Associated Press, Published August 17 2009
Donny Schatz wins Knoxville Nationals againKNOXVILLE, Iowa – A little patience produced yet another Knoxville Nationals championship for Donny Schatz.
Schatz was content to bide his time before making his move, then powered his way to a fourth straight victory Sunday night in the richest, most prestigious race on the sprint car racing circuit.
He passed Joey Saldana for the lead on the 35th lap and held it through the final five laps to collect the $150,000 first prize. Now, he’s just one short of the record five straight Nationals titles that Steve Kinser won from 1991-95.
“To be able to do it once, twice, three times is awesome,” Schatz said. “But you’re only as good as your last race and that’s tonight.”
Schatz certainly was good enough on this weekend, when the 40-lap feature, the longest in the 49-year history of the Knoxville Nationals, was delayed a day because of heavy rain.
But bright sunshine dried the half-mile dirt oval Sunday afternoon. And with no clouds in the way, officials delayed the start of the race so drivers wouldn’t be looking into the setting sun as they slid out of the second turn.
“The way the track was, it was awesome fast on the top and you just had to really, really, really be patient on the bottom,” Schatz said. “That’s what I did. That’s what won me the race.”
Saldana led for the first 34 laps, but had to settle for his third runner-up finish in the last four years, denied again in his attempt to join his father as a Knoxville Nationals champion. Joe Saldana won the race in 1970.
“It’s just one of those deals,” Saldana said. “There’s not much you can say about it. We had a good week. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Hopefully, we can win one.”
Pole-sitter Stevie Smith finished third, and Tim Kaeding was fourth.
Schatz started in the No. 6 spot and ran third for most of the race. He squeezed past Smith on the third turn of the 33rd lap to move into second, and it didn’t take him long to run down Saldana, who slowed when he had to weave through lapped traffic.
“We needed lapped traffic, and we got it and forced Joey into a couple of mistakes,” Schatz said.
Schatz and Saldana jockeyed for the lead momentarily on the backstretch before Schatz surged past him. Saldana was unable to mount a challenge once he fell behind and Schatz won by 1.76 seconds.
“We did race clean,” Schatz said. “He’s a great competitor. I know what he’s feeling right now. I do feel for him.”
Schatz finished second in the Nationals four times from 2000-05.
“I’ll never forget the seconds,” he said. “But the wins are definitely what we want to do here. We’re just glad to be here.”