2006 World of Outlaws Season Review: Joey Saldana Concord, NC --Dec. 4, 2006 -- Joey Saldana did not really know what to expect heading into the 2006 season. After all, he was driving for a team that had never competed full-time on the road with...
2006 World of Outlaws Season Review: Joey Saldana
Concord, NC --Dec. 4, 2006 -- Joey Saldana did not really know what to expect heading into the 2006 season. After all, he was driving for a team that had never competed full-time on the road with the World of Outlaws Sprint Series. He knew his Kasey Kahne Racing team would be strong, led by crew chief Willie Kahne, but just how strong they ended up being surprised him just a little bit.
Saldana won seven races on the year, including the $50,000 Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway, on a night when his car owner was on-hand. This was second time in his career that Saldana had worn the crown and held the scepter at the hallowed half-mile.
On the strength of 26 Top-Five finishes, Saldana was able to match his best career finish in the championship standings coming home third.
"It was a very good season for a first year team," said Saldana, driver of the Mopar-powered Dodge/Curb Records JEI. "We achieved a lot. We finished second at the Knoxville Nationals. We won the Kings Royal. We had seven wins, and it was a respectable year."
The team showed it would be a force to be reckoned with all year, when they turned in a solid third-place run in the season opener at Volusia Speedway Park and followed that up by winning the next night. In the first 10 races of the year, they had nine Top-10 finishes, and firmly established themselves in the Top-Five in championship points.
"To win the points title, you not only have to finish consistently in the Top-10, but you also have to win races and you have to have Top-Fives," said Saldana, the 1996 series rookie of the year. "We cost ourselves a few races, but we were right there with everyone else. We know we have a lot to work on know, and that we have a lot of places to get better. For a first year team, to come out here and be third, and know that you could have been second if things would have gone a little bit different, I am quite pleased with our performance."
After winning at the half-mile at Terre Haute in early June, Saldana and the team caught fire, reeling off 17-straight Top-10 finishes, including wins at the famed Knoxville Raceway and the ultra-modern Dodge City Raceway Park.
Another win came amidst this stretch, and that was the 18th Annual Brad Doty Classic, which was held for the first time at Limaland Motorports Park. Two days later, Saldana claimed the $50,000 top-prize at Eldora Speedway to cap off a big week in the state of Ohio.
"For myself, I feel good," he stated. "As you get older, you do not get the opportunities and this is a great opportunity for my family and myself to be with Kasey Kahne Racing. You try to do the best you can with what you have, because you don't get to do for as long as you would like. It definitely was a good year to build on, and hopefully next year we can come out and be stronger."
Not only did the team perform at optimal level on the track, but also off it, as they claimed the title in the Snap-on® Pit Crew Challenge. The competition consisted of three rounds, with the first being a front end change at Princeton (Minn.) Speedway in late July. On a sweltering day, the team won that round to take the overall lead. After a second place finish in round two at Skagit (Wash.) Speedway in August, that saw the team change components on the rear of the car, they were firmly established as the team to beat heading into the final round.
In the finale in Las Vegas, the teams had to complete a motor change, against each other and the ticking clock. Another second place finish, that saw the team change the motor in just over six and a half minutes, was enough to claim the overall title along with a $3,000 winner's check.
"By far I had the best crew out there," a confident Saldana said. "These guys: Willie (Kahne), Justin (Adams), and Kevin (Cardoza) come from USAC Silver Crown Cars. They are used to running 10, 20, maybe 30 times a year. They just kind of played around with winged sprint car racing with Kasey. To focus entirely on the World of Outlaws where you have to run 80 races, it wears on you. It wears on your family and everyone involved. You're gone from home quite a bit."
The Kasey Kahne Racing team often were the first one's to pull into the pit area, going over everything on the car with a fine tooth comb, to make sure Saldana always had one of the fastest and safest cars on the track. The speed they had showed all season in time trials, as the Brownsburg, Indiana native turned the quickest lap five times, including setting a new track record at Nodak (N.D.) Speedway on August 19, in the series inaugural visit to the track. Saldana also won two dashes to earn two pole positions.
"These guys are very confident and came out here and did a very strong job," Saldana said of his dedicated crew. "They can do anything that anyone else can do. They are very meticulous on what they do and how they do it and that showed in the Pit Crew Challenge. They are right there with any of the teams that have been out here doing this for quite a while. They are committed to what they do, and they do an excellent job. It's reassuring as a driver to know that your team is behind you 100 percent, and they are giving 100 percent every time they are out there."
Another highlight for Saldana was leading 11 laps in the Knoxville Nationals (a race his father Joe won in 1970), where he finished second to eventual World of Outlaws Champion Donny Schatz. The team continued to show its strength on half-mile late in the season at Jackson (Minn.) Speedway in September when Saldana nursed the car to a runner-up finish, after he experienced severe engine trouble early in the race, on a track that takes a lot of horsepower to get around.
"We showed that we have potential," he said. "We have the drive. We have the speed. It's a long series and you can't do it for six months, you have to it for all eight. The last two months cost us quite a bit and we know where we have to get better."
Saldana finished the year having led 198 laps, which was among the top-five in the series. He showed he could win on the half-mile tracks as well as the bullrings, and built plenty of momentum heading into the future. With the passion that Saldana and Kahne have for sprint car racing, the team expects to be title contenders for many years to come.
"I love knowing that I am racing for Kasey, he is a great owner," said Saldana. "He's given me an opportunity and hopefully we can rise to the occasion and have a career year next year like Donny (Schatz) had this year. That wouldn't be bad to have a 'career year' and win 20 races, and win the Outlaws championship. Hopefully, we can achieve that, and everyone will be happy and we can be out for a lot more years than just next year."
Gearing up for a run at the 2007 title, the team recently announced that they had hired Ricky Warner to assume the role of crew chief for the team, 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.
"Kasey does this because he loves it," explained Saldana about his car owner and NASCAR star. "He keeps this thing together for all of us to have a job and make a living. We showed we can do it. Now we have to be better."
Next Up: The series of season reviews for the Top-15 in the World of Outlaws Sprint Series continues with Craig Dollansky.