KNOXVILLE, Iowa — While his nickname may be Sunshine, the rest of the Knoxville Nationals field might as well have called him Sunset when Tyler Courtney had a two-second lead before the halfway break Saturday night at Knoxville Raceway.
Courtney started second and took the lead from pole-sitter Austin McCarl on the second lap. Despite cautions bunching up the field, Courtney pulled away before halfway.
Clauson Marshall Racing didn’t make many changes to the No. 7BC machine during the three minute break. Courtney led after the restart over David Gravel and the 2019 Knoxville Nationals Champion hounded Courtney for the lead. The pair swapped the lead multiple times before the Gravel kept it on Lap 28 of 50.
After the caution for McCarl’s shredded right rear tire, Courtney lost second to eventual race winner Donny Schatz. Logan Schuchart then took third from Courtney with three laps to go. Courtney would finish fourth in the 24-car field, picking up $26,000 (plus lap leader bonus money) for his efforts.
The 2018 USAC Sprint Car Champion believed his car was as good in the second half as it was earlier. However, all it took was Gravel taking the lead to change everything.
“Having one car in front of you just messes up how your car handles a little bit,” Courtney told TobyChristie.com “And then when Donny gets around, he knows exactly where to put his car to screw the guy behind him. But that’s what makes him a 10-, sorry, 11-time champion now here and a 10-time World of Outlaws champion. So it’s weird to sound frustrated about running fourth at the Nationals.
“It’s a little frustrating, but I think once it sinks in that we just did what we did, I felt like we were super competitive. And, you know, if I do a couple things different, I don’t know if we could beat Donny, but I think, you know, just a couple things. I don’t know, it’s just frustrating, but still a hell of a weekend for us.”
After leading 24 of 50 laps, Courtney had every right to be frustrated, especially after seeing Schatz pull away. The loss didn’t sting for too long upon reflection.
“You’re driving your heart off, driving your balls off, and [Donny]’s still just, I don’t know, it’s frustrating,” Courtney said. “But I know when I sit back and think tonight that I got beat by an 11-time champion, it doesn’t hurt as bad. That guy is a once in a lifetime talent. And I’m just honored to even get to race against him.”
Courtney’s second Knoxville Nationals A-Main came after a solid Thursday night preliminary performance. Courtney was fourth-fastest in qualifying and finished fourth in his heat race. Finishing seventh in Thursday’s feature gave Courtney enough points for Saturday’s outside pole.
Clauson Marshall Racing co-owner Tim Clauson was proud of his driver and team’s performance at Knoxville.
“This is our second time here. We’ve made the show both years, and to feel at halfway like we’re the car to beat is pretty incredible,” Clauson said. “It’s kind of like we were talking there, knowing when the track is going to make that change from top to middle to bottom, it’s just doing it. So we’ll take those notes and hopefully come back just as strong and be able to finish it off next year.”
CMR race primarily in the All Star Circuit of Champions, winning the 2021 title. The team will continue their 2022 All Stars campaign after heading back home. CMR may race some more with the World of Outlaws before the 2022 racing season concludes.
“It’s been a whirlwind few weeks here for us across all of CMR,” Clauson said. “So it’d be nice to get home and sleep a little bit and then look at the [World of Outlaws] schedule and see where we’re headed to next.”
Below are the highlights of Saturday’s A-Main.