360 Knoxville Nationals Preview!

360 Knoxville Nationals Preview!
Friday, July 31, 2020
by Heath Jacobson - Countdown to the 30th annual My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank! Projecting the Starting Lineup!

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Heath's Starting Grid Prediction:
1. Austin McCarl
2. Justin Henderson
3. Aaron Reutzel
4. Brian Brown
5. James McFadden
6. Joey Saldana
7. Tim Shaffer
8. Kerry Madsen
9. Brooke Tatnell
10. Anthony Macri
11. Terry McCarl
12. Clint Garner
13. Scott Bogucki
14. Cory Eliason
15. Lynton Jeffrey
16. Jamie Ball

17. Tim Kaeding: There are more questions than assertions that can be made about a Harold Main-owned car which we have never seen turn laps at Knoxville Raceway prior to the entry of his 35M in the 30th annual My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank. However, one thought that is universally agreeable is that with Tim Kaeding behind the wheel it has the potential to be one of the fastest cars in the field of over 100 capable competitors. The younger of Brent Kaeding’s two sons has finished 10th in both of his two most recent appearances at the 360 Knoxville Nationals for Roth Motorsports in 2012 and Lunstra Motorsports in 2018.

The certainty of a transfer into his Preliminary Feature will be exponentially increased should his Time Trial place TK somewhere in the middle of the pack. The third generation sprint car driver will need to find speed quickly with an unfamiliar team in order to not get trapped outside the Heat Race inversion. A starting spot in one of the middle four rows for that evening’s A Main will set Kaeding up for a potentially spectacular run if he is able to maneuver the bottom line as effectively as some of his most memorable performances for Dave Lunstra. Discovering the set up which stabilizes the car and enables Tim to keep the left rear pinned to the low side of the track should be the major focus of the team for the entire weekend.

18. Matt Juhl: Tea, SD’s Matt Juhl passed an astounding number of cars during his two feature events in last year’s My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank. Juhl earned Friday night’s A Main Hard Charger Award for his brilliant drive from 22nd to 8th after advancing through the B Main, a performance which garnered enough points to lock him into the 19th starting spot for Saturday’s main event. Matt would then use the extended 25-lap feature to pass nine more cars and earn the first Top Ten finish of his career in seven attempts at the 360 Knoxville Nationals.

Matt has appeared in 360 Class competition on three occasions this season, posting a 2nd place finish at Hy-Vee Night on June 20th and an 8th place finish at Night #1 of the Brandt Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Nationals on July 10th. His most recent entry into the 360 Class included another spectacular run from 10th to within half a car length of Tim Shaffer for 2nd at the line to conclude Weiler Night on August 1st.

Juhl and the Octane Ink Team must strive to significantly improve the balance of the 09 in the early stages of his Preliminary Night in order to not be required to replicate his amazing feats needed to qualify for the feature event. Although the remainder of the field should take notice if Matt is able to start Saturday’s A Main anywhere within the first five rows. Presented with a longer run with no cautions, Juhl has simply been near unstoppable in a 360 for quite some time.

19. Sam Hafertepe Jr.: The Hill’s Racing Team began the 2020 season with the intention of competing full-time on the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All-Star Circuit of Champions. However, after multiple event cancellations for the national touring series due to COVID-19 regulations, Sam Hafertepe, Jr. has returned to regularly compete with the Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series. Hafertepe has previously dominated the ASCS National 360 series, winning the last four consecutive Points Championships. The driver out of Sunnyvale, TX has continued his command over his ASCS foes this season with four A Main victories in eight starts to take command of the current series Points Standings.

Although Sam has yet to appear in 360 Class competition at Knoxville Raceway this season, he has raced exclusively in the 410 class on four occasions finishing a season-high 10th in the Jersey Freeze/Dennison Racing Tees Christmas in July main event on July 25th. The former NOS Energy Drink World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series regular will be making his 14th career entry into the 360 Knoxville Nationals this year and is seeking his sixth career Saturday A Main start.

Last year’s 360 Nationals could not have started better for Hafertepe who posted a 4th place Time Trial then raced from 6th to 2nd in his Preliminary Heat Race. On the strength of Sam’s 10th place finish in Thursday’s A Main, his overall qualifying point total locked him in an Outside Row 4 starting spot for the final main event. Hafertepe would fall back to a 13th place finish, a disappointment which he will certainly hope to best this year. Saddled with some of the best equipment in the Pit Area, maintaining top speed on longer runs will be the key to success for the four-time National Sprint Car Hall of Fame 360 Sprint Car Driver of the Year.

20. Davey Heskin: Davey Heskin had a stellar weekend over the Fourth of July holiday which included one of the best performances of the year in his 360 Class debut this season at Knoxville Raceway to conclude Vermeer Night on July 3rd. The St. Michael, MN native transferred from the B Main to start that night’s A Main in the 22nd position and then sliced his way through the field to an impressive 6th place finish. Heskin then proceeded to best the previous night’s result with a masterful run from 17th to 5th on Town Crier Night- July 4th.

Outside of that one exceptional weekend, Davey has made only one more appearance in the 360 Class where he posted a 12th place finish at Night 1 of the Brandt Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Nationals on July 10th. A common theme throughout all three events this season for the Maxwell Racing Team has been their struggle with Qualifying. Davey’s inability to post a Time Trial within the top third of the competitors will prove very problematic at the 30th annual My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank.

Slotted with a more than ideal starting spot for his Heat Race, Heskin could quite possibly post the win during his Preliminary Night qualifying competition. A spectacular drive through the field reminiscent of his July 4th weekend performances should gain just enough points overall to lock him in to his eighth career Saturday A Main. Keep an eye on the Minnesotan in Saturday’s feature event, as a run from the back could very well be in the cards.

