SPRING VALLEY, Minn. — Don’t tell PETA, but Craig Dollansky just knocked the monkey off his back.
Actually, he body slammed the figurative nuisance, which has riddled the snake bitten team during the past two weeks. On a brisk Saturday evening in his home state, Dollansky led all but one lap to claim the FVP Clash at the Creek at Deer Creek Speedway to earn his first podium finish in the last nine events.
It was Dollansky’s eighth World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series win of the season and it helped close the deficit on championship points leader Donny Schatz to 96 points with 10 races remaining.
“To win here tonight in front of one of my hometown crowds, just people that we don’t get to race in front of normally — family, friends and just a lot of great fans in Minnesota – it’s pretty awesome after the heartbreaker last night,” Dollansky said.
Following that last podium, Dollansky held a 54-point advantage over Schatz in the title race as the series was amid a nine-race swing along the West Coast. Entering Saturday, Dollansky trailed by triple digits after a handful of miscues dropped him from potential top-five finishes to an average of 11.4 during that span.
“The last week and a half it’s been rough,” he said. “This team, everybody just keeps digging. It’s good to just overcome some of the stuff we’ve been dealing with the last week and a half. It definitely hurt us in the grand scheme of things, but to get win No. 8 here tonight, I’m encouraged with that.”
It didn’t take long for Dollansky to find the lead in Saturday’s main event. After a pair of cautions bogged the start of the feature, Dollansky, who started third, split the front row as they entered turn one. He slid to the high groove in turn two and used momentum to propel himself down the backstretch and into a slide job on polesitter Chad Kemenah in turn three.
Dollansky reached traffic on lap eight before Cody Darrah caused the third-and-final caution when he hit the wall in turn two on lap nine. By that point Schatz had maneuvered from 17th to 10th and he capitalized on the field being bunched up.
While Dollansky rocketed off the inside lane on the double-file restart, Schatz gained three more positions in the two ensuing laps. Dollansky again entered traffic on lap 17 and Schatz cracked the top five on lap 22.
While Dollansky worked his way through various cars in traffic, Schatz advanced to fourth on lap 25 and into third on the following lap. He then passed Joey Saldana for the runner-up position on lap 31 and set his sights on Dollansky.
“I got by Joey; I didn’t really have a problem,” said Schatz, who earned the KSE Hard Charger Award. “Getting around the leader is always a little bit difficult when he’s out in clean air.”
With Dollansky running the high groove, Schatz gained a lot of ground running a couple of car lengths off the bottom and he closed to the rear bumper of Dollansky with two laps remaining.
Schatz shot to the inside of Dollansky exiting turn four as the drivers headed toward the white flag. While Schatz led that lap, Dollansky had the momentum as they raced through turns one and two side by side – Schatz on the bottom and Dollansky to his outside.
Dollansky’s momentum allowed him to narrowly pull in front of Schatz entering turn three and he hugged the bottom, forcing Schatz to make a last-ditch pass to the outside. The move proved to be enough for Dollansky, who edged Schatz by a couple of car lengths at the finish line.
“I ran down in (turns) one and two and got up next to him and I probably should have taken his line away,” said Schatz, who has nine consecutive top fives and has finished in the top two in five straight races.
“I didn’t want to give him the opportunity to have to hit me or crash me or anything. I played it safe and he went down and got himself squeezed through the bottom there.”
Saldana finished third to earn his 23rd top five of the season. Jac Haudenschild was fourth and Kemenah ended fifth.