From Brian Walker / worldofoutlaws.com
After a three-year wait, the anticipation for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series return to Thunderbowl Raceway was through the roof, and boy did Tulare live up to all the hype.
Officially, Spencer Bayston (1-6) & Giovanni Scelzi (7-35) were the only ones to lead laps, but Rico Abreu, Kyle Larson & David Gravel all held the top spot for brief moments throughout Friday’s exciting 35-lapper at the 1/3-mile oval.
The 14-minute sprint was halted by only one caution for Bayston, who spun the CJB Motorsports #5 when he suffered a flat left front while leading in his Tulare debut. From there, it was an all-out brawl as the leaders sliced through traffic, bounced off the boards, slid by and crossed each other time after time, and completed more passes than you can imagine.
Scelzi, a native of nearby Fresno, CA, assumed the lead on the Lap 7 restart and fought off anyone and everyone who dared to test the KCP Racing #18. Abreu tossed a Lap 16 slider, Larson launched his move on Lap 30, and Gravel slid by on Lap 33, but none could shake the 20-year-old enough to take the lead for good.
At the checkered flag, Giovanni crossed with a narrow 0.395-second margin of victory to claim his fourth-career World of Outlaws win. It’s his first with The Greatest Show on Dirt in his home state and gives the Californians a 1-0 edge on the Outlaws to kickstart the six-race swing.
“You can go ahead and tally one for California over the Outlaws,” Scelzi said to a raucous Tulare crowd. “Seriously, though, this is really cool. I’ve never won a race this big in front of my home crowd. I haven’t been back in a long time, so to feel this support is incredible.
Coming up short of his second win of the young season was David Gravel with a second-place effort in the Big Game Motorsports #2. The two-time Tulare winner faded to fourth near midway, but found his line in lap traffic and bolted back into contention with Scelzi & Larson after disposing of a wild battle with Abreu, Brad Sweet & Sheldon Haudenschild.
Gravel’s Series best third podium also makes him the only driver left with a top-10 finish in every Feature this season. The current championship contender has reached a newfound level of consistency, recording his worst finish in seventh-place thus far.
“I hope the rest of our season isn’t like this running second all the time,” Gravel joked afterward. “It always feels good to battle with the best for a win, but it only leaves you hungrier when you don’t get it. Larson & Sheldon were running torrid paces, but their mistakes gave me a chance at Gio. Once I found my lane, I knew exactly where to go, just needed to execute better.”
The final step on the podium went to Elk Grove, CA’s Kyle Larson in third-place aboard Paul Silva’s #57. It was his first appearance at Tulare since his 2013 Trophy Cup title, and he picked right back up where he left off nine years ago.
The reigning NASCAR champion earned a roar from his home state crowd when he said he would fly to Phoenix for NASCAR qualifying, and fly back tomorrow night to chase another World of Outlaws win at the Thunderbowl.
“This has always been my favorite track,” Larson admitted. “It’s great to be back after such a long time and put on a show like that. I felt like we were good enough to win, but I just made too many mistakes on my part. Hopefully, we can get a better start to our night tomorrow and we’ll be in good shape.”
A pair of California’s rounded out the top-five at Tulare with Rico Abreu of St. Helena running fourth and Brad Sweet of Grass Valley finishing fifth.
Closing out the top-10 on Friday was James McFadden with a 21st-to-sixth KSE Hard Charger run in the Roth Motorsports #83, Carson Macedo in seventh for Jason Johnson Racing, Sheldon Haudenschild in eighth with Stenhouse Jr. / Marshall Racing, Tyler Courtney in ninth during his debut in Kevin Kozlowski’s #57, and Shane Golobic in tenth in his first Outlaw outing of 2022 in the NOS Energy Drink #17W.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series concludes a doubleheader at Tulare’s Thunderbowl Raceway on Saturday, March 12. The Greatest Show on Dirt then takes the west coast swing to Merced Speedway (March 18), Ocean Speedway (March 19), Bakersfield Speedway (March 25), and Perris Auto Speedway (March 26).
NOS Energy Drink Feature Results (35 Laps):
1. 18-Giovanni Scelzi [$10,000]; 2. 2-David Gravel [$5,500]; 3. 57-Kyle Larson [$3,200]; 4. 24-Rico Abreu [$2,600]; 5. 49-Brad Sweet [$2,350]; 6. 83-James McFadden [$2,150]; 7. 41-Carson Macedo [$2,100]; 8. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild [$1,950]; 9. 57W-Tyler Courtney [$1,900]; 10. 17W-Shane Golobic [$1,850]; 11. 83JR-Kerry Madsen [$1,400]; 12. 15-Donny Schatz [$1,200]; 13. 11K-Kraig Kinser [$1,000]; 14. 26-Cory Eliason [$950]; 15. 1S-Logan Schuchart [$900]; 16. 16A-Colby Copeland [$900]; 17. 88-Austin McCarl [$900]; 18. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss [$900]; 19. 5-Spencer Bayston [$900]; 20. 21-Mitchell Faccinto [$900]; 21. 83T-Tanner Carrick [$900]; 22. 3-Kaleb Montgomery [$900]; 23. 41S-Dominic Scelzi [$900]; 24. 1A-Jacob Allen [$900].
Championship Standings (After 6/85 Races):
1. David Gravel (860); 2. Sheldon Haudenschild (-28); 3. Donny Schatz (-36); 4. Brad Sweet (-38); 5. James McFadden (-40); 6. Carson Macedo (-50); 7. Logan Schuchart (-86); 8. Cory Eliason (-100); 9. Giovanni Scelzi (-102); 10. Brock Zearfoss (-112).
See the full story and results:
Photo: Trent Gower / worldofoutlaws.com