BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Joey Saldana may have struggled when he made his debut in the Motter No. 71m at Volusia Speedway Park a year ago, but you never would have known it Thursday night.
The second-generation racer controlled the UNOH All-Star 30-lap feature flag to flag in front of a nearly frozen crowd, leading Paul McMahon, Tim Shaffer, Donny Schatz and Denny Holtgraver to the stripe.
After blasting away from All-Star kingpin Shaffer to win the dash, Saldana duplicated the move when the feature went green, leaving Shaffer to wrestle with the third starting McMahon.
The evening’s first yellow flew on lap 6, when a car spun between three and four, sending two cars into the outside wall and Steve Kinser into the infield fence, ending his night.
When the green flag returned, Shaffer again held off McMahon until a lap-15 restart precipitated by Christopher Bell stalling on the frontstretch in Shaffer’s former ride. But McMahon, who earlier turned fast time, blew around him on the restart and soon reeled in the high-flying Saldana, though catching him and getting by were two entirely different things.
“Every time I got close I got snugged up behind another car,” offered McMahon. ”I almost slid him once in three and four but Joe did a great job. He was down on himself last year but he’s back in form this year, for sure. He’s really fast.”
“I never saw him,” said Saldana with a big smile. “I had trouble with my tear offs and I was busy keeping track of where I was. But other than that it was a perfect night, especially when you consider that we just got this car three weeks ago. Last year we struggled, so we’ll see what happens tomorrow night when the Outlaw season starts, but right now I’m very encouraged!
“The track was really fast tonight and you have to be up front when it’s like that. Tonight, winning the dash meant everything.”
As for Shaffer, he was nearly as pleased as Saldana, saying: “We’re running against some great teams with big sponsorship with a really small deal, so we’re all very happy. You always want to win but this team is a last minute deal and we’re just happy to be competitive enough to run third.”