By Chris Dolack, World of Outlaws Senior Writer

Whether it was relief, joy or a sense of accomplishment, the usually stoic Donny Schatz finally cracked a smile Friday night in Victory Lane at Route 66 Raceway after winning his fourth World of Outlaws Sprint Series A-feature of the season.

Schatz started on the outside of Row 2, powered into second in Turn 3, charged into the lead on a Lap 12 restart and outlasted everybody to win for the first time since March 19 at Baytown, Texas.

Since Schatz nearly pulled off a victory last week at Red River Valley Speedway in West Fargo, N.D., leading with three laps to go when a burnt coil wire caused the engine to shut off, he has finished in the top-five twice and in the top-10 three times.

“We came here to win,” said Schatz, a Mean 15 racer from Fargo whose struggles in April and May led him to shuffle his crew. “We probably weren’t the best working car out there tonight, but everything went fairly smooth. We had a rear end problem after the Dash and got that fixed. Everybody has worked awful hard to get these things going. It’s a big booster to get it back in Victory Lane and even see what that tastes like, I guess. We need that so we remember what’s going on here and what’s important. Fargo helped us, we had a few decent runs since then and now we finally got a win.”

Brooke Tatnell was second, followed by Shane Stewart, Steve Kinser and fast-qualifier Chad Kemenah.

The feature at Route 66 also was the opener of the five-race March to the Mean 15 that will determine the newest team to enter the elite group of sprint car racers. All four eligible teams finished in the top 10 Friday night. Tatnell was second, Stewart third, Terry McCarl seventh and Jason Solwold ninth. The team that accumulates the most points in five full-points events beginning with last night’s race at Route 66 will be awarded the opening with the Mean 15 racers.

“I saw Shane on the pole and we were back in eighth so I thought, ‘We better do something here or he’s going to gain some points,’” said Tatnell, a native of San Souci, New South Wales, Australia, who won Monday at Cedar Lake Speedway. “We just got to race the butt off this car. We had a great car. It was maneuverable. That was probably the one thing that was better for us than a lot of the guys. Everyone could be the same speed on the race-line but I could actually move around. It was an awesome deal.”

But the 30-lap race Friday night belonged to Schatz. Running in second behind outside pole-sitter Brian Paulus, Schatz dove to the inside on a single-file restart from a caution with ll laps down. He easily made the pass and worked his way through traffic.

“I had a run and I went,” said Schatz, who also has Outlaws victories this season at Parramatta City Raceway in Australia, Las Vegas and Baytown, Texas. “It was a good clean pass, I slid him and kept on going. Once the fuel load came off the car, the racecar got good, as it normally has been doing the past couple of years. It’s kind of back to how it used to feel. Hopefully we can keep doing it, that’s the hard part now.”

A series of cautions, including a red flag for Craig Dollansky who flipped when his right rear let go and another for fuel, couldn’t prevent Schatz from finally returning to Victory Lane. He easily motored back to the lead on each restart, knowing the only chance his pursuers had to catch him was in traffic. Therefore, he didn’t have much time to fret over whether or not he might be the next driver to hit a piece of debris that could damage one of his tires.

“You can’t worry about something like that,” Schatz said. “It’s either going to happen or it isn’t. I had a little softer tires, but they felt really good. You can kind of feel them going down and I never felt anything. You just don’t worry about it. I know a lot of guys had troubles, but we just crossed our fingers and tonight was our lucky night.”

The cautions might have ultimately aided Schatz because with each restart he had clear track in front of him. When the final yellow flag waved with five laps to go, Tatnell knew he wasn’t going to have much of a chance of catching or passing Schatz.

“It would take us about three laps to get up to him and the lapped traffic was going to be our only savior to get him on those last restarts because he was as good as what we were, and Shane was probably as good as what I was on the high line,” Tatnell said. “It was a matter of trying to get to lapped traffic. When I saw Dollansky blow his tire and flip [in Turn 3] I didn’t want to get up high in that end just in case you run over some debris. It wasn’t until the last three laps that I even thought about a flat tire.”

For Stewart, his third-place run is his second consecutive top-five finish and the fourth top-10 on the past four race nights. It also keeps him in the chase for the March to the Mean 15.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Stewart, a former Outlaws winner from Bixby, Okla., who is leading the battle for the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award. “My guys have been working hard all year long. I really want to get them a win. I have to work on my lapped traffic maneuvering a little bit. It actually hurt me a couple of nights ago and it hurt me again tonight. It’s one of those things you have to learn racing with these Outlaws guys. You can’t let up when you get in lapped traffic, you have to keep up your momentum. I’ve got a good car owner and a great group of guys back in Washington that supports me. We had a good showing for them and I hope they were listening on the Internet.”

Among the rest of the racers who made big strides in the 24-car field were points-leader Steve Kinser, who raced from ninth to fourth and Tim Kaeding, who charged from 23rd to eighth.

The Outlaws race Saturday night at I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo., near St. Louis, before heading back East next week for the Brad Doty Classic July 13 at Attica Raceway Park.

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