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David Gravel wins at Knoxville; Kyle Larson 10th in return with Outlaws

AUTO: MAR 04 World Of Outlaws

March 04 2015: the World Of Outlaws Sprint Car FVP Outlaw Showdown at the Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas NV. (Photo by Tami Pope/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty

In one of the first major racing events since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shut down the sports world, David Gravel outdueled Ian Madsen at Knoxville Raceway.

Gravel seized the lead with a last-lap pass after a thrilling side-by-side battle Friday night, claiming the feature victory in a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series event that was held without fans.

“We don’t feel how many people are watching (on the Dirtvision stream), but we know there must be tens of thousands of people,” Gravel, who won the prestigious Knoxville Nationals at the track last year, told Dirtvision. “Hopefully that was a good race to get everyone’s blood pumping again. Ian and I just battled, battled and battled. It felt good just to come back in a race car and be competitive again.

Larson finished 10th after starting 18th in the main event. It was the first race for the former No. 42 driver in the NASCAR Cup Series since being fired by Chip Ganassi Racing last month for using a racial slur during an iRacing event.

The World of Outlaws cleared Larson to race after he completed sensitivity training. Larson remains on indefinite suspension from NASCAR.

NASCAR veteran Kasey Kahne, who was racing for the first time since being injured a Williams Grove Speedway a year ago, failed to advance to the main event after an 11th in the Last Chance Qualifier.

The grandstands were empty at the famous half-mile dirt oval known as the Sprint Car Capital of the World. Dirtvision announcers estimated there were 380 people on site as teams were limited in crew members.

The World of Outlaws sprint car series’ next four races in late May at I-55 Speedway in Pevely, Missouri, and Lake Ozark Speedway in Ozark, Missouri, will have “limited, socially distanced” crowds.

The Outlaws’ Morton Buildings Late Model Series will return May 15-16 at I-55 Speedway with limited, socially distanced crowds.

The World of Outlaws will be among the first major national series to attempt to race with fans in the grandstands. NASCAR has announced its return May 17 at Darlington Raceway with four races that will be held without a crowd.