Tim Shaffer (left), Greg Hodnett (middle), and Kyle Larson stand on the podium at Knoxville Raceway following the first night of the 2018 Knoxville Nationals. Photo by Connor Ferguson

Wednesday evening marked the start of the 58th annual Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, IA, but it was a pair of drivers from Pennsylvania that stood out to the sprint car faithful. Greg Hodnett lead the entire way in the 25-lap main event, followed by 2010 Knoxville Nationals Champion, Tim Shaffer.

Pennsylvania steals Night One at Knoxville

Hodnett had to hold off Shaffer and others twice in the final 11 laps, after two cautions forced late-race restarts.

“It’s really tough for me, because I don’t have enough experience leading a race here, like ever,” Hodnett said. “I’ve never had a restart, I don’t think, in my life [here from the lead]. It was a guessing game for me. I didn’t think I wanted to leave the bottom open, because every time I watch replays of the races [at Knoxville] weekly, whoever leaves the bottom open is usually getting passed on the other side of the corner. For lack of a better word, I was in block mode.”

Hodnett ended the night in eighth in Nationals points and locking himself into the A-Main on Saturday.

Rounding out the podium finish was Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular, Kyle Larson. Though his run to P3 in the main event didn’t happen as easily as it could have. The Elk Grove, CA native drew the last pill in the qualifying order. That meant he would go out last out of the 45 cars in Wednesday’s show, when the track conditions would be at their worst.

“My draws have been unbelievable this year,” Larson said. “I don’t think I’ve drawn worse than a 15 all year long. I was like, ‘Man, I know when I get to Knoxville, it’s going to catch up to me. I’m [going to] draw a late pill.’ I didn’t think it’d be the worst one. Paul and I were both just a little stressed out in the pill area seeing how fast the times already were at the end of hot laps.”

Though, Larson didn’t look back. Even with poor track conditions, Larson qualified his No. 57 car in 10th place, giving him a second slot in a heat race.

“I was able to run a decent second lap,” Larson said. “My first lap wasn’t very good, but I hit the bottom nice in three and four and went 10th quick.”

The invert for the heats, however, was eight. It tossed Larson back to P7 for his qualifying race. Larson started the heat race knowing that he needed a good performance, because if he didn’t have one, then making the field on Saturday while competing in the Cup series this weekend wouldn’t be as realistic.

“[It was] nice to lock in here at Knoxville for sure,” Larson said. “Your prelim night is important for everybody, but it’s really important for me because I can’t come back on Friday. I knew I had to be locked in to be able to come back Saturday and race. So it would have been very disappointing if I didn’t have a good night tonight and came back to Knoxville and was just watching.”

Larson rolled in the heat. Blazing through the field, Larson shot up to P3 going into the final lap, and used a last-lap pass to advance to P2 in the heat. After starting P6 in the main event, Larson steadily moved up.

“It’s good not to have to worry about the backup plan of even trying to get here Friday, which would have been tight. [It would have ended with] having my team, in the end, not even allow me to do it just because of how practice times work on Saturday morning.”

Larson didnt have enough to pass Shaffer or Hodnett, but he salvaged a podium and locked himself in to Saturday’s show. Driving up from the rear on Wednesday was both 9-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz and former Knoxville track champion Ian Madsen.

Due to the invert of eight, both drivers started near the back of their heat races and weren’t able to transfer straight to the A-Main. After each raced in the B-Main, they both flew up through the field during the feature race. Madsen lead the way until Schatz got by him in the final six laps, and both took home top-10 finishes.

The night wasn’t as bliss for Logan Schuchart, though. After setting the quick time, Schuchart was not able to transfer from his heat race, resulting in a spot in the B-Main. Schuchart started first in the last-chance race, and battled Schatz to the brink while taking the win in the 12-lap shootout.

After exiting the track with the win, Schuchart forgot to drive through the scales, resulting in a disqualification at Knoxville. Schuchart declined comment immediately after finding out about the error, but did send out a tweet on Wednesday.

After that mistake, it would be a safe bet to put money on Schuchart succeeding on Friday night. The Nationals will continue on Thursday evening with another field set to run its own qualifying night. The points following Wednesday night’s happenings are below.

Knoxville Nationals Full Points
As of Thursday Morning
1. Kyle Larson 475
2. Donny Schatz 474
3. Aaron Reutzel 473
4. Kerry Madsen 473
5. Tim Shaffer 471
6. Gio Scelzi 468
7. Ian Madsen 467
8. Greg Hodnett 462
9. Lucas Wolfe 453
10. Daryn Pittman 452
11. Brock Zearfoss 444
12. Sammy Walsh 431
13. Austin McCarl 429
14. Matt Juhl 423
15. Roger Crockett 421
16. Dominic Scelzi 416
Cutoff for A-Main starting lineup at Knoxville
17. Willie Croft 411
18. Paul McMahan 405
19. Brady Bacon 404
20. Lynton Jeffrey 404
21. Clint Garner 403
22. Kasey Kahne 401
23. James McFadden 400
24. Logan Schuchart 400
25. Kevin Thomas Jr. 398
26. Jamie Ball 392
27. Clyde Knipp 390
28. Chase Wanner 388
29. Bobby Mincer 382
30. Sheldon Haudenschild 382
31. Davey Heskin 371
32. Jason Sides 368
33. Brent Marks 367
34. Bill Balog 362
35. Cole Duncan 361
36. Sawyer Phillips 351
37. Hunter Schuerenberg 347
38. Shane Golobic 342
39. Brian Paulus 319
40. Jake Bubak 314
41. Chase Johnson 312
42. Kevin Ingle 302
43. Jeff Swindell 298
44. A.J. Moeller 294
45. Tasker Phillips 280

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