CHICO, Calif. — Joey Saldana drove his Motter Equipment machine to the lead with seven laps to go on Friday night at Silver Dollar Speedway then held on to win his first World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series race of the season and kick off the 60th Gold Cup Race of Champions weekend in style.
Polesitter Jason Sides led twice and held onto second as Andy Forsberg, an ecstatic local racer, was cheered by the partial California crowd after earning the third spot on the podium. Shane Stewart recouped from a wreck on Wednesday night at Cottage Grove Speedway to finish fourth while Tim Kaeding, winner of the previous two World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car events, was fifth after charging from 19th to earn the KSE Hard Charger Award.
Sides started on the pole of the 30-lap feature event and worked the bottom while second-place running Brad Sweet worked the top side of the high-banked quarter-mile oval. On lap four, following a restart, Sweet got the drive he needed off of turn two to take the lead.
Sweet led the next 10 laps, holding the lead over the course of several cautions. On lap 16, following a restart and a pair of single file restarts, the field again came to the green flag with Sweet leading Sides. Sides jumped to the inside of Sweet entering one and he was unable to slow his car down and get it turned. The ensuing contact flipped Sweet into turns one and two, while Sides drove away from the accident scene. Sweet rejoined the field following another caution. Sides later apologized to Sweet, a native Californian who clearly had a lot of support in the grandstands.
Saldana immediately joined the fight for the lead after the incident. Saldana stalked Sides, but for several laps was unable to mount a charge. Finally Saldana saw his chance on lap 22 while Sides was attempting to navigate lapped traffic. Sides slipped up and Saldana pounced to lead lap 23.
Saldana also holds the provisional top spot for the Gold Cup Race of Champions. Both nights of racing will be tallied up and the competitor with the best-combined finish will earn a $5,000 bonus.
“We started sixth and worked out way up to third and obviously with Jason and Brad getting together that changed the scenario of the race,” said Saldana. “Jason had a good car and when we got into lapped traffic he slipped up and we got him. Honestly when we were racing I was thinking top three and I’d be content with that. This is a very tough series and to be out here competing with the World of Outlaws STP Sprint Car Series is what I want to do. To win one of these races is very, very hard and anybody that does it has earned an awesome accomplishment.”
Sides attempted to gain the lead back in the Wetherington Tractor Service Maxim, but Saldana was determined to put his first-year Motter Motorsports team in victory lane for the first time since it rejoined the series after nearly 15 years of being on the sidelines.
After the race Sides fielded no questions, but issued an apology to Sweet for the contact earlier in the race.
Forsberg, of Auburn, Calif., started the event second and after falling back, charged back up to a podium finish in the A&A Stepping Stone and Autism Awareness Maxim.
“We’ve run decent with the Outlaws before, but it’s been a long time,” Forsberg said. “This year we’ve been decent here on Friday nights with the 410 this year. The Outlaws are up here and the locals are down here and every now and then the proverbial blind squirrel finds a nut.”
The championship battle seemed to be at near status quo with Daryn Pittman and Donny Schatz separated by just single position. Schatz however, suffered a mechanical failure on the final lap of the race in the final corner, sending him over the berm. With a caution-laden race, there were few cars lapped. Schatz fell from the eighth position to 22nd while Pittman crossed the line sixth.
With the difference in the finish positions Pittman earned 32 points in the championship hunt to open his lead to 58 points over Schatz.