Barberville - countdown to season opener 2008-02-07

Drivers Look to Start Season Strong at 37th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals There are over 80 races on the 2008 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule that stretches from February until early November, so in the grand ...

Drivers Look to Start Season Strong at 37th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals

There are over 80 races on the 2008 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series schedule that stretches from February until early November, so in the grand scheme of things, the opening three events at the 37th Annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals are just a few pieces in the overall larger puzzle, but they are certainly key ones.

A good run to start the season in the Sunshine State builds momentum for the rest of the season and gives a driver confidence as they embark on one of the most grueling and demanding schedules in all of motorsports.

Last season the three drivers that won at Volusia Speedway Park with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals, went on to claim 27 total A-Feature wins with the series during the season and were all 13th or better in championship points.

Donny Schatz, who on opening night in 2007 and finished third the next two nights, went on to score his second consecutive series championship, winning 19 total events along the way, after his strong start at Volusia. Kerry Madsen who won on the second night of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals last season, went on to win again late in the year at Perris Auto Speedway in California and also claimed the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award. Daryn Pittman who won the final night of the 2007 Alltel DIRTcar Nationals finished the season fourth in points with six A-Feature wins.

In 2006, Chad Kemenah won the opener of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals and went on to claim the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Award. Joey Saldana also won at Volusia in 2006 and he would finish that season third in points with seven wins.

Steve Kinser was victorious in the event in 2005 and wound up claiming his 20th championship with the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series in that same season.

While success in the season opening events doesn't always guarantee success the rest of the season, in many instances running strong in Florida is a foundation for establishing a strong baseline for the rest of the season.

In his career at the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals, Schatz has nine Top-10 finishes in 13 starts. The North Dakota native won in his debut with Tony Stewart Racing on Tuesday night at Volusia with the All Star Circuit of Champions and last night charged from the 19th starting spot to finish fifth, as he and the team continue to gear up for the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws season opener tomorrow night.

"Our expectations are to go out and win all three nights," said Schatz. "If we don't do that, then we'll know we've got work to do. Everyone will be there to start the year with new stuff and trying to prove they're going to be the guy to beat this year. Fortunately, I'll be working with guys who have been with me the past couple of years, and we're adding a new crew guy who has been on the road before. You want to gel as a unit and come out of the box strong."

Kinser had some bad luck at Volusia last and endured some mechanical problems that shortened his night in the finale. He battled back from that to win 10 times during the season and finish sixth in championship points. It was the 28th time in his career with the series that he earned a Top-10 finish in the final standings. He began this season with a third-place finish on Tuesday night at Volusia and was seventh on Wednesday evening with the All Stars.

"It means quite a bit," explained Kinser of starting strong in Florida. "You want to get started in the first three or four races really well, and get yourself headed in the right direction. It is pretty important, and I would say that is a big part of year. Last year we didn't get started off well and I would like to change that this year."

Danny Lasoski, the 2001 Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion finished second, third and sixth last season in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals. He would use that momentum to propel himself into the Top-Five in the championship standings where he would remain all season, coming home in the third spot on the strength of six A-Feature wins. He led a number of laps at the half-mile on Wednesday night as he finished third with the All Star Circuit of Champions in their second of three nights of action.

"It's very important to start strong down there," noted Lasoski. "If you struggle in Florida, it's really hard to make it up in the middle of the year. Every point is so critical when you run with the World of Outlaws."

Daryn Pittman, who finished fourth in championship points last season on the strength of six A-Feature wins knows the importance of Florida, but also points out the overall larger picture and that is the many races that follow the season opening trio of events. The native of Owasso, Oklahoma set fast time on Tuesday night with the All Stars and finished fifth in the 30-lap A-Feature.

"It's important, but it's not the end of the year," said Pittman. "You have a long time to make up for it, but it is always easier to start off good and on top and make everyone else chases you, rather than the one chasing everyone else. We don't stake the whole year on it, but hopefully it sets the tone for the year when you go there and do good."

Jason Meyers also had bad luck plague him in Florida last season and worked hard to win five times during the year and wound up fifth in points. The native of Clovis, California has four Top-10 finishes at the half-mile in his career, including a runner-up finish on Tuesday night with the All Stars that saw him lead a number of laps and battle Schatz for the win.

"We didn't have the start to the year last year that we wanted and we were behind in the development of our chassis and it definitely showed," said Meyers. "We fought back from that all year long. I think it is very big for our team and everyone involved with our team, our sponsors and engine builder to go down to Florida and start off right. Hopefully we'll start out at the top of the points and never look back."

Joey Saldana began last season on a very strong note in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals. He competed in all six nights of sprint car racing and earned Top-10 finishes in every event, including a win with the All Star Circuit of Champions. In his career at the half-mile, the native of Brownsburg, Indiana has seven wins. He finished seventh on Tuesday night with the All Stars and will compete with them again tonight, as he gears up for tomorrow night's Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws season opener.

"If you are going to have a shot at winning the championship, you have to feel mentally that you can win any race and that you have 23 other guys wanting to beat you to win that race," said Saldana. "If you don't feel that or don't think you can get the job done, then you won't be in contention for the title."

-credit: woo

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About this article
Series World of Outlaws
Drivers Tony Stewart , Danny Lasoski , Donny Schatz , Steve Kinser , Daryn Pittman , Jason Meyers , Joey Saldana , Kerry Madsen , Chad Kemenah