It wasn’t the typical place a race fan would imagine Tim Kaeding was headed after yet another victory.
Visibly exhausted and likely sore, Kaeding mustered a smile and laugh when describing his postrace celebration plans after ending his Victory Lane celebration surrounded by a packed grandstand of his biggest supporters on Friday night at Thunderbowl Raceway.
“Sit in an ice cold bath,” he said.
It was an elbows-up type of night during the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series opener at the high-banked, third-mile oval, which featured more cars on two wheels than a typical motorcycle race.
That fit right into Kaeding’s style and background, even if the track known to be rough was the roughest ever.
“I’m saying this was probably the roughest I’ve ever seen Tulare in (turns) one and two,” he said. “(Rough) is what I grew up on. This is kind of my home away from home. Anything that’s rough is usually what I like. It’s get in, stand on the gas, hold on and see what happens at the end.”
While many people likely picked Kaeding to record the victory – his third overall and second straight at Thunderbowl Raceway with the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series – nobody could have predicted the finish.
Donny Schatz outraced polesitter Jac Haudenschild through the opening turns of the first lap to control the top spot, which he maintained for the first 14 laps.
Kaeding, meanwhile, cracked the top five on the second lap. He gained a position in each of the next two laps until sliding Haudenschild for the runner-up position on a restart of Lap 8. Schatz held a several car length advantage until the third caution – and second red flag – of the feature for Cory Eliason’s fiery flip in turn two on Lap 15.
The race was red flagged for approximately 15 minutes as repairs had to be made to the fence. When the race restarted, Schatz found himself in the nasty ruts in turns one and two, which forced his car into the fence and broke the front axel. He was unable to restart and finished 23rd.
That gave the lead to Kaeding, who faced a new challenge from Cody Darrah as the final 21 laps of the race were caution free.
Darrah dove to the bottom in turns one and two to pass Haudenschild for second place on the restart. As Kaeding powered around the track in the high lane, Darrah made the bottom groove work. They entered traffic on Lap 20 and one lap later, Darrah pulled side by side with Kaeding as they exited turn two.
Momentum continued to keep Kaeding in the lead, but Darrah stayed with a couple of car lengths until he used a slide job on Kaeding for the lead entering turn one. Darrah dove to the bottom in turn one and slid up the track in front of Kaeding exiting turn two.
“I knew he was close; I didn’t know how close he was,” Kaeding said. “He did the same thing I did at the beginning of the race to get spots – just to slide. He did the slide for life and it stuck.”
However, Darrah never got his tires back underneath him after taking the lead. As they entered turn three side by side – Darrah on the bottom and Kaeding committed to the top – Darrah closed to the back of Wayne Johnson in traffic. Darrah’s car slowly began to slide around and eventually did a full spin on the bottom in turns three and four before he continued as the white flag waved.
“I never got my tires back under me and I just spun it out,” he said. “It was pretty stupid. I’m pretty pissed off because we (had) such a good car. These guys work so hard and they deserve a win. I gave it to them for about a quarter lap and then I took it away.”
Darrah lost valuable position, but was able to hold off Haudenschild for the runner-up spot with Kaeding winning by nearly five seconds.
“It was a good race all the way around,” Haudenschild said. “Tim, he’s the man here. It was good just to be up there running with him.”
David Gravel finished fourth to record his second top five while driving for the injured Bill Rose. Championship points leader and fast qualifier Daryn Pittman ended fifth for his series-leading fifth time in seven races.
Lucas Wolfe placed sixth, Craig Dollansky seventh, Joey Saldana eighth, 15th-starter Rico Abreu ninth and 16th-starter Kerry Madsen rounded out the top 10.