MECHANICSBURG, PA – The sun was shining and the thermometer was once again searching for 90, but that did not stop the drivers, teams and fans from coming out to Williams Grove Speedway for the final night of the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals on July 27.
There were once again 32 cars registered to race in the $20,000-to-win event, among them the Jason Johnson Racing #41 team led by driver David Gravel of Watertown.
Gravel, who has been on a run of late with nine straight top five finishes including two wins, would be the 13th car out of the track for time trial qualifying; he got rolling and took the green flag in front of the front straightaway grandstands.
He shot to the top of the board with an impressive lap of 17.290 seconds; the second time around was a little slower at 17.409 seconds. It was Gravel and the team’s 16th quick time of the year in their flight or overall if there was less than 38 cars.
Gravel was on the pole position in the first and fastest heat race base on the driver’s quickest lap in time trials; he was building his lead with each completed lap, and when the checkered flag flew after eight laps he took the win by a whopping 6.964 seconds.
Ian Madsen, Cory Haas and Logan Schuchart locked into the final three transfer positions to the feature event from the first heat race.
For the Fast Pass Dash, Gravel brought his buddy Jaxx Johnson to the frontstretch to pull the pill. Jaxx pulled his favorite number ‘5’, which put Gravel on the inside of row three on a track surface that was becoming increasingly more challenging to make passes.
Sharing row three, Gravel finished fifth, but wasn’t done for the evening.
There would be five more laps in the finale of the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals and the field of 26 cars, including two drivers who elected to take a provisional, was set to go racing for the winner’s check and prizes.
Gravel came home fifth; it was his tenth consecutive top five finish, and 27th top five of the 2019 season – a 58.7% top five success rate.
WILLIAMS GROVE DAY ONE
On July 26, Gravel and the JJR team were ready to go on the first of two nights at the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals with 32 cars sitting in the frontstretch and backstretch pit areas.
Gravel would have to be patient before hitting the paperclip shaped half-mile oval, as he was scheduled to be the 31st car out on the track, but gained one spot when Kyle Reinhardt scratched for the night.
Gravel combined his talent and speed together with the almost perfect car Philip Dietz, Tyler Elliott and Patrick Dudzinski gave him to set the quick time the first time around with a lap of 16.784 seconds, marking his fifteenth quick time in his flight or overall this season.
Sharing the front row, Gravel would not look back as he was in a full sprint and with each passing lap was extending his lead; he would take the checkered flag for the heat race victory by 3.619 seconds.
For the Fast Pass Dash, Gravel lined up on the inside row of row three from the fifth starting spot, but moved around into fourth position, his eventual finishing position.
Just before 10 p.m. on the east coast, the horns sounded in the pit area for the first night of the Champion Racing Oil Summer Nationals.
As Gravel climbed into his cockpit, only 25 laps stood between the drivers and the winner’s trophy and check.
As the front runners navigated traffic most stayed up top, except Gravel, who dropped down on the track and was using the low line to carry his speed forward; on lap 13 he was able to pass into second place.
As he and Tim Shaffer came down the back straightaway with two to go, Gravel drover hard into turn three and slid up across the track in turn four. He momentarily had the lead but gave Shaffer just enough room to cleanly and safely pass him back.
Shaffer went on to earn the victory as Gravel came home second, his eight podium finish in the last nine races with the other one being a top five finish in the Kings Royal.
Sitting on the frontstretch after the impressive run, Gravel stated, “I was close, I didn’t see him there for a second.” He continued, “I obviously just gave him a little bit of room to get back by me. If it was twenty or fifty grand (to win) I probably would have slid up here. But it was a good night. We were fast all night long. I feel like we were the only car to run on the bottom of the race track.”
JJR TEAM LEAVES LERNERVILLE WITH 2019 SILVER CUP TROPHY; GRAVEL PICKS UP FIFTH WIN OF THE SEASON ABOARD THE DISSOLVALLOY DOWNHOLE REVOLUTION #41 IN THE DON MARTIN MEMORIAL SILVER CUP
After the dust settled from four straight days of racing at Eldora Speedway, Gravel and the World of Outlaws Series continued to head eastbound with a stop at Lernerville (PA) Speedway for the Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup XXVIII on July 23.
This event, along with the $25,000 winner’s check, always stands out on the schedule and produces some great racing. Drawing a good field of cars from all over to compete, there were 41 teams lining the pit area that are situated outside of turns three and four at the fast and racy 4/10-mile banked oval.
The field of competitors was split into two groups for their qualifying efforts. Gravel would be the first driver out in Flight B aboard the #41 racing machine.
Taking the green flag and using the high line the whole way around Lernerville, Gravel clocked in a first lap of 14.444 seconds; he lowered his line a bit in turns one and two and then dove low entering three. The speed and strategy paid off as his second lap was much better at 13.994 seconds.
For the eight-lap heat races, the lineups were tabulated and posted, with Gravel sharing the front row of the fourth heat race with 10-time champion Donny Schatz.
At the midway point, Gravel drove the car in hard on the low side entering turn one as the two drivers exited turn two side-by-side.
Schatz maintained the lead and the next lap he closed the bottom door as he used that line to go on and take the heat race victory over Gravel by 0.444 seconds.
Gravel started sixth in the 6-lap Fast Pass Dash, shared row three with Brent Marks with Kyle Larson in an important race, one in which the finishing order sets the starting positions for the 40-lap feature event.
With a fast car at his disposal, Gravel used the high side of the track to drive around two competitors into the fourth spot on the first lap, eventuallt crossing the line in that position.
For Gravel and the JJR team, the best was just about to come.
The field was set for the 40-lap Don Martin Memorial Silver Cup feature event; when it went green, Gravel was in second position; after an early caution, Gravel was diving low trying to make the pass before another caution came out.
On the restart, Gravel again tried to power on the low side and had the lead momentarily coming off two. Remaining patient, Gravel was working in the middle and low side of the track to perfection, hitting his marks and finally striking, making the pass for the lead on lap 15 and never looking back.
Kyle Larson closed in on Gravel, however and with 12 laps to go he narrowed the gap between the two of them as the front of the field was navigating through the lap traffic.
Gravel, calling on his wealth of experience, masterfully split two lap cars entering turn one as he set sail towards the finish, dominating the last 10 laps and taking the win by 4.022 seconds over Larson.
A happy Gravel celebrated with team owner Bobbi Johnson and her son Jaxx and the team. Jaxx climbed up on the tail tank with Gravel as the two celebrated the big win on the wing.
David commented in victory lane, “I don’t know what is was about the car, but man, she was fast.” He continued, “Philip (Dietz) worked on the thing all night, and I was really picky, because it wasn’t good enough entering the corner all night until it was time for the feature. We finally got it good in turns one and two, where I was able to pick up the middle and carry a lot of exit speed so I was in a good position going into three and four. I knew we could pass cars.” He thanked his crew and the sponsorship partners and then stated, “These guys did a great job and it’s awesome to win another one of these Outlaw races!”