednesday nightâs points winner, with 487, followed by Tim Kaeding (466), Paul McMahan (465) and Brent Marks (464). But Trey Starks of Puyallup, Washington, enjoyed the biggest celebration as the unlikely winner of the $12,000 A-main.
He commutes (really) from Washington to Knoxville regularly, often taking a red-eye flight to Des Moines to be here for a Friday-night show.
After making the Knoxville A-main final in 2017 then missing it in 2018, his race team decided more track time here for his No. 44 would help his quest to win the Nationals.
âWe took it upon ourselves to say, âHey, letâs pick this place out and try to get better there and see if we can consistently be fast there,ââ Starks said. âAnd we havenât really this year yet.â
Yet when it counted Wednesday, he found himselfÂ at the front of the pack.
And leftÂ guys like Schatz and Larson searching for answers.
A-main feature (25 laps), $12,000 to win (car number in parentheses) â 1. Trey Starks (44s); 2. James McFadden (9); 3. Sheldon Haudenschild (17); 4. Mark Dobmeier (13); 5. Aaron ReutzelÂ (87); 6. Brent Marks (19); 7. Tanner Thorson (88); 8. Jac Haudenschild (3H); 9. Paul McMahan (13x); 10. Tim Kaeding (7s); 11. Donny Schatz (15); 12. Gio Scelzi (71); 13. Tasker Phillips (7taz); 14. Wayne Johnson (2c); 15. Austin McCarl (2ks); 16. Ian Madsen (18); 17. Carson McCarl (27); 18. Spencer Bayston (5h); 19. Skylar Gee (99x); 20. Justin Peck (70x); 21. Jamie Ball (5j); 22. Paige Polyak (19p); 23. Jeff Swindell (7sw); 24. Scotty Thiel (64).
Points leadersÂ â 1. Aaron Reutzel, 4887; 2. Tim Kaeding, 466; 3. Paul McMahan, 465; 4. Brent Marks, 464; 5. Trey Starks, 463; 6. Ian Madsen, 455; 7. Sheldon Haudenschild, 453; 8. James McFadden, 450; 9. Gio Scelzi, 449; 10. Donny Schatz, 447.