Legacy is not a word that is thrown around too lightly, but in the instance of this year's Knoxville Nationals 360, it seems rather appropriate. Five top-tier K&N Filters-sponsored competitors gathered at the 111-year-old Knoxville, Iowa venue-only 45 minutes from the state capital of Des Moines. Knoxville Raceway is the third largest outdoor stadium in Iowa and famous for being the "Sprint Car Capital of the World." The group consisting of Jason Johnson, Jonathan Allard, Brian Brown, Shane Stewart and Kraig Kinser made the best out of deep-field starts, neck-and-neck competition and tough conditions to earn their places in the 22nd Annual 360 Knoxville Nationals.
Missouri native, Brian Brown, is responsible for the number 21, 360 sprint car
Qualifying for the 360 Nationals was held on Thursday and Friday evening as the Arnold Motor Supply 360 Nationals championship finale was to begin Saturday night. Jason Johnson and the Stenhouse Jr. Racing/HM Racing/JJR team were ready to go against some of the best sprint car drivers in the nation.
Johnson's qualifying round didn't see much in the way of place advancement, but it did earn him a spot in the main event on Saturday. Johnson throttled his Roush Yates Ford-powered Maxim through a field of 52 cars to achieve two of the quickest time trial laps despite the dry, slowing track surface. Johnson defended his spot and jumped at any opportunity to move forward, landing him in the Top 10.
Shane Stewart pulled out his 4th victory in Knoxville driving the number 77, 360 Sprint car
Making it into Saturday's final, Johnson moved up nine spots, coming in with a solid 11th place finish, but not without earning it first. The Eunice, Louisiana native worked around the track hunting for open lanes to exploit, continuing past the competition occasionally using the high side when possible.
Jonathan Allard, the Chico, California native, had hoped for better this weekend. Opening with a rough start, Allard and the Williams Motorsports team fought off the 52 car field for 37th place. A 10th place finish in his heat and a following win landed him a deep spot in the B Main. Unfortunately, Allard was tangled up in an opening lap wreck that forced him into the pits.
Undaunted and repaired, Allard rejoined the field and marched his way into the 10th spot ending his qualifying night in the semi. Allard was able to grab the third spot in the Main, but lingering issues forced him out of the C Main. "We laid down a horrible qualifying lap and that pretty much dictated our night," Allard groaned. "I'm glad this weekend is over. I'm hoping we can put together a much better effort for the 410 Nationals."
Brian Brown faced troubles in qualifying, but came through in the end. The Grain Valley, Missouri driver started with the 35th fastest time in qualifying on Thursday. "We had high hopes going into Knoxville to qualify well," says Brian, who went home with a career-best seventh place finish at last year's Nationals. Brian improved over the weekend with a run from seventh to fourth in his preliminary heat. "It was a tough heat," he admitted. "We were able to get up to fourth, which was the key. We just needed to get in."
With eight cars to pass in 15 laps in Saturday's B main, Brown held on until the last lap to finally take fourth. "We got to sixth pretty quick. I felt like I was the same speed as those guys in front of me. Honestly, I didn't think I was going to make it, but I was able to run two of my best laps," he beamed.
In the A main, Brian passed 16 cars to finish eighth in the non-stop 25-lap championship event. "We kept plugging away and running it as hard as it would go," Brown recounted. "We were good. I think we passed as many cars as we could in the amount of time we had. To get all the way to eighth was pretty cool."
Jonathan Allard drives the K&N sponsored 360 sprinter labeled number 0
After getting through a tough heat that only took the top three finishers, Brian ended up seventh in the main event. "There was some stuff we wanted to try in the feature," he says. "It just didn't work out. The car wasn't where we needed to be. We were lucky to finish as well as we did really."
Unlike the aforementioned Allard, Kraig Kinser lived up to his own expectations as he finished fourth in the 50-lap finale. Of course, qualifying for the main event is often a victory in itself, as the Knoxville Nationals traditionally hosts the biggest field of the year. The former winner of sprint car racing's marquee event, Kinser is the first to push himself even harder with each event.
"It was a very good Nationals for us," said Kinser. "The car felt good the whole time we were there, and I felt pretty comfortable as well. We moved forward just about every time we went on the track, and you have to be happy with that. It was a fun week over there."
The 2005 Knoxville Nationals winner maneuvered through his heats and around two-time and defending World of Outlaws champion Jason Meyers to take on Stevie Smith for the fourth spot, the two trading positions back-and-forth. After a quick fuel stop, Kinser found himself in fifth. The third-generation driver fell back a few more spots to seventh with 20 laps remaining.
The pair continued to battle for the next five laps, negotiating heavy traffic. On his last lap, Kinser took the fourth spot clinching his second career Top-Five and third Top-10 finish in the main event at the Knoxville Nationals. "I'm very happy with how our cars are feeling right now and really looking forward to the next stretch of races," he said. "We'll work on a few little things to pick some speed up where we can. All in all we have a good program right now."
Shane Stewart is all smiles today. Stewart's domination at the 360 Nationals bordered on epic. Behind the wheel of his Kick-It/Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation/A.R.T.#57, Stewart took home his third consecutive 360 Nationals crown, his fourth in the last six years. The Silva Motorsports machine was unmatched from the get-go, setting the quick time, running third in his heat race, and landing the fourth row of the feature event.
Through the event, Stewart worked the technical track, moving from the eighth spot to seventh, setting him in the front row of Saturday night's feature event. Stewart jumped out of the gate, found the sweet spot, planted his right-rear tire in the Knoxville Raceway cushion, and walked away from the rest of the crowd lap after lap.
Swooping through the lapped traffic with ease, Stewart made winning a very impressive third straight 360 Nationals crown look insultingly easy, winning with over a four second lead. "I can't say enough about this team, and this car," said Stewart. "To win with Kick-It and the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation on this car is pretty special."
Find K&N products for your vehicle using the K&N application search then use the K&N dealer search to find a K&N dealer in your part of the world.