2002: Number 12 For Steve Kinser
Editor’s Note: This is the 14th installment in National Speed Sport News’ 30 Days of Knoxville countdown to the 52nd annual Goodyear Knoxville Nationals. During the coming days we will revisit past races, drivers and statistics, while previewing this year’s event.
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Tyler Walker performs his cartwheel-back flip-round offs and P.J. Chesson celebrates victories by turning doughnuts and climbing the fence on the front straightaway.
Steve Kinser showed more emotion than he had in his previous 463 Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series victories Saturday, standing on the top wing of his No. 11 Quaker State Maxim and waving the checkered flag after winning the 42nd annual Mopar Parts Knoxville Nationals.
Kinser led all 30 laps from outside the front row at Knoxville Raceway to win his 12th Mopar Parts Knoxville Nationals championship — his first since passing 13 cars on his way to winning the title in 1995.
“I can’t climb the fence and I don’t know if it would hold me anyway,” Kinser said jokingly. I did pretty well on the wing though.”
Danny Lasoski, the polesitter and defending champion, battled Kinser heroically through the first 25 laps as the painful effects of injuries he suffered two weeks earlier lingered. “The Dude” — a seven-time Knoxville Raceway champion — finished fourth in sprint car racing’s premier event.
“This is pretty good since we’ve had crashes in the first corner the last two years,” Kinser said. “I didn’t feel good on the bottom all night; I just couldn’t roll it. I think they left the bottom down there for Danny. I thought it was him coming by me on the last lap. When I saw it wasn’t him, I said, ‘oh thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Danny did a great job just to get out there and race. He’s banged up really bad. For him to hang in there and run as hard as he did for 30 laps, if he was 100% you might have seen a different situation.”
Donny Schatz, who celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday, almost stole the victory as Kinser turned sideways in the second corner with the white flag waving. Schatz’s No. 15 Parker Stores J&J was .336 seconds behind as Kinser took the checkered flag.
“If we had been closer to those guys (Kinser and Lasoski) at the beginning, we might have had a better chance,” the dejected Schatz said. “I gave it the best I could, but Steve did a better job. We just congratulate him. I’ll have to come back again and try to win.”
Kinser was uncharacteristically slow during the A Feature hot-lap session, but discovered the problem in time to run at full power throughout the race.
“When we went out there in the hot-lap session, I just felt terrible and I couldn’t figure out why,” Kinser said. “I came in and I went to shut the fuel off and realized I only had it half-way on. I don’t know how it ran. We didn’t know what to do, but we left it alone and here we are.”
Lasoski drove NASCAR Winston Cup star Tony Stewart’s #20 J.D. Byrider Eagle into the lead as the green flag fell in the main event. Kinser raced wheel-to-wheel with him through turn four and surged ahead at the finish line, however, and was on his way to victory.
Schatz, who won the Second Preliminary Feature and started inside the fourth row, passed Craig Dollansky, Tyler Walker and Tim Shaffer during the first 11⁄2 laps as Kinser and Lasoski exchanged the lead in almost every corner.
Kinser, who opened a .6-second lead during the first five laps, saw “The Dude” trying to sneak by him entering turn one early in lap six turned sharply to cut him off, setting the tone for the fast-paced battle. Kinser entered lapped traffic two laps later and started to extend his advantage.
Three-time Nationals champion Mark Kinser lost 11th place late in the 12th lap when the No. 5m Mopar Maxim spun in the fourth corner. Flagman Doug Clark waved the yellow flag, opening the track ahead of the leaders while tightening the field.
Lasoski kept pace with S. Kinser as the race resumed and the leaders took turns passing each other with daring slide moves throughout lap 13. Kinser caught the back-markers again six laps later with Lasoski only a car length behind.
Schatz passed Lasoski for the runner-up spot early in the 26th lap and started tracking down Kinser soon thereafter. Schatz narrowed the gap to one car- length before Kinser charged between Paul McMahan and Jason Sides in the fourth corner with 124 laps remaining. Schatz almost passed Kinser as the leaders raced to the checkered flag, but was unable to surge ahead.
“We ran second to Donny last week (in The Historical Big One at Eldora Speedway), but he’s going to have a little better payday for second than I did,” Kinser said.
Schatz thought he had a chance to win for the second straight week during the white-flag lap.
“I saw Steve turn sideways on the last lap and I thought I could get a good run on him, but he got himself out of trouble,” Schatz said. “I used to come out here and cheer for this guy. Now I wish he could retire. He’s the best ever, so I can’t hang my head running second to him.”
Dollansky finished in third place, ahead of Lasoski, Walker, 12th-starting Greg Hodnett, Shaffer, Jac Haudenschild, Johnny Herrera and Joey Saldana.
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