TUCSON, Ariz. (March 9, 2013) – The last time World of Outlaws Sprint Cars competed at Tucson International Raceway was 2007. Tonight with a new lightning fast clay surface, 19 of the STP Sprint Cars eclipsed the track record set then of 12.624 seconds.
It was cold, overcast and damp due to intermittent sprinkles throughout the afternoon and the tires were sticking to the track as the drivers blazed around the oval.
It was the sweet spot of racing: a combination of a fast track, aggressive driver, and the tuning expertise of the 71M team that propelled driver Joey Saldana and team owner Dan Motter to their first win of the season in the dash and an oh-so-close second place finish in the Feature. It was the first step as the two began to live the dream they envisioned when they collaborated on building a team 45 days before the racing season began.
In qualifying for the Wildcat Shootout in Tucson, Joey Saldana piloted the Motter Equipment Fatheadz Eyewear 71M to a 12.355-second lap, earning the number six qualifying position.
Ten drivers competed in three heats. Saldana raced in the third heat, starting in the third position. The crowd was on its feet as two breathtaking crashes occurred simultaneously in the opening lap, with Mitch Mack and Jason Stetson in separate incidences experiencing heavy contact with the wall and flipping end-over-end over the retaining wall, coming to rest between the catch fence and retaining wall. Stetson exited the track in the entrance to turn one and Mack came to rest between turns one and two, wedged tightly between the fence and wall. Thankfully, both drivers walked away. Mack’s car required a back hoe for removal which caused an extended red flag period. When racing resumed, Saldana overtook Jason Meyers to take second position. As the white flag waved, with one to go, Austen Wheatley nosed into the wall in turn three bringing out the caution. On the restart, Meyers challenged Saldana for the second spot, but Saldana hung on to the second position to the checkered flag.
In order to make the dash, Saldana had to finish first or second in his heat. Mission accomplished. He was the only driver in the three heats tonight to start in the second row and gain a position to finish second in his heat. His aggressive start made the difference.
Before the dash in an interview before the packed stands, Saldana told the crowd, “Our team is on a learning curve and we’re trying to get a notebook. We just need to keep digging every race.”
In the dash, the bright yellow 71M sprint car started on the outside of the front row, but by the first turn of the first lap Saldana had captured the lead. It was all Saldana, fending off contenders early on, then opening up a huge lead to cross the finish line first winning the dash and earning the pole position for the feature. Good data for the team’s notebook.
In the feature, Saldana brought the 24-car field down for the green flag, and got the jump, leading the field. Before one lap could be completed, there was trouble mid-pack when the field stacked up in turn two. Wayne Johnson and Craig Dollansky got together. Both suffered flat tires and pulled to the work area to make repairs. On the restart, Saldana grabbed the lead again. On lap six, 16 year-old Carson Macedo made contact with the wall on the backstretch, severely damaging the front end of his car.
The field was in double file formation for another restart. Saldana went low, and Daryn Pittman went high challenging for the lead, but Saldana prevailed. The top three began to pull away from the rest of the contenders when a bad crash in turn three involving Chad Kemenah and Lucas Wolfe brought out the red with 21 laps to go. Kemenah did multiple side-over-side flips coming to rest after hard contact with the wall. Kemenah and Wolfe were able to walk away from their heavily damaged cars. Neither were
able to return to action. Officials had to cover up a mixture of fuel and water that spilled out onto the track. Once again this was a recipe for another extend red flag period.
During the delay, the track announcer asked Saldana how his race had gone so far.
“The car is good and the track is good,” said the veteran driver. “We hope we can get a good restart.”
Finally cars were under power and again Saldana chose the inside for the double file restart, but accelerated before the stripe and was penalized two positions. Daryn Pittman took the lead, followed by Brian Brown and Saldana. Saldana was on the throttle, gaining ground, challenging Brown. In a side-by-side duel, Saldana got the edge and moved to second place with four to go and brought home a second consecutive podium finish.
“We lost on a technicality by being penalized on the restart,” said Saldana. “The 71M keeps getting better and better and that’s the secret. I wish we could have raced for the win, but we’ll just go to the next race and do better.”
For the record, both Daryn Pittman, the race winner, and Brian Brown, third place finisher, commented in their post-race interviews that they felt Saldana had been unjustly penalized. Though dejected, Saldana did not complain and is focused on the next pair of events at Tulare, Calif. March 15 and 16.