Joey Saldana, piloting the #9 Great Clips/Sage Fruit Maxim, ended Friday’s roller-coaster ride with a smile on his face.
The World of Outlaws veteran overcame a rough heat race to record his second victory of the season and first career at Paducah International Speedway. He also moved to second in the point standings. Just five points behind Sammy Swindell.
“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.
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.”
Saldana’s KKR teammate, Cody Darrah, had a solid night in Paducah as well. He qualified his #4 Sage Fruit/ASE car in the 14th position and finished sixth in his heat. He started the A-main event in 14th and worked his way up to eighth. He is now eighth in the point standings