CALISTOGA, Calif. (April 5, 2014) – Tonight was opening night for the World of Outlaws at one of the most picturesque tracks on the circuit, Calistoga Speedway in the Napa region of northern California.
Joey Saldana, driving the hottest qualifying car on the tour this season, shattered the 16.057- second Calistoga half-mile track record, lowering it to an astounding 15.731 seconds! It was the fifth time this season that the Motter Equipment HE&M Saw Beltline Body Shop 71M captured quick time, and the second track record-setting run for Saldana and the team.
“Our Speedway Engines are running great,” said the Brownsburg Bullet after his record-breaking run. “Davey Whitworth (crew chief) and the 71M team are doing a good job.
“Calistoga is a cool track and I’ve never won here, but as my Dad always says, ‘First you must finish to finish first’. This track is a little tricky and the cars move around a lot. It will be key to get the setup dialed in so that you can race solidly in traffic.”
Saldana started fourth in the first heat. When the field went green, Rico Abreu took the lead followed by Cody Darrah, Kerry Madsen and Saldana who lost some momentum at the start when the 71M hit a hole in the track between turns one and two. The track was fast but narrow with a very low cushion. There was no passing among the leaders but a yellow flag with five laps complete tightened the field on the restart. When the green flag flew on the double file restart, Saldana was able to overtake Madsen for third. At the checkered flag it was Abreu with the win, Darrah second and Saldana third.
Next up: the dash. Again tonight, the format was a six-car event comprised of the top three qualifiers who also finished in the top six in their heat races, along with the three heat race winners. After the inversion draw, Saldana was assigned the No. 4 starting position.
“Everybody racing here tonight has great equipment and they are all great drivers,” said Saldana. “You have to be patient and be smart.”
Pole sitter Darryn Pittman was penalized for jumping the dash start and was sent to the back of the field. Donny Schatz moved to the head of the field. When the green flew this time, Schatz took command of the field followed by Brian Brown and Joey Saldana.
Brad Sweet rode the coat-tails of Saldana, gaining in the corners while watching Saldana pull away on the straights. At the conclusion of six laps, it was Schatz, Brown and Saldana and they would retain those positions for the start of the A-Main.
A capacity crowd sent the 24-car field off for the 25-lap A-Main. Brian Brown got the jump from the outside of the front row at the start, followed by Schatz, Sweet and Saldana. Sweet powered by Schatz to take second. With five laps complete the yellow came out for Dominic Scelzi who slowed on the track. On the restart it was Brown, Sweet and Saldana up to third, but just one lap was completed before the yellow came out for David Gravel who slowed on the track.
Back to green. A lap wasn’t completed before the red came out for a flip by Bud Kaeding who also collected Austin Wheatley. The drivers were ok.
Green again: Brown, Sweet and Saldana. Abreu, running fourth, was hounding Saldana trying the top and the bottom. Abreu finally got a run on Saldana and got by on the bottom, but he bobbled and Saldana reclaimed third position. With 11 laps complete, the leaders encountered lapped traffic which allowed Sweet to take the lead. Traffic played a role in the continuing lead swap between Sweet and Brown for the next four laps. There were two more stops and starts before the conclusion of the race. Sweet prevailed for the win, Brown was second and Saldana rounded out the podium.
“The track was narrow,” said Saldana, “and we needed lapped traffic to make a move. The last caution four laps from the end cost us any shot at passing the leaders. But all in all we had a good night.”
The Outlaws will be back in Calistoga for another run Sunday night.