2007 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Season Review: Joey Saldana
Joey Saldana's main goals for 2007 were to win more races than he did in 2006, as well as to finish higher in the championship standings than he did last year, and to contend for the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series title. He accomplished all three of these feats in 2007 en route to winning a career high 13 times and finishing a career-best second in points.
"It was a great season," said Saldana, driver of the Open Joist JEI. "Last year we won seven races and ran third in points and felt like we kind of gave second away. This year my goal was to do better than I did last year. With the competition the way it was this year that was hard to do. We came out and we focused on racing the car and racing the tracks and not worrying about anything else."
The native of Brownsburg, Indiana reached the winner's circle for the first time in 2007 at Thunderbowl Raceway in California in February. A string of nine consecutive Top-Six finishes, including three consecutive wins in March vaulted him into the championship points lead and set the lines for a battle with Donny Schatz all season long for the title.
In March, Saldana won at Pike County Speedway in Mississippi and at Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee, holding off a hard charging Tim Shaffer in both events. He completed the hat trick at Attica Raceway Park in Ohio, winning on the tight high-banked 1/3-mile. He accomplished all of this while the team shuffled around some personnel, including promoting long time crew member Justin Adams to the role of crew chief.
"We came out of the box and had confidence and showed that we could be competitive," said the second generation driver. "I think when our team had the changes, everyone said we were done for the year and would not accomplish anymore than we had. We came out strong and knocked 100 points off out Donny Schatz's lead, by doing what we know, and that was to come out and race hard."
The 2007 season marked the second year for Saldana behind the wheel for the Kasey Kahne Racing team, and it marked the first year that they had Open Joist on board as a sponsor. Saldana was very proud of what the team was able to accomplish for Open Joist and all of their sponsors.
"It's huge to have Open Joist on the car," he explained. "They had never been in motorsports before and to have them involved with Kasey Kahne Racing and the World of Outlaws was great. To be able to run strong to where they want to come back is a testament to what we did as a team, and what is out here for the World of Outlaws."
With a record number of drivers competing with the World of Outlaws in 2007, time trials played a vital role in determining how many nights of racing would go. Saldana led the series with 11 quick time honors in qualifying, including setting new track records at Houston Raceway Park in Texas, Volunteer Speedway in Tennessee and at Cottage Grove Speedway in Oregon, where he turned a sub-10 second lap, making it only the second track on the World of Outlaws schedule with a single digit track record. He also won the Crane Cams Dash six times to earn the same number of pole positions.
"I haven't been out here as long as other guys, but I have been out here long enough to see how tough it was," he commented. "When I came out in my first year and had my own team, there were eight teams out here and I thought, 'This is not a good year to come out and compete with these guys.' This year having over 25 teams start the season and over 20 finish, this has been by far the toughest series that I have ever been a part of."
Prior to winning the $50,000 Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway in California for the first time in his career, it was announced that Saldana had signed a contract extension with Kasey Kahne Racing to remain the driver of the No. 9 car. Saldana is very grateful for the opportunity and rewarded the team with their most successful season ever. He is quick to point out to young sprint car drivers how important it is to work hard and be patient like he was early in his career.
"It's good to see that guys want to come out here and make a name for themselves like I did," said the 1996 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year. "A lot of people think that you have to go and run a stock car to be successful. Steve Kinser has made a pretty good living this way. I wish more younger guys would look at it that way and realize that they don't' have to run a stock car to be another Kasey Kahne or Steve Kinser. It's an awesome sport to be a part of."
Saldana's team is the only one competing full-time with the series that is based out of the greater Charlotte area in North Carolina, which makes getting back to the shop difficult for them during the season. He credits his crew which consisted of Justin Adams, Kale Kahne, Kolton Gouse and Jared Ridge for their endless work during the 2007 campaign to make sure the team competed at the highest level they were capable of.
"These guys sacrifice a lot of time with their families to be out here," said Saldana. "To be in Charlotte is huge for our team."
Saldana wrapped up his season in the United States by competing in the Trophy Cup at Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, California in November, where he won on the opening night and finished fourth in the finale to earn the second most overall points, which were used to determine the overall winner of the event on the high-banked 1/3-mile.
Next on his agenda was a trip to New Zealand, where he was victorious at TeMaura Speedway in Wellington. He will wrap up his visit to New Zealand on December 26 by taking part in both the sprint car and midget portion of the Boxing Day event at Springs Speedway in Western Springs Australia.
A return home will see him and his family celebrate a belated Christmas, followed by a trek to the famed Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma and then a trip to Australia to compete at Parramatta City Raceway.
"I'm going to go to New Zealand for a couple of races to do some international racing," he said. "That will get me in the Kele World Challenge during the Knoxville Nationals. I have run second to (Donny) Schatz twice in the Nationals and I feel like being on that track for one extra race (the day before the finale of the Knoxville Nationals) will help move me up one more spot."
The 30th anniversary Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series season begins on February 8, 2008 with the 37th Annual Florida DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park.
Up Next: 2007 World of Outlaws Season Review: Donny Schatz