CHICO, CA (September 12, 2009) As Yogi Berra once said, “It ain't over till it's over,” and that mantra served true for Joey Saldana Saturday in the finale of the 56 th Annual Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, CA, as he led just the final ¼-of a lap of the 40-lap contest to pick up a thrilling $50,000 win over Jason Sides. Powered by VP’s M1 Methanol, Saldana ran second for the first 39 laps of the race and used lapped traffic on the final circuit to get a strong run on Sides in turn three and charged around him on the high side of turn four to take the lead and earn his second consecutive and third overall win of the season at Silver Dollar Speedway. For Saldana, it was his series leading 17 th A-Feature win of the season and the 56 th of his World of Outlaws career.
“This is definitely a race you want to win,” said Saldana. “The money is good, but it's about the prestige. This is a great race. It has a lot of history and sprint car drivers want to win races like these. It's really not about the money, but the history. It's pretty neat to have won it twice. The first one makes you realize that you can win big races and this one is just as special.”
Saldana started on the outside of the front row in the Budweiser Maxim, with Jason Sides who started on the pole quickly jumping out to a lead. Sides had opened a sizeable lead when the first caution of the night flew on the fourth lap. Just two laps later the red flag would fly after Sides again used a strong restart to jump out to a comfortable lead.
After another restart, Sides worked his way into lapped traffic for the first time on the 12 th lap, with Saldana gaining ground at this point. Side was using the low side of the track on the 13 th go-around with Saldana right on him up high. For the next three laps, Sides was held up by a couple of lapped machines allowing Saldana to look both high and low for a way around him. The caution flew again on the 17 th lap as the leaders were in very heavy lapped traffic.
“We had him there about halfway through and the yellow came out and that was the only way I was really going to get him,” noted the winner. “He was really good in the open. If the yellows would have kept coming out, I probably would not have gotten him. Luckily we got in lapped traffic and got him to move around and once he moved off the top there going into (turn) three we got a good run and got by.”
On the restart after the lap-17 caution, Sides again pulled away with Jason Meyers battling Saldana for the runner-up spot. At the halfway point of the 40-lapper, Sides was in open track and had a sizeable lead when the caution flew. A strong restart helped him jump to another large lead, though he would be in lapped traffic on the 25 th lap when the caution would fly again. After another strong restart saw pull away, the caution flew on the 27 th lap. After getting two more laps in after the restart, a red flag flew, leading to an open red which gave the teams a chance to work on their machine.
“We actually did change something,” said Saldana of the open red flag. “The night before we won, but I felt like we needed the car to be tighter. When the yellow came out and we didn't get by him, I felt like everyone else's cars were freeing up, so we moved our tire in and tightened the car up. I knew if I could get to him I could move around better than he could. I think that's what helped at the end. Being more tight, you can run your car harder through those holes. It was a good choice by Willie (Kahne) to move that wheel in because that's what probably won us the race.”
The final two cautions of the night both flew on the 29 th lap, leading to an 11-lap shootout between Sides and Saldana for the $50,000 top prize. With eight laps to go the leader found themselves in lapped traffic with Saldana gained a significant amount of ground to close right in on Sides. On lap-35, Saldana looked high off turn four and then low in one and two on the following lap as he made a bid for the lead. Sides cleared the lapped cars with three to go, while Saldana still had a couple to negotiate.
With two laps left, Saldana cleared the slower machines and was right back on Sides' rear bumper. The native of Brownsburg, IN went high off turn four on the last lap and shot around Sides and powered his way to the start/finish line to earn his second title in the Gold Cup Race of Champions.
Sides wound up second in the Wetherington Tractor Service Maxim for the second consecutive night. After leading the first 39 laps of the race he settled for a $20,000 payday. It was his 21 st Top-Five finish of the season.
“It has been a good season and we're just happy to be up here running with these guys,” said Sides. “It's not very often that you get to win a race like that and to lose it on the last lap for a lot of money sucks. My hat is off to the Kasey Kahne crew, they did a great job.”