CHICO, Calif. — The finale of the 62nd annual Gold Cup Race of Champions on Saturday night at Silver Dollar Speedway was a tale of two parts — one belonged to Joey Saldana and the other to Donny Schatz.
It was Schatz’s part that counted most though as he led the field across the finish.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to victory lane here at the Gold Cup,” said Schatz who won his first and, until tonight, only Gold Cup championship on Sept. 11, 2004. “I know we won here in the spring but you eye that Gold Cup when you come to this place. Damn proud to win it tonight.”
Saldana, who came into the night after a second-place run in Friday night’s feature at Silver Dollar, led the field to the green flag and held off challenges early. As Schatz quickly battled from sixth to second in just the first five laps, Saldana maintained his lead.
A caution flag waved for the first time on lap 10. When the race restarted he and Schatz engaged in a tight battle for the lead that lasted four laps — Saldana maintained. He quickly caught traffic and that bunched up the top three drivers who, at that point, were Saldana, Schatz and Madsen. As Schatz looked poised to take the lead, another caution flew.
With open track ahead of him, Saldana quickly built up a lead over Schatz on the restart and soon caught traffic. By lap 20, Saldana had his hands full as he worked every line on the track to keep Schatz contained behind him. The two were even side by side, wheel to wheel for two straight laps as they came off of turn two, but Saldana held the lead.
“He was kind of doing what he had to,” Schatz said of Saldana. “I was kind of doing the same thing. If I could hang with him and still try to find another line to run in I knew I was going to eventually get him.”
When Saldana again caught traffic, Schatz found his opportunity. As the two worked to complete lap 29, the No. 15 Bad Boy Buggies/Chevrolet Performance car got around the No. 71m as they exited turn four.
“Last night we had a good car and I felt like I probably drove too easy just to conserve and get a good finish,” Saldana said. “Tonight, I gave it everything I had. I was trying. I was top, middle, bottom trying to make his life miserable. Obviously, he’s just waiting for you to make a mistake. He just chomps on you and see you later.”
For his portion of the race, Schatz, a five-time winner at Silver Dollar, pulled away from the rest of the field and built a healthy lead. As the battles continued behind him, he cruised across the finish line to score his first Gold Cup win in 11 years.
“It’s been a phenomenal year — hats off to this whole Bad Boy Buggies, Chevrolet Performance team,” Schatz said. “I honestly think I’m getting too old to drive like a nut and that’s what I needed to do there. I had a lot of fun, but I’m not in as good a shape as I think I am. I’m played out right now.”
“I had a lot of fun. Racing with (Joey Saldana), he’s a world-class racer. It’s fun to be able to race with him and not have somebody turn on you and do all sorts of weird stuff. We were just very glad to get by him.”