After celebrating with his hands in the air as he propped himself on the back of his sprint car, Joey Saldana pulled off his helmet to reveal messy hair, a dirty face and a look of exhaustion.
“I think I’m more mentally worn out,” he said with a smile. “Physically I feel great.”
Saldana led all 30 laps by riding the cushion around the top of Perris Auto Speedway to claim the NAPA Know How SoCal Showdown, which was the first World of Outlaws race at the fast half-mile oval since 2007.
“You don’t get these opportunities very often and getting your first one out of the way early in the season is a big asset to the whole season,” said Saldana, who became the fifth different winner in five World of Outlaws main events this season.
“I think the key to victory was the dash. Getting around Jason (Meyers) and getting clean air made a huge difference. And just making sure I chose the right spot on those restarts.”
Meyers, who started on the pole of the six-lap dash, chose the bottom on a double-file restart midway through the race that determined the first five rows of the feature lineup. Saldana took advantage on the restart and zipped by Meyers on the top as the duo exited turn two. Saldana picked up the win and the pole position for the main event.
“Unfortunately I gave it away in the dash tonight,” said Meyers, the two-time defending World of Outlaws champion. “I gave it away on a restart and gave Joey the lead, which gave him the pole for the start of the feature. I just made a mistake tonight. I chose the wrong line on the restart and gave Joey the opportunity to get past me.”
Saldana then set a blistering pace during the feature. He was only slowed four times for a caution and chose the outside lane on every double-file restart. Despite being side-by-side with Saldana on each restart, Meyers had his best opportunity on lap 21 when the leaders entered lapped traffic.
Saldana had a couple-second lead quickly erased as he was slowed while trying to lap Austen Wheatley. Meyers closed to the back of Saldana before the final caution of the race for a collision between Jonathan Allard and Bobby McMahan in turn two on lap 23.
Saldana cruised from that restart to record his first victory of the season and his 79th career World of Outlaws main event win.
Meyers held off Steve Kinser for the runner-up position.
“We just had to start back too far,” Kinser said. “We were just as fast as anybody out there, maybe even a little quicker at times. I almost could catch them down on the bottom. There just wasn’t enough to get off the corner down there.
“Starting back there in the fourth row with the cars that were up front, we just couldn’t do it unless we would have stayed in that lapped traffic.”
Kraig Kinser finished fourth and Kerry Madsen was fifth. Tim Kaeding placed sixth, Lucas Wolfe seventh and Sammy Swindell, who picked up the KSE Hard Charger Award after starting 19th, was eighth. Chad Kemenah ended ninth and Sam Hafertepe Jr. drove from 18th to 10th.
Meyers, Brian Brown and Kaeding each won a heat race, and McMahan claimed the Last Chance Showdown.
Swindell – the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all five races this season – is leading the points as the World of Outlaws head to Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif., for a doubleheader next Friday and Saturday.