Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz and the Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance team were determined to get out of Pennsylvania with some hardware over the weekend. The seven-time and reigning World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman® Sprint Car Series champion finished fourth Friday night in the 54th annual National Open at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, and third Saturday night at Port Royal Speedway. Those results were enough to inch the driver of the TSR No. 15 Bad Boy Off Road/Chevrolet Performance J&J closer to an eighth WoO title. As long as he signs in at the four remaining 2016 WoO races, the championship is his.
“Obviously you want to win when you come out – that’s how you get the ‘champion’ status,” Schatz said. “When you don’t, you have to figure out why. So, we have a little work to do there. We had some high expectations coming into the weekend. The National Open is one of our bigger races of the season and we were just a little bit off. Then we came back to Port Royal and again we were good but needed a little more. Working to get better … that’s what motivates this team. Continuing to improve. We start every season with the goal of winning races and being in position to win the championship. We’ve got four races remaining and we’re going to do everything we can to finish this season on a high note.”
Schatz returned to Williams Grove Friday as the winningest driver in the historic National Open with five triumphs and began his quest for a sixth victory by qualifying fifth in the field of 48 cars. He raced from third to second in the opening heat to earn a spot in the Craftsman Club Dash. After finishing fourth in the dash, he started the 40-lap A-Feature on the outside of row two. Schatz followed front-row starters Joey Saldana and Brad Sweet during the first 15 laps searching the half-mile, dirt oval for the fastest way around. He raced into second on lap 19 with a low move under Sweet coming out of turn four and began tracking down Saldana. He closed on the leader as the duo worked through lapped traffic but wasn’t able to grab the lead before a yellow flag halted action.
A competition red followed, allowing teams to refuel and make minor adjustments during the two-minute stoppage. The TSR crew sent Schatz back out for the final 17 laps hoping he would be able to grab the lead on the restart and drive away. Saldana got a better restart and resumed the lead while Schatz was pressured by Danny Dietrich for second. Dietrich slid under Schatz in turns one and two and then Schatz tried to return the favor in turns three and four. A yellow came out after the lap was complete and, on the ensuing restart, Schatz had a similar battle with Sweet for the third position. He held fourth for the next 14 laps before passing Sweet back for third on lap 38. With two laps to go, he closed on Saldana for second in heavy traffic, and the final lap turned out to be a three-car battle for second as Dietrich pulled away from the trio. Sweet made a final run out of turn four and was able to inch ahead of Schatz at the finish line.
Following Friday’s run at history, Schatz and his TSR team traveled north for their third consecutive October appearance at Port Royal. Two years ago, Schatz chased Ryan Smith to the checkered flag and last year he battled Kasey Kahne Racing teammates Sweet and Daryn Pittman for the top spot before finishing third. Schatz opened the evening with another solid qualifying lap, turning the second-fastest lap in his group and third overall in the 46-car field. He raced to victory in the second heat and finished third in the Craftsman Club Dash. In the 30-lap A-Feature, he battled Greg Hodnett for third in the early going while Logan Schuchart and Lucas Wolfe set a torrid pace up front. Midway through the race, Schatz fell to fifth but retook fourth from Brian Brown on lap 24. He passed Wolfe for third with two laps to go and was closing on Hodnett for second during the final circuit, but he didn’t have enough time to get the spot.
The results pushed Schatz’s lead in the 2016 WoO championship standings to 308 points with four races remaining. The maximum points he can lose each night is 61, so simply signing in for next weekend’s events at the Salina Highbanks and Lakeside Speedway, as well as the Bad Boy Off Road World Finals in two weeks, will lock up his eighth title.