David Gravel does not remember a time when a driver scored a perfect 500 points in Knoxville Nationals qualification -- unless he has a much better memory than most two-month old babies. The last time a driver was perfect in preliminaries for this prestigious race was in 1992 when the legendary Steve Kinser performed the feat; Gravel was born in June of that same year.
Last night in Knoxville, Iowa, Gravel matched the exploit.
He started his bid by setting a quick time of 15.072 seconds. That earned him 200 points, but he would not get a chance to cruise to victory in his heat. A heavy inversion of eight put him at the back of the 10-car pack with only 10 laps in the race to get to the front.
It took only three. Gravel earned another 100 points for winning the heat.
The inversion also forced him to roll off the grid eighth in the feature, and this time it took a little longer to get to the front, but he swept around Mark Dobmeier with a handful of laps remaining to score his 12th win of the season and bank 200 more points to his qualification total.
With a perfect score, Gravel will sit on the pole for Saturday night's $150,000-to-win event.
"It's surreal. We're going to try and enjoy this tonight and end up with a solid finish Saturday," Gravel said from Victory Lane.
Gravel had to take the lead twice. He briefly held it on lap 10, but a caution waved before the field got to the flag stand. The lineup reverted to the last completed lap.
"I did get the lead, but the yellow came out," said Gravel in Victory Lane. "I knew Mark would be good in open track. I was just going to run behind him until we hit traffic and run the bottom. I was lucky I got back by Brian [Brown]. I made the mistake of running down the track, but the top was the fastest way around. I'm in a zone right now. Little holes look big. Like Kyle Larson said, I've never driven a sprint car this good. Hopefully, Saturday, we can duke it out."
Larson won night one and is still awaiting approval to return for the big show.
Brian Brown also got past Dobmeier in the closing laps, but his evening was a little more erratic. He fell back as far as seventh.
"I'm just proud to be standing here," said Brown. "I could have named you five or six times throughout this night I should be on the hook. From the C-Main last year to here we are now…we've just wanted an opportunity to win the Knoxville Nationals and we've put ourselves in position. Congratulations to David and his team. I never thought we'd see a perfect score again in my lifetime. The exciting part is we have the World Challenge tomorrow to work on things."
Dobmeier was also fully cognizant of Gravel's strength.
"He showed speed all night long," Dobmeier said. "He had it from the word go. The lapped cars held me up a bit. In the end, I think I was a little too patient with them. I needed to try the bottom in one and two. That's where I lost the race. Tonight it bit me. We've only hit two weekly shows here, and we've definitely stepped our big track program up."
Ian Madsen in fourth and Daryn Pittman rounded out the top five.
The Knoxville 410 Nationals activities continue on Friday and readers can follow live updates at FloRacing.
Top 10 Finishers
1. David Gravel
2. Brian Brown
3. Mark Dobmeier
4. Ian Madsen
5. Daryn Pittman
6. Wayne Johnson
7. Terry McCarl
8. Danny Dietrich
9. Spencer Bayston
10. Rico Abreu
Complete Results, with Heats and B-Main finishes
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