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Local Sports

Gravel is on top of sprint car world as Knoxville Nationals champ

Knoxville Raceway Photo
David Gravel, middle,celebrates winning the 2019 Knoxville Nationals championship with Jaxx Johnson. Logan Schuchart, left, claimed second and Daryn Pittman, right, finished third in Saturday's finale at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville.
Knoxville Raceway Photo David Gravel, middle,celebrates winning the 2019 Knoxville Nationals championship with Jaxx Johnson. Logan Schuchart, left, claimed second and Daryn Pittman, right, finished third in Saturday's finale at Knoxville Raceway in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE — In 2017, Connecticut’s David Gravel scored a perfect 500 score at the Knoxville Nationals and was the odds-on favorite heading into Saturday. That race ended for him with mechanical woes. 

Two years later, the Watertown, Conn., driver is the 59th Annual NOS Energy Drink Knoxville Nationals champion. Gravel drove the Jason Johnson Racing No. 41 sprint car to the race team’s second win. In 2016, Jason Johnson won the Knoxville Nationals.

“This is awesome,” Gravel said as he celebrated in Knoxville Raceway Victory Lane. “I don’t know what to say. It was a dream week.  I’m numb. I wasn’t that tired in the car, but after the checkered, it sinks in and you feel like you have boulders on your shoulders. It’s surreal really.”

Gravel said he was happy to have the lead at the halfway point and controling his own destiny. He said the team made an adjustment there at the red and made the car better. 

Pole-sitter Aaron Reutzel set the pace early in the 50-lap main event, but Joey Saldana came from row three to lead Laps 2 and 3. Reutzel rode the low line to take the lead. 

Dominic Scelzi brought out the first caution of the race when he stopped on lap four. At the time, Reutzel led Saldana, Gravel, Tim Kaeding and Tim Shaffer.

Another yellow flew for Donny Schatz, who came to a stop with mud packed under his throttle. He restarted at the tail.

Gravel slid in front of Saldana for second on the Lap 10. Daryn Pittman was also on the move from his starting spot in row five, moving into the top five.

By Lap 13, Pittman passed Kaeding for fourth, while Gravel was sizing up Reutzel for the lead. Gravel slid across Reutzel’s bow in turn four to take command on Lap 14. Kaeding and Pittman battled briefly, before Kaeding used the low groove to go by him for fourth on Lap 18.

The mandatory caution came at the halfway point. It erased a 2.7 second lead for Gravel over the field.

After the restart, Gravel built a big lead and would not be challenged. Following the lead trio was Kaeding and Reutzel. Sweet, Haudenschild, James McFadden, Schatz and Gio Scelzi rounded out the top 10.

Knoxville Raceway will have its season championship night on Aug. 24.

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