21. Brady Bacon: There are few story lines leading into the 30th annual My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank as exciting as the prospect of the notorious Hoffman Racing 69 USAC team donning a wing for the first time in decades. Brady Bacon will make his eighth career appearance at the event behind the wheel of one of the most iconic cars in sprint car racing history.

Brady took home his second consecutive Brandt Professional Agriculture Corn Belt Nationals title back on July 11th and is no stranger to winged 410 competition at the 1/2-mile dirt oval as well. The 2011 Rookie of the Nationals winner cited his many laps of experience in a winged car as an advantage over the field for last year’s inaugural USAC event when he anticipated the evolution of the black Zook clay surface to perfection.

The Macho Man will certainly be seeking to improve upon his 17th to 10th run in last year’s Saturday B Main. A 28th place Time Trial during his Preliminary Night resulted in a pole position starting spot for his Heat Race. However, his lackluster qualifying time mired the Broken Arrow, OK native back in an 18th starting position for his Preliminary Feature and set the tone for Brady’s weekend of struggle from deep in the field.

The Hoffman Racing Team will be presented with a significant challenge attempting to find the balance Brady needs to make a run at the 360 crown. Discovering the right setup for the two-time and defending USAC National Sprint Champion earlier in the weekend will inevitably equal greater success on Saturday.

22. Carson McCarl: The reigning Knoxville Raceway 360 Class Track Champion will certainly hope to improve on his 21st place finish in last year’s My Place Hotels 360 Knoxville Nationals presented by Great Southern Bank. Besting his 17th place Time Trial from one year ago should be a tangible goal with a particularly strong Moyle power plant under the hood. The higher point accumulation from that faster qualifying run would set up the youngest of the McCarl clan with a Heat Race that will determine the outcome of his entire weekend.

Carson has continued the consistency which characterized his championship season with six Top Five finishes out of seven A Features so far this year. The only exception came in the form of a 9th place finish after an impressive charge from his 19th starting position on Town Crier Night- July 4th. McCarl also recently overtook Jamie Ball for the top spot in the 360 Class Points Standings with his second trip to Victory Lane of the season to conclude Jersey Freeze Night/Dennison Racing Tees Christmas in July Night on July 25th.

McCarl will need to avoid becoming a victim of the Heat Race inversion should he post a vitally necessary Top Ten qualifying run and land in a third row starting spot on his Preliminary Night. The third generation driver fighting for a transfer spot could provide some of the most entertaining racing of the weekend. If Carson is able to maintain his momentum with the Moyle Racing Engine wound tight, a path to a comfortable starting spot in his Preliminary Feature lay ahead....and a shot at history.

23. Joe Beaver: Hometown hero Joe Beaver currently sits 4th in the Knoxville Raceway 360 Class Points Standings despite not qualifying for the A Main during Van Wall Night/Marion County Fair Night on July 18th. Outside of that one bad night, Joe has built a particularly strong résumé with three Top Five finishes and a Quick Time Award to kick off Vermeer Night on July 3rd.

A likely Top Ten time trial will score Beaver a substantial amount of qualifying points, but the Heat Race inversion will pose a significant hurdle for the veteran driver making his 22nd entry at the 360 Knoxville Nationals. Should he find himself required to transfer through the B Main on his Preliminary Night, Joe will need to rely heavily on that vast experience at the famous 1/2-mile oval. Succeeding in qualifying for his Preliminary Feature event could mean the difference between securing an advantageous starting spot in one of the first few rows of the B Main on Saturday night or being mired in the C Main.

One thing is absolutely certain, the resources of the Beaver Motorsports team may not be as plentiful as some of the larger programs in 360 competition but Joe and his crew continue to produce a car that can run wheel-to-wheel with anyone.

24. Dominic Scelzi: Scelzi’s charge from a seventh starting position in the C Main of last year’s 360 Knoxville Nationals to a very respectable 8th place finish in the B Main was one of the most impressive drives of the night. Although the Fresno, CA native has yet to compete in the 360 Class this season at the famous 1/2-mile oval, he has made two appearances in the 410 Class where he has shown marked improvement. He finished just one spot outside of a transfer to the A Main during the NOS Energy Drink World of Outlaws Return to Racing event on May 8th and recently posted a Top Ten finish during Van Wall Night/Marion County Fair Night on July 18th.

The addition of veteran crew chief Jimmy Carr to the Gary Scelzi Motorsports team seems to have accelerated Dominic’s maturation as a driver. The improved confidence in the cockpit led to his first career A Feature victory with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All-Star Circuit of Champions at Chatham Speedway in Chatham, LA on June 14th.

If Scelzi hopes to avoid having to race his way through the alphabet soup into the main event starting lineup during Saturday night’s qualifying races this year, he will need a considerably better Qualifying Time than his 26th place effort on Thursday night one year ago. He will also certainly look to avoid the bad luck he encountered during that night’s A Main which abruptly brought his hopes of an automatic qualifying spot to an end with a right rear tire failure on lap 8 while running in 13th.

Look for the elder of the Scelzi brothers to start near the front of his qualifying night Heat Race and hold on for a transfer into his preliminary A Main. Then a monumental hurdle of fast sprint cars from the middle of the pack will stand in the way of Dominic and a locked in starting spot for Saturday night. Should he string together a series of smooth laps and maintain his crucial momentum, those obstacles will not seem all that difficult.

Heath Jacobson is a freelance writer from Omaha, Nebraska. A life long race fan, Heath went up and down the road as a former World of Outlaws race team PR Representative for Karavan Motorsports and SCN Radio. You can follow him on Twitter at @OpenWheelScribe.