BRISTOL, Tenn. — A busy day of practice for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and Super DIRTcar Series at Bristol Motor Speedway produced none of the chaos many people expected.
In fact, save for a handful of mechanical gremlins, there were no major incidents Thursday at The Last Great Colosseum ahead of the inaugural Bristol Throwdown.
Topping the overall sprint car speed charts at day‘s end was 10-time Outlaw champion Donny Schatz, who lapped the half-mile, dirt-covered high banks at 14.210 seconds (133.258 mph) with his No. 15 Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing sprinter.
It was a solid showing for Schatz, who led his hot-lap group virtually all night long across five rounds of practice for the winged 410 sprint cars ahead of two full shows Friday and Saturday.
Schatz is in pursuit of his 300th career Outlaw victory and won at Bristol in 2001.
Though David Gravel was second-quick on the combined list, topping out at 14.286 seconds (132.549 mph) in the No. 2 Big Game Motorsports entry, he led practices three and four Thursday evening.
The Watertown, Conn., native feels confident about his race car and believes that qualifying will be a major key to victory during both programs this weekend at Bristol.
“I feel way better today than I did coming into the weekend,” Gravel tipped. “The track got a little rough in (turns) three and four, but one and two was really nice and I believe they‘ll be able to even up the two ends before we really get going on it. I believe we‘ll be able to use most of the race track this weekend.
“I found a line that I felt was the fastest and felt the best, so we‘ll see if that works tomorrow,” Gravel added. “Hopefully we can get a good qualifying lap down, because I do feel like that will be important.”
James McFadden, wheeling the No. 9 Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb machine, was third overall at 14.388 seconds (131.610 mph) ahead of NASCAR Cup Series star Kyle Larson (14.494/130.647) and Gio Scelzi (14.575/129.921), who set his quickest lap in the second round of practice Thursday night.
Larson had a nervous moment in third practice when smoke briefly billowed out of his race car in turns three and four, but that was diagnosed as excess oil burning off of the headers on his No. 57 Silva Motorsports car.
The Elk Grove, Calif., native is making his season debut with the World of Outlaws this weekend after winning a series-leading 12 features with The Greatest Show on Dirt last year.
Sprint Car Hall of Famer Jac Haudenschild spun his No. 22 Pennzoil-sponsored sprint car coming onto the frontstretch during the same practice round, but incurred no damage and was able to continue.
Rookie-of-the-year contender Parker Price-Miller rallied back from a power steering issue in the opening practice Thursday to go fastest in the final session, held under the lights as night fell over the speedway.
Twenty-eight cars of the 38 pre-entries signed in to compete this weekend at Bristol, and every competitor on the property turned laps at speed during Thursday‘s three-hour practice night.
Mike Gular turned the fastest lap of the night in Super DIRTcar Series big-block modified practice, going 17.361 seconds (109.072 mph) in the third round of hot laps at the half-mile, dirt-covered oval.
Gates for Friday‘s Bristol Throwdown program open at 4:30 p.m. ET.