LAS VEGAS — In front of a nearly packed grandstand, local fans and beyond witnessed an exciting performance from one of the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series’ most elite drivers, Donny Schatz. Not only were members of the Nellis Air Force Base in attendance to witness their racing heroes fly around The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the drivers were also racing on the fast-action track as a salute to America’s servicemen and women in the final night of the FVP Outlaw Showdown.
Schatz not only won his 11th series race at the half-mile, but also swept the event. Schatz doubled his $15,000 purse from the opener, collecting a total of $30,000 in winnings at Vegas. The North Dakota native was awarded the “Badlands Bonus” for both shows, as well as a gold-toned tool set commemorating Craftsman Tool’s 90th anniversary. He also took a pair of slot-machine trophies home to Fargo, N.D., one for each of his victories. Since the season opener in mid-February, Schatz has won five of the first six shows in 2017 – a personal best to start a World of Outlaws season.
“All I can say is, I finally got to ‘Park It,'” said Schatz in front of a roaring crowd. “We had something happen there in the mid-part of the race – I just couldn’t get into rhythm. I tried to get through lapped traffic and Rico [Abreu] obviously got by us there on the restart. I got in good position to get out front and had clear track after that. It’s been tricky here, but if it was easy then it wouldn’t be fun for any of us. I was a little nervous when he got by. Every time I get into this car, it’s unbelievable.
When you get to when you win 25 or 30 races in a season, it’s expected of you. These guys work so hard to do that, and for the driver it’s the same way. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re at…you have to work on your flaws. We’ve never started strong. We’re working on that flaw, and it’s worked so far.”
Schatz, who spent the majority of his time skimming the top cushion, started on the outside of the first row for the 30-lap feature. Earlier in the program, Schatz won his heat race after a thrilling pass entering turn three in the closing laps. Though he made the pass from the bottom in his heat, Schatz laid his tracks on the outside for the feature. This proved to give Schatz’s No. 15 Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racingcar enough of a surge to thunder down the front straightaway faster than those around him. Schatz took the lead from fellow series regular Logan Schuchart almost instantaneously to when the green flag dropped; however, Schuchart did not accept an early defeat. A yellow flag followed with one lap completed, which regrouped the field – giving Schuchart a chance to reclaim the lead in his No. 1s Marty Thompson Investments/Newman’s Towing & Recovery car.
In Schuchart’s eight appearances at the track, his best finish was Thursday night when he recorded a top-five finish. By virtue of the Craftsman Club® Dash, Schuchart went on to lead the field into the green flag for the first time since September 24, 2016 at Lernerville Speedway. Though Schatz had the upper-hand – momentarily – Schuchart quickly recovered on the restart by using the extra momentum exiting turn two to recapture the lead. Thereon, he created a 1.115-second buffer. While Schuchart progressed, Schatz regressed into a battle with Abreu. Abreu climbed 19 positions Thursday night to finish third in the feature; he started third Friday night.
Lap 12 was one of the most pivotal moments of the feature, as Schuchart, Abreu and Schatz spread nearly three-wide across the front stretch. The three virtually locked wheels – a few feet from one another. Schatz reaction time was the quickest of the three, as he weaved through Schuchart and Abreu for the lead entering turn one. Two laps later, Abreu overtook Schuchart in turn two; by this time, Schatz increased his lead to more than a two-second margin.
While Schuchart faded in third position, Abreu continued to gain ground on Schatz. By lap 21, Abreu attempted a risky maneuver by jumping the cushion in turn two. Abreu’s move was successful, as he was able to carry enough speed to pass Schatz in turn four. The shear speed of his No. 24R Abreu Vineyards/Priority Aviation car though caused him to tap the wall in turn four, breaking his momentum. Schatz took advantage of Abreu’s mistake and reclaimed the spot – until a yellow flag regrouped the field. Abreu was still .053-seconds ahead of Schatz when the two crossed the line, so Abreu retained the top spot because of the caution.
“I was just thinking about what to do to stay ahead,” said Abreu, who leaves Vegas with two podium finishes. “Just some poor decisions there at the end of the race on my part. I just live and learn. You learn so much racing with the Outlaws. The pace is so fast, so you try your hardest every lap. When you’re trying really hard, it’s easy to make mistakes. I felt like once we got to traffic and I got passed Donny, I just made bad decisions behind lapped cars. I just get so nervous trying to clear guys – to try not to clear them too far to blow through the cushion and hit the wall. We’re knocking on the door and everyone is chasing this No. 15 Arctic Cat car.”
His lead was quickly thwarted. Abreu chose the bottom on the restart. Schatz, who was continually strong from the top, beat Abreu on the restart. He never looked back. Schatz opened-up a 1.272-second lead over Abreu, and finished the feature ahead of the pack by nearly the same margin. Schuchart rounded-out the podium – a personal best at the track.
“Any time you’re improving, that’s key,” Schuchart said. “We’ve been here a couple times and really haven’t had good finishes. Our season started really slow, but we got our engine working really good, and our guys are doing great. We had a good car this week, and we improved every night. But any time you start on the pole and go backward, it’s not what you want to happen. The World of Outlaws is a very tough group of drivers and teams, and to be sitting out here…you know you did a good job.”
By sweeping the Vegas stretch, Schatz is the only driver eligible for another $10,000 from Badlands Motor Speedway’s bonus system. He will attempt that feat at the Outlaw FanFest on July 1-2 at Badlands Motor Speedway. Schatz joking said, “Yeah, no pressure. But we feed off of that.”
“Ironically enough, we did win the last race there,” said Schatz, who won the finale in 2016. “It’s been a great place there. I’ve always cut my teeth there back in the day – I’ve wrecked a lot of equipment there. So, it’s fun to go there and get those victories. If we can get back there and do it again, it’ll be extra-special.”
The World of Outlaws acknowledged more than a half-dozen members of the United States Air Force at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Airmen and women took part in pre-race ceremonies before heat races were underway. During the ceremony, thousands of fans stood to their feet, giving them a standing ovation for their service. A deafening “U-S-A” chant echoed throughout the facility. On Thursday morning, drivers took a tour of the base – filled with advanced aviation technology – in hopes of reaching high-octane speeds like the fighter jets circling the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex.
The tour begins its California swing – seven events through five tracks – with Thunderbowl Raceway from March 17-18. To learn how to purchase tickets, visit www.tularethunderbowl.com.
-World of Outlaws Press Release
-Photo Credit: Tony Stewart Racing