Tony Stewart-Curb/Agajanian Racing (TSR) driver Donny Schatz and the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed team continued the 2017 World of Outlaws (WoO) Craftsman Sprint Car Series campaign with a pair races in Arizona this past weekend. Schatz drove the TSR No. 15 Arctic Cat/Ford Performance/Curb J&J to a runner-up finish Friday night in the Outlaws’ debut at Cocopah Speedway in Yuma and finished sixth in Saturday night’s stop at Arizona Speedway in Queen Creek.
“Our expectations were to come out this weekend and put ourselves in a position to win,” Schatz said. “I guess we kind of accomplished that goal Friday night. We got ourselves into second, but circumstances didn’t go in our favor once we got there. We want to be able to race for wins. We got up to second within the first 10 laps, but the surface just didn’t allow for much passing after that. We just kind of waited for an opportunity, but Brian (Brown) didn’t give us any chances to get around him. Then, Saturday night, I felt like the bottom was going to be a place where I could make some good laps and reel the guys in. It worked for a while, but the top got so good, everyone just got up there and followed it around. It’s racing, sometimes, so you just roll with it and head down the road. We’re excited about getting back to Texas and being able to race three nights this week.”
After a six-race tour of California, Schatz led the Outlaws into action at Cocopah for the first time. The eight-time and reigning WoO champion was the eighth driver in the field of 25 competitors to make a qualifying lap, and he turned the 10th-best lap around the 3/8-mile, dirt oval. Schatz made a power move in the opening heat, advancing from fourth to second by diving under David Gravel and Ian Madsen heading into turn one. He chased Brad Sweet for the next eight laps and finished second to earn one of the coveted six positions in the Craftsman Club Dash. The six-car dash field was inverted by six, putting Schatz third on the grid for the six-lap race that set the lineup for the first three rows of the A-Feature. Schatz and Jason Sides battled for second while Brian Brown pulled away after starting on the pole in the dash. The three would play a factor in the early going of the 30-lap A-Feature, as well. Brown grabbed the lead from the pole while Sides followed. Schatz battled Sheldon Haudenschild during the first three laps before taking the third position on lap four. He drove around the outside of Sides for second on lap eight and then set his sights on Brown. By lap 10, the hard, slick surface had become abrasive around the bottom, enough so where rubber was adhering to the surface. With most of the 24 competitors dropping down into the low groove, Schatz needed Brown to have a problem getting through lapped traffic in order to make a pass for the lead. A yellow flag on lap 25 took the leaders out of traffic and Brown held off Schatz during the final five laps. It was his second runner-up finish of the season and ninth podium result in the first 13 races of 2017.
Saturday’s stop was the second ever by the Outlaws at Arizona Speedway. Schatz was again the eighth driver to make a qualifying lap in the field of 26. He turned the 12th-best lap and would start fourth in heat three. A third-place finish in the eight-lap heat race transferred the driver of the Arctic Cat/Ford Performance-backed machine into the 30-lap A-Feature. He started the A-Feature inside of row five and battled Paul McMahan for eighth during the first four laps. After clearing McMahan on lap five, the focus turned to Joey Saldana. The duo battled side-by-side for a couple of laps with Schatz running the bottom and Saldana up on the cushion. Schatz would pull away on lap seven and continue working the bottom groove. He exchanged sixth with Sweet on lap 11 and later was part of a three-car battle for fifth with Sweet and Sides. Sweet was able to get Sides for fifth and Schatz would later make his way past Sides for sixth on lap 18. The race went nonstop and Schatz earned his 12th top-10 finish.
• Brian Brown and Rico Abreu became the sixth and seventh different winners in the first 14 WoO races in 2017. Schatz, with six wins, and David Gravel, a three-time winner, are the only drivers with multiple victories this season.
- The runner-up and sixth-place finish this weekend for Schatz extended his streak of consecutive finishes inside the top-10 to seven.
- Schatz maintains a 72-point lead over Gravel in the 2017 WoO championship standings through 14 of the 92 scheduled nights of racing.
The week for the TSR team begins with a 1,200-mile trip from Phoenix to the Houston area for the first of three Texas races this week. Schatz and the Outlaws will make their debut at the Gator Motorplex in Willis Thursday night. The event was originally scheduled for Feb. 25 but was postponed because of persistent rain. The 2017 Texas Outlaw Nationals at Devils Bowl Speedway in Mesquite takes place Friday and Saturday night. The event marks the return to the half-mile, dirt oval where the first official WoO race was staged back in March 1978. Schatz will be looking for his third win in the last four seasons at Devils Bowl after winning in 2014 and 2015.