2003: Lasoski Wins For Stewart
Editor’s Note: This is the 19th 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 — Danny Lasoski, the most dominant driver in the history of the Knoxville Raceway, captured the 30- lap national championship feature at the 43rd annual Ford Dealers of Iowa Knoxville Nationals.
Though the win was Lasoski’s third Nationals victory, it was a special one because his car owner, Tony Stewart, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, was in the house. With the Winston Cup tour racing at Michigan on Sunday, Stewart was able to fly in to Knoxville to witness his first Saturday night at the Nationals as a car owner.
Stewart saw Lasoski come from the second row of the starting grid to challenge early leader and Nationals favorite Donny Schatz, who started on the pole. Schatz led the first seven laps of the feature before Lasoski got by outside polesitter Greg Hodnett and set his sights on the leader.
On the seventh circuit around the hallowed half-mile, Lasoski pulled inside Schatz down the backstretch and took the lead, with heavy lapped traffic in front of the pair. The traffic allowed Schatz to stay close for much of the race, and a wheelstand down the backstretch on lap 19 allowed him to get a run on Lasoski.
Hodnett slowed on the 22nd lap with a smoking race car, but the race’s only caution period came on the 28th lap, when Daryn Pittman stopped on the frontstretch.
On the restart that followed, there were no lapped cars placed between Lasoski and Schatz, setting up a three-lap dash to the finish. It was at this point that it was noted that Lasoski’s left-rear tire had a bad bounce. But that would not be enough to stop him from taking the win over Schatz and a charging Kenny Jacobs, who got third.
After making sure his car made the weight rule — a first for the Knoxville Nationals — Lasoski was jubilant as he entered victory lane with Stewart. Lasoski threw his gloves in the air in celebration, then climbed on top of the car’s wing to the delight of the photographers.
Following the race, Lasoski said a shock absorber had broken on the car. In the press conference that followed, Stewart said the worst part of the week for him was having to leave the celebration early to return to Michigan for Sunday’s race.
“This is the only Knoxville Saturday night I’ve been able to make and it’s a lot bigger to me than whatever happens tomorrow, even if I win,” he said.
A visibly disappointed Schatz, who has now put together a long string of heartbreakingly close performances at the Nationals, said although he finished second, he felt he had a “fifth-place car.”
“Come feature time, I was trying to play mechanic,” he said, adding he made a decision to change a left-rear tire and some gears in the car. The changes did not work well and Schatz had trouble taking off on the late restart, which kept him from getting close enough to pass Lasoski.
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