With five laps remaining in the Kings Royal, Brad Sweet was reeling in two-time defending champion Donny Schatz. Sweet anticipated a late-lap battle to decide the 35th annual Kings Royal.
He got one. He just never expected it to be with his teammate and back-of-the-pack runner Daryn Pittman.
As Schatz struggled to find more speed around Eldora Speedway’s high-banked, half-mile oval, Sweet found himself bottled up behind Pittman. Instead of letting his Kasey Kahne Racing teammate pass, Pittman instead battled to stay on the lead lap. The time lost navigating the lapped traffic gave Schatz just enough to win his unprecedented third straight Kings Royal victory Saturday night.
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“Coming to the checkered I was cussing because I wanted it to be the white flag,” said Sweet, who was frustrated with the situation but added he wasn’t mad with Pittman. “I knew I was in the right place to win it and it would have been in exciting fashion.”
Schatz and Sweet came out of Turn 4 on the final lap side by side – Schatz running low on the track and Sweet inches from scraping the wall high – but Schatz carried just enough momentum to get in front and win by 0.189 seconds.
Sweet likely would have been side-by-side with Schatz with one lap to go instead of on the final lap had he not had to battle Pittman.
Until Schatz did it last season no driver had won consecutive features at the $50,000-to-win Kings Royal. Schatz did it a third straight time to give him five titles overall (2009, 2007). Schatz started fourth and took the lead 15 laps into the 40-lap feature.
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Schatz was greeted in victory lane by a chorus of boos from fans tired of seeing the nine-time (and three-time defending) World of Outlaws points champion once again on the Victory Lane stage donning the traditional red robe, holding the scepter and getting crowned forever as King Donny XXXV.
“I’m not going to worry about it. At first when you get booed it does bother you a little bit. After awhile, it makes you feel good,” Schatz said. “I haven’t done anything wrong to anybody. I believe in karma. Not everybody can like you and not everybody can hate you. … I’ve found there’s one thing in life you can do to make everyone happy and that’s sell ice cream. I’m not going to sell ice cream.”
Sweet, the 2013 Kings Royal champion, finished second after starting fifth. He’d finished third the previous two seasons, both to Schatz.
“At least I have one (Kings Royal). I think that makes me feel a little bit better. If I was knocking on the door and hadn’t won one yet, it would hurt even worse. … This one hurts a little more because I felt we had the faster car.”
Cory Eliason, Lee Jacobs and Kraig Kinser rounded out the top five. Fifty-one cars qualified and 24 made the feature.
Schatz wasn’t the only big winner at Eldora on Saturday night. One person from the Kings Royal’s record crowd took home $50,199 in the 50/50 drawing. The drawing took place several hours after the race as track officials were still printing digital tickets bought hours earlier.
Schatz also finished third in Thursday’s Joker’s Wild action and won Friday’s Knight Before $10,000-to-win feature.