Joey Saldana and his Kasey Kahne Racing team won seven World of Outlaws races last season and finished third in points. Not a bad day's work for a first year team, competing in one of the most grueling schedules in all of racing. The team owned...
Joey Saldana and his Kasey Kahne Racing team won seven World of Outlaws races last season and finished third in points. Not a bad day's work for a first year team, competing in one of the most grueling schedules in all of racing.
The team owned by NASCAR star Kasey Kahne is putting the finishing touches on their cars for this season and are anxiously awaiting the drop of the green flag for the 36th Annual DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Mopar Speedshop at Volusia Speedway Park, February 9-11.
Looking to get some extra seat time in the off-season, Saldana made a trip to New Zealand where he won a race, and then he competed in Australia, where he also picked up a checkered flag at Parramatta City Raceway. While Down Under, he raced against his car owner, as well as many fellow World of Outlaws drivers.
"For the last five seasons, I have gone to Parramatta, and it seems like it helps me," said Saldana, who has 22 career World of Outlaws A-Feature wins. "The only way you get better is if you are racing and working out. Going to Australia is something that I have always done to keep myself sharp. We had some good runs this year and won down there, so it gives me confidence going into Florida that we can win some races."
Saldana, won at Volusia Speedway Park last season in a thrilling race that saw him take the lead from Jac Haudenschild on the last lap of the 25-lap event before packed grandstands in the finale of the two nights of racing. This year the DIRTcar Nationals will encompass three full nights of racing, with 25-lap features the first two nights and a 30-lap $12,000-to win event on the final night.
"I've had some pretty good success at Volusia," commented the native of Brownsburg, Indiana. "I like the facility and I like the track. The racing always had been really good and competitive. I have been fortunate to run good there. Hopefully we can continue that success this year."
After finishing third in championship points last season on the strength those seven A-Feature wins, including his second career win in the famed Kings Royal, Saldana and the Kasey Kahne Racing team built a solid foundation and expect to continue to build on that this season. In their first full-year on the road last season, they racked up 46 Top-10 finishes, along with setting fast time five times, including a new track record at Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota. Saldana also claimed two dash wins to earn just as many pole positions.
"We have a whole new team again this year," said the veteran driver. "We have a new car and new sponsors, and everything. I think that will be good for us. Hopefully we can take everything we learned last year and be ready to go and compete for this championship."
Gearing up for a run at the 2007 title, the team added Ricky Warner as crew chief in the off-season, with Willie Kahne taking on the role of Managing Director, of the ever-expanding Kasey Kahne Racing team. Warner turned the wrenches in 2006 for Donny Schatz, guiding him to his first series title. Willie Kahne led one of the hardest working and best prepared crews in the pit area last season. This was evident by them claiming the title in the pit crew challenge.
"We have Ricky Warner as the crew chief," said an excited Saldana. "Willie did an outstanding job last year and he is moving on to oversee all five teams, now that we have USAC teams we'll be supporting. I've known Ricky Warner for a long time. He has obviously achieved a lot. Hopefully he can help me and make me a better driver and our team better. I think we have everything in place to be a championship winning team. We just have to get everything to gel and work. Hopefully we can achieve what Kasey has put together for us and that is to be a championship winning team."
Saldana was able to pick up two wins last season with his car owner present, both coming at the famed Eldora Speedway. While he has plenty of commitments of his, Kasey Kahne puts plenty of effort into his race team and attends as many events as he can. This passion for the sport helps keep the team motivated over the course of the always demanding World of Outlaws schedule.
"Kasey's a race car driver and he wants to win every night," explained Saldana. "He also understands that we can't do that. His drive is there and he wants us to do good. Kasey keeps the drive in us to want to do better. I think he is happy with us as long we learn from our mistakes. As long as we do that, I don't think that Kasey minds putting in the time and effort into having a team out there, as long as we are doing what we should be."
With nearly 90 races on the schedule which stretches from the DIRTcar Nationals until the Outlaws World Finals in early November, Saldana knows he and his team will have plenty of chances to make it to victory lane. While he gets plenty of credit for the wins, the fan favorite is quick to point out that it is the crew members that put in the long hours to make sure he has a fast and safe car to drive. He wants to reward them as many times as he can during the year.
"I think it's a great number of races to have," said the 1996 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year. "Hopefully the team we have in place is ready for this, and I know they are. They know they have to sacrifice to do this, and you hope during the season you can give them wins and the effort that they give you. They want you to give 110 percent as a driver. That's my job to do that, because they are sacrificing a lot for me to get to do what I love to do."
After finishing third in points last season for the second time in his career, Saldana has one objective heading into 2007. With the experience the team gained last season in their first full year on the road, in addition to Warner coming on board, he believes the team has all the pieces in place as they begin the year in the Sunshine State.
"For myself winning the title is the goal," he said. "If you want to win the championship, the first thing you have to worry about is winning races and being competitive. If we do that all year, we should win a championship, if we don't we won't. We definitely won't be happy if we don't, but we also have to look at it with an open mind. If we go out and do everything that we are supposed to do and a team is better than us, then we just have to get better. We'll learn from it and do what we need to do."