The 60th NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals presented by Casey’s will take place August 11-14 at Iowa’s famed Knoxville Raceway. For 2021, there is an added financial bonus for those who make the Saturday night A-Main; in addition to $150,000 for the win, drivers will earn $1,000 for each lap led in the 50-lap finale.
Here’s our rundown of the ones to watch at sprint car racing’s biggest event.
With no Knoxville Nationals in 2020, David Gravel remains the defending champion after his win in 2019, when he drove the Jason Johnson Racing No 41 to victory.
In the 2017 Nationals he scored a perfect 500 points – setting quick time on his preliminary night, then qualifying through his heat and winning his prelim feature – to sit on the pole. He led the early portion of the finale until engine failure ended his night early.
In 2018 Gravel recorded a top-10 finish in the A, then returned in 2019 to again win his prelim night and earn a spot on the front row, holding off a hard-charging Logan Schuchart to earn the Nationals victory.
In the 2020 Capitani Classic finale to the “One and Only” – Knoxville’s replacement event for the cancelled Nationals – he finished fifth in the Thursday preliminary night feature and won the Friday prelim before finishing second to Kyle Larson in the finale in the midst of Larson’s short track dream season.
This season, Gravel moved to Tod Quiring’s Big Game Motorsports No. 2 and at press time has six World of Outlaws feature wins to date, in 2021, including a sweep at the two-day Bristol event on the fast half-mile converted dirt track. He’s second to Brad Sweet in the year’s win total, with his latest win coming at Huset’s in late-June, so his confidence level is high.
Normally, it would be odd for someone who’s never won the Knoxville Nationals, has only competed in a few events in the WoO series all season and earned just one WoO win in 2021 to be listed as one of our favorites for victory, but…Kyle Larson.
Last year, he won the Capitani Classic finale after topping the Thursday night prelim feature and finishing in the runner-up slot on Friday. But that was 30 laps, not 50…and it wasn’t the real Nationals. Despite not winning the big show, he’s finished in the top-10 four times, with a sixth in 2013, a fifth in 2016, a runner-up finish in 2017 and a podium finish behind Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz in 2018.
At press time, although he is entered for the event, it’s still unclear if Kyle will be able to compete in the full Nationals. However, if he’s able to be there on a qualifying night and on Saturday, and he’s paired with Paul Silva, he’ll likely be in the hunt for the win.
Schuchart has never won the Nationals and only has two World of Outlaws victories this season. However, given his consistent performances at Knoxville Raceway, it would not be at all surprising to see Logan land the Shark Racing No. 1s in victory lane, just as his Hall of Fame grandfather and team owner Bobby Allen did in 1990.
Logan was already landing impressive results in low-buck equipment prior to Drydene coming onboard in 2018, and the ability to pilot top-of-the-line equipment has shown results, especially at Knoxville.
In 2018, he set fast time on his qualifying night, but missed the final transfer spot by one position. He set quick time again in the Friday night “Hard Knox” program, then won the the Friday prelim to put himself in the field. On Saturday night he charged through the field to finish eighth.
In 2019, Schuchart had a rough qualifying night, but ran second to Kerry Madsen in the Friday program to make the show, starting 22nd. He earned the hard-charger award by running from 22nd to second behind Gravel in the Nationals finale.
In 2020, Schuchart ran second in the Thursday One and Only prelim and ninth in the Friday prelim before putting the 1s on the podium behind Larson and Gravel in the Capitani Classic finale. When the Outlaws ran Knoxville in June, he was fast qualifier in his group both nights and finished second on the prelim night and fifth in the finale.
They say the Nationals is a race you have to lose before you can win it, and Logan paid his runner-up dues in the last Nationals.
During the 2021 season, Brad Sweet has been on a tear, having already recorded 12 World of Outlaws feature wins as of this writing, which include sweeping the two-day event on the larger than half-mile I-70 Motorsports Park, as well as the season opener on the Volusia Speedway half-mile.
Most importantly, Sweet knows how to win the 50-lapper, having claimed the 2018 title with his Kasey Kahne Racing team. The two-time and defending World of Outlaws champion finished sixth in the 2019 Nationals, and sixth in last year’s 30-lap Capitani Classic. He had disappointing showings (sixth & 16th) at the two-night World of Outlaws show this June. But confidence is everything, and with Sweet leading the series win total and consistently earning checkers, he should be a threat to win again at the Nationals.
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