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Knoxville Raceway

KNOXVILLE: Stewart bows out of dirt race

September 26, 2007, 1:12 pm
From track and team reports
Last year's runner-up Tony Stewart (right) and Donnie Moran. (Jeff Bylsma)
Last year's runner-up Tony Stewart (right) and Donnie Moran. (Jeff Bylsma)

Tony Stewart won't get the chance to improve on his 2006 runner-up finish in the Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals at Knoxville (Iowa) Raceway. Citing his position in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Chase, the two-time Nextel Cup champion will pass on driving and attend the Sept. 29 event as a spectator.

“As much as I wanted to race in the Late Model Nationals at Knoxville, I thought it would take away my main focus of winning a Nextel Cup championship,” said Stewart, just two points behind series leader Jeff Gordon. “We have over 400 people back at Joe Gibbs Racing pouring everything they have into giving me the best race cars possible to win a third championship. I owe it to them to remain healthy and focused on achieving that goal.”

After completing Saturday’s Busch Series race at Kansas Speedway, Stewart will fly to Knoxville and sign autographs in a special session for 750 fans at the track's Bingley Building. The first 750 persons going into the grandstand Thursday with a ticket will receive a wristband admitting them to the Saturday autograph session.

“I sincerely apologize to anyone who was looking forward to seeing me race at Knoxville, and I hope that my fans can understand my reasons for not competing,” said Stewart, who finished second to Brian Shirley in last year's event. “While I won’t be racing, I look forward to attending the Late Model Nationals on Saturday night to sign autographs and watch what is sure to be another outstanding event at Knoxville.”

Knoxville won't be without Nextel Cup representation, however. NASCAR's Ryan Newman and Ken Schrader will be in action on Thursday and Saturday nights. Newman last raced at Knoxville Raceway in a USAC Silver Crown car in 2000 while Schrader competed in last year's Late Model event. — Bruce Neimeth

Shirley returns to scene of biggest victory

After spinning by himself on the third lap of last year's $35,000-to-win event at Knoxville, Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill., didn't pack it in. Instead he plugged away and eventually took the lead from Darren Miller en route to a career-richest victory. He's heading back to the historic half-mile this week.

"As a younger racer who wasn’t really seen as a threat, after you win something like that, it feels like people are staring you down waiting to watch you mess up," Shirley said in a recent team newsletter. "Last year we just had everything come together: luck, a great car, track that you could race on for 100 laps, no tire problems, everything. With any of these special events and long races, there are so many factors involved. At least we had to pass every car out there in order to get that win. It wasn’t a given, it was earned.

"Going in to this year, all of that doesn’t matter. We are again just looking forward to racing there again. We had a good run earlier this summer (at Knoxville) with the WoO tour until we got crashed out. All we can hope for is a bit of luck and conditions that our car likes.”

During Saturday's Celebrity Luncheon and Auction at the track, one of the hottest items on the auction block will be the autographed door panel off of Shirley’s 2006 winning entry. — Michelle Petroff

National Sprint Car Museum will be plenty busy

The second floor of the National Sprint Car Museum in Knoxville will be a busy place this week during the fourth annual Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals. Kicking things off on Wednesday evening will be the annual International Reel Wheel Film Festival, which is free and open to the public from 7 until 10 p.m.

On Saturday, the museum will again present an auction from noon-2:30 p.m. The auction, led by auctioneers Chris and Lynn Richard, will benefit the non-profit National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, with a portion of the proceeds also supporting the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame.

Then at 3 p.m. Saturday, the Youth and Families in Racing forum will be held on the second floor. The free-to-the-public forum is annually coordinated by Bob Colbert, and it will be hosted by Tony Paris and Justin Zoch.

For more information on the museum events, call Tom Schmeh at (800) 874-4488 or to visit the museum’s website. — Bruce Neimeth

Lucas Oil Knoxville Late Model Nationals

Dates: Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 27-29
Total purse: $220,000 ($6,000-to-win for semifeatures the first two nights; $35,000-to-win for finale)
Previous winners: Brian Shirley (2006), Scott Bloomquist (2005) and Brian Birkhofer (2004)
Other expected entries: Josh Richards, Billy Drake, Steve Francis, Shannon Babb, Billy Moyer, Rick Eckert, Jimmy Mars, Darren Miller, Tim McCreadie, Earl Pearson Jr., Bart Hartman and Donnie Moran
Thursday format: Time trials, heats and C-main, B-main and A-main events with points awarded for each event (top 24 in points transfer to Saturday feature)
Friday format: Same as Thursday; drivers running Thursday and Friday take the better points total from the first two nights (drivers running Thursday only will stand on those points).
Saturday format: C-main will start 20 cars with top four transferring to B-main; B-main will start 26 cars with top six transferring to A-main; A-main will start 30 cars with a total purse of $152,750 paying $35,000 to the winner and at least $2,000 to each starter
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