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Knoxville Nationals Victory Lane
Courtesy of Axalta Racing

Jeff Gordon back in Victory Lane as supporter at Knoxville Nationals

NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon made a return to Victory Lane on Thursday night — this time at the Knoxville Nationals, as a supporter of Qualifying Night race winner David Gravel.

Gordon, former crew chief Ray Evernham and sponsor Axalta planned to make a big splash at this year’s premier sprint car race in Iowa, with a sponsored/wrapped Axalta car for Gravel, who made good Thursday night to lock into Saturday night’s prestigious 24-car main event.

With four-time Monster Energy Series champion Gordon and Evernham in attendance, Gravel was the night’s biggest winner, holding off Brad Sweet — who has more than 50 career starts at the NASCAR national series level, and is in the midst of perhaps his best-ever sprint car season.

Dubbed the “Granddaddy Of Them All,” the 59th Knoxville Nationals runs from Aug. 7-10 and hosts more than 100 sprint cars. The Knoxville Raceway half-mile clay oval is the site of the four-day showdown, which included a pair of qualifying nights held on Wednesday and Thursday.

There are last-chance qualifiers on Friday and Saturday prior to the 50-lap feature event that caps off the festivities. Saturday night’s 24-car A-Main event will have a total purse of nearly $1 million, with the winner taking home a $150,000 grand prize.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson fell a couple spots shy of qualifying for Saturday night’s A-Main during his qualifying session on Wednesday. With the Monster Energy Series racing in Michigan, Larson will no longer attempt to make the main event at Iowa.

Sixteen drivers already are locked into Saturday’s main show, among them: Sweet, the defending event winner who drives a car for team owner Kasey Kahne; Sheldon Haudenschild, who drives for team owner Ricky Stenhouse Jr.; and World of Outlaws stalwart Daryn Pittman.