Schatz leads Outlaws top-five to claim his seventh win of the season
Closing in on 300 wins in his World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series career, the feeling of celebrating in Victory Lane is never lost on Donny Schatz.
However, it was starting to feel that way at Williams Grove Speedway.
The 19-time winner at the speedway had not found victory there since May of 2015. He came close to securing his 20th win several times, including earlier in the year when he finished second to Lance Dewease and Friday night’s Summer Nationals opener where he finished third.
Both times, parked on the front stretch with the rest of the podium cars, he could see Victory Lane. See the confetti shooting into the sky. And see the trophy being delivered to someone other than him.
That changed Saturday night. In the seat of his Toco Warranty No. 15 car, Schatz was pushed past where the third-place car would sit, past the runner-up spot and into Victory Lane at Williams Grove for the 20th time, claiming the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals and the $20,000 payday attached to it.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been standing out here getting the trophy and the flag,” Schatz said. “Hats off to this whole Tony Stewart Racing team. They’ve been digging.”
The reigning champion from Fargo, N.D. was fast all night, but never showed a dominate hand. He qualified fourth. Then won his Drydene Heat race and went on to finished third in the DIRTVision Fast Pass Dash to winner Sheldon Haudenschild and runner-up Brad Sweet.
Neither Sweet or Haudenschild had ever won a World of Outlaws Feature at Williams Grove Speedway. Experience was on the 10-time Series champion’s side.
When the race went green, Sweet launched to the lead ahead of Haudenschild, but before the action went any further the red flag was thrown for Shane Stewart, who flipped down the front stretch. Stewart’s crew, along with help from others, got the car repaired in time for him to reenter the race before it went back green.
Once it did, Sweet, again, charged into turn one looking to take the lead from Haudenschild, but the young Wooster, Ohio driver was ready for Sweet this time. Haudenschild stayed side-by-side with the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 car into turn one but got crossed up at the center of the turn, allowing Sweet to charge by the NOS Energy Drink No. 17 car.
The next corner, Schatz dove underneath Haudenschild and cleared him off turn four to take second-place. A few laps later Haudenschild powered to the inside of Schatz entering turn one, but the veteran driver had the better run on the high side of the track. He kept Haudenschild at bay and began his trek toward Sweet.
The Kasey Kahne Racing driver had already pulled away to about a four-car length lead, while riding the high side. Schatz chose the same line. It began to work in his favor.
Seven laps into the 30-lap Feature, with lap cars in sight, Schatz closed to Sweet’s bumper. A lap later, running the middle of the track, Schatz was able to hammer the throttle quicker than Sweet off turn two and sped by him down the back stretch for the lead.
Sweet wasn’t ready to let a Williams Grove victory and $20,000 slip through his fingers, though. He threw a daring slide job at Schatz through turns three and four, leaving inches between their bumper when he slid in front of him exiting turn four.
He couldn’t keep the momentum going off the corner, though. Schatz powered back underneath Sweet down the front stretch, and using a lap car as a pick, drove by him for the lead into turn one. Not long after, Haudenschild worked his way around Sweet for second, as well.
“Felt like I didn’t drive a great race in lap traffic there,” Sweet said. “Just needed to do a little bit better of a job. That’s what wins or loses these races. You’ve got to move around and get by the lap cars.”
The battle was now between Schatz and Haudenschild. Schatz raced around the bottom line, while Haudenschild powered around the outside. That put him at Schatz’s bumper with 10 laps to go.
The same scenario occurred at Cedar Lake Speedway, where Schatz rode the bottom and Haudenschild rocketed around the high side of the track and passed the Series champion for the win.
This time, though, Schatz did what he failed to do at Cedar Lake. He moved his line to the high side of turns one and two, stopping any large run by Haudenschild around the top. Doing so also gave him a good enough run off the corner to extend his lead over Haudenschild.
“Trying to figure out how to pass here is big,” Haudenschild said. “I followed Donny around there for a lot of laps. He don’t make any mistakes. He’s difficult to get around.”
Haudenschild attempted a slide job into turn one to close back on Schatz, but it back fired. He slid up the track and lost grip off the corner, allowing Schatz to further pull away and cruise to the win.
“I had to move around the race track,” Schatz said. “There were laps where I felt like I could roll the bottom and the middle better, and laps where I felt like I had to hustle the top.
“Sheldon is really good when it comes to the cushion like that. It’s tricky. And he’s only getting better. The bad part is he’s way young. There’s going to come a time when he’s going to make me obsolete. But not today.”
Behind Schatz, Haudenschild finished second with Sweet third, Daryn Pittman fourth and David Gravel fifth – shutting out the PA Posse from the top-five at the Mechanicsburg, Pa. track.
With Sweet finishing third, Schatz also closed the points gap between them to eight points.
The Summer Nationals win was Schatz’s seventh Series victory of the year and 290th career win overall.
Victory Lane at Williams Grove Speedway was no longer a distant vision. He saw the confetti and saw the trophy being handed to him once again.
“It’s been a long time since standing here (in Victory Lane at Williams Grove Speedway), but I remember what it feels like now,” Schatz said.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series on Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3, will be at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo. for the Ironman doubleheader. Get tickets and more information.
As always, you can catch all World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series action on DIRTVision.com.