CONCORD, N.C. – The adrenaline rush thrill ride of the World of Outlaws iRacing Invitational caught the attention of hundreds of thousands of fans in its FOX Sports 1 (FS1) debut last week. In Wednesday night’s sequel on FS1, the Sprint Car and Late Model Invitationals left fans desiring more.
Kevin Swindell stole hearts by getting his first World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational win at Knoxville Raceway — the track where his racing career ended when he endured a spinal injury in a 2015 crash. Then, in the second half of the doubleheader, Corey Gordon smoothly powered his Drydene-sponsored car to victory in the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Models iRacing Invitational, holding off the field on a green-white-checkered finish.
The hand-picked group of 21 elite drivers in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car iRacing Invitational field were lined up by average iRacing times and an eight-car invert. Swindell had the fastest average time and would have started on the pole, but with the invert, found himself starting eighth.
Polesitter Brian Brown, a former Knoxville Raceway champion, and Pennsylvania Posse member Robbie Kendall swapped the lead early in the 35-lap Feature, but the hard charging duo of Kyle Larson and Swindell were rapidly moving up the field.
Larson slid into second by Lap 5 and put the pressure on Kendall for the next five laps. With Brown in third and Swindell in fourth, you could throw a blanket over the top four cars as they battled feet apart and side-by-side each corner, arguing over position.
Logan Schuchart spun sideways on the track, bringing out the caution on Lap 10 and as he rolled backwards down the slight banking, he collided with Brown, taking him out of the race. The 2019 Knoxville Raceway track champion’s misfortune moved Swindell up to third.
On the restart, Swindell snuck his way by Kendall and Larson to take the lead. He held it for the next five laps before Larson worked the bottom to run Swindell down and charge his way to the lead.
Swindell was not going to be denied another victory, though. He contended for the win in the previous three Sprint Car Invitationals but didn’t have a set up that could close the deal. He did now.
The Bartlett, TN driver never let Larson get comfortable. He kept inches between the font bumper of his #39 car and the rear of Larson’s #57 car. Every corner he reminded Larson he was there, diving underneath him, waiting for the NASCAR star to make a mistake.
Larson was flawless, but with eight laps to go Swindell found enough grip around the bottom of the track to jolt ahead of Larson for the lead off Turn 2. The next time around Larson slid out of the groove and hit the wall off Turn 2. He bounced off the wall and collided with oncoming traffic, boggling up the field and forcing drivers to make split second maneuvers to avoid a collision. While the field situated itself, Swindell pulled away to a two-second lead.
Christopher Bell, who won last week’s Invitational on FS1, moved into second, but had nothing for Swindell, who led Bell, Austin McCarl, Bill Balog and Logan Schuchart across the finish line. Kyle Larson wound up sixth, Bubba Wallace was 15th and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya was 17th. It was the first World of Outlaws iRacing Invitational for both Montoya and Wallace, who was racing from the FS1 studio.
Using custom hand controls on his steering wheel to throttle and brake his virtual Sprint Car, an elated Swindell cruised to redemption at Knoxville Raceway, and celebrated his win with a spectacular display of donuts – mostly on his side – in Turn 1.
“It was awesome,” Swindell said. “The last couple of these I led laps. I kind of choked last night on DIRTVision. I didn’t get my car near tight enough and let Logan (Seavey) kill us. I learned a little bit there and learned not to make that mistake tonight and I think that played into it.”
While broadcaster — and NASCAR Hall-of-Famer — Jeff Gordon lauded Swindell’s smooth driving around the bottom and middle of the track all night long, Swindell talked about the real-life challenges he faces trying to run such as smooth race.
“With the way the hand controls and stuff, I can’t hustle very well as I could when I could use my feet,” Swindell said. “It makes it a little tougher. It really forces me into a situation where I can be smooth and most times I have to shy away from the top anyway. So, I’ve learned that. I wish I had a little better throttle and I could do a better job. I still struggle with it a little bit. But tonight was good. I was pumped that I drove away like that.”