Joey Saldana ended Friday’s roller-coaster ride with a smile on his face.
The World of Outlaws veteran overcame a self-proclaimed “ugly” heat race to record his second victory of the season and first career at Paducah International Speedway – the Outlaws lone event in the state of Kentucky this season.
“In qualifying we went out and were really good, and then in the heat race we changed everything and were really bad,” he said. “Then we went back to the way we were in qualifying for the dash and we were respectable. And then we just worked off that and made our car 100 percent better for the feature, and it showed because when it counted we definitely had the car to pass. We had the speed when it counted and luckily we had enough tire to finish the race.”
Saldana, who timed in fifth quick of the 29 cars, dropped from third to fifth in his heat race to snag the second-to-last transfer to the 30-lap main event. However, Saldana’s qualifying effort combined with advancing to the feature earned him a spot in the dash. Saldana started fifth and finished fourth, which is where he began the main event.
On the third lap, Saldana made a dicey move to drive between Chad Kemenah and Geoff Dodge. With Kemenah on the bottom and Dodge running the top, all three cars were sliding through turn four when Saldana split the middle to pull into the runner-up position. He then closed on polesitter Danny Smith, who entered lapped traffic around lap 10.
A caution fell on lap 13 when Kemenah stopped in turn three with a flat right rear tire. Smith chose the bottom on the restart and it didn’t take long for Saldana to rocket into the lead when the green flag was waved.
Saldana held a slight advantage at the flag stand and Smith drove hard into turn one, sliding up from the middle of the track. However, Saldana’s momentum in the high line propelled him into the lead for good as the duo exited turn two.
“The rubber was getting laid down and I thought I could get in the middle there and get the jump on Joey and bring it home, but it didn’t work out that way,” Smith said after finishing second.
Saldana maintained the lead for the rest of the race and survived the closing laps. He finished with a little more than a one-second advantage as the top six were separated by less than four seconds.
“Racing with the Outlaws, you get a feel for the double-file restarts,” Saldana said. “I think (Smith) did the right thing. I had enough experience with it. I got a good start and put myself in position to get the lead. I don’t think he did anything wrong. That’s just a characteristic of double-file restarts.”
Sammy Swindell was arguably the quickest in the final half of the race as he charged from ninth to finish third after a pass on Kerry Madsen on the second-to-last lap.
“It was really hard to get by,” Swindell said. “You could pull down, but if you weren’t in the right spot there just wasn’t any grip. … Maybe a line and a half in the corners, but it was just a line and an eighth down the straights. So you had to be right on it.
“Sometimes track position means a lot. I think if we’d have started up front they wouldn’t have seen us, but coming from the fifth row we’ll take the third and try to be better next time.”
Madsen was fourth with Steve Kinser making a last-lap pass on Tony Stewart Racing teammate Donny Schatz to corral fifth place.
Following Schatz across the line was Geoff Dodge, who placed a career-best seventh. Cody Darrah was eighth, David Gravel ninth and Stevie Smith, who set fast time with a lap of 13.206 seconds, rounded out the top 10.
Kemenah, Gravel and Swindell each claimed heat races, and Jim Moughan won the Last Chance Showdown. Brian Paulus drove from 22nd to 15 th to earn the KSE Hard Charger Award.
Paducah International Raceway Notebook
NOTES – Eleven drivers made their World of Outlaws season debut, including fast qualifier Stevie Smith and Geoff Dodge of Colorado Springs, Colo., who qualified third quick. … Kraig Kinser qualified seventh quick, which snapped a streak of two consecutive quick-time awards and six straight races of qualifying in the top five.