Half-Mile Master: Joey Saldana Looks for Another Win at Knoxville Knoxville, Iowa--Oct. 3, 2006 -- Joey Saldana is not exactly sure what has made him and his team so strong on half-mile tracks this season. He has won seven races to date,...
Half-Mile Master: Joey Saldana Looks for Another Win at Knoxville
Knoxville, Iowa--Oct. 3, 2006 -- Joey Saldana is not exactly sure what has made him and his team so strong on half-mile tracks this season. He has won seven races to date, with five of those being on spacious half-miles, including his first victory at Knoxville Raceway in a World of Outlaws Sprint Series A-Feature event in June. He will return to the famed Iowa oval this weekend, looking to add to his win total for the season.
The World of Outlaws Sprint Series will contest Budweiser Night on Saturday October 7, an event which was postponed due to rain earlier in the season. This will be the second race at the track for the series this season and the third overall for Saldana and the rest of the drivers, who all competed in the Knoxville Nationals.
The last two races that Saldana has won have been at Eldora Speedway, yet another half-mile. He won the $50,000 Kings Royal in July and followed that up a few weeks later with another win at the storied Ohio speedway to open up the month of August.
Saldana kept this momentum going as he made his way to the Knoxville Nationals, where he started on the outside of the front row and led 11 before finishing second to current World of Outlaws Sprint Series championship point leader Donny Schatz.
Having turned plenty of laps at the Knoxville in his career, Saldana is looking forward to competing on a half-mile track for the third time in the last four World of Outlaws races.
"That's a good facility," said Saldana, driver of the Mopar-powered Dodge/Curb Records JEI, referring to Knoxville Raceway. "It is a nice track. I like racing there, just like I like racing at Eldora. It's a great place to race."
For some drivers it will be a tough turnaround after racing at the uniquely shaped half- mile Williams Grove Speedway with long straight-a-ways and tight turns, last weekend, to racing at the roomy and wide Knoxville Raceway this weekend. For Saldana it will not be as difficult, in fact he is very excited to return to the famed track after having some bad luck on the final night of the National Open last weekend. The native of Brownsburg, Ind., and his team believe they have a good set-up to throw at the track as they look to return to RacinSoles Victory Lane.
"Transition wise it is not too bad," said the winner of the 1995 Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year Presented by Maxim Racing and ButlerBuilt. "Williams Grove is just unique in itself, so it's hard to get a nice set-up or feel for the track because of how unique the track is. When you go to Eldora or Jackson, Minnesota, they are similar and you can take your notes and knowledge from those tracks and kind of relate. 'The Grove' is a place where you have to specific notes for this track. At Knoxville you can do things that you do at other places, like Manzanita for instance, which is kind of like Knoxville. Transition wise, it is probably easier going from Williams Grove to Knoxville, because the track is a little more forgiving."
To start the night on a good note, Saldana knows he will have to turn in two strong qualifying laps to put him in a favorable position for the rest of the night. Saldana has set quick time on five different occasions this season. He credits his team's strong engines for helping him stop the clocks on top.
"We have a very good engine program, with Speedway Engines with Dodge and Mopar," commented Saldana, who drivers for NASCAR star Kasey Kahne. "That definitely shows up on the half-miles, your engine program. We have a good engine program and it shows. You also have to have a good chassis program and we're working with JEI."
Many teams stop building new cars toward the latter part of the season and use up the equipment they have, as they look forward to the following season. This is not the case for Saldana and his Willie-Kahne led crew. While they are certainly looking ahead to next year, they are still focused on winning races this year, and that has led them to try many new things and often to think "outside the box" as the season winds down and they look to add to their win total.
"We tried a different car at Williams Grove," he explained. "You're always trying to strive to get better. Trying to strive to get better has kind of cost us this year a little bit. (Donny) Schatz has been so dominant, that you want to get better for next year. You do not want to give up too much, so you try things and it has cost us a little bit by trying. If you don't try, you won't learn. Hopefully with this car, we can relate what we did earlier in the year and run good the last few races."
For some drivers and teams the end of the season is tougher because racing only occurs on the weekends, and it is harder for them to get into a rhythm. This is not the case for the No. 9 team. Saldana and his crew are glad to have the schedule slow down a bit, so they can catch their breath and return to their shop a few times to regroup.
"You've already run 60 times, so it is nice to kind of get a little break," he said. "When you are doing good, you want to race every night. When you're struggling, you want to relax and just think a little about what is going on, so that hopefully with some thought you are able to fix your problems. For ourselves, we need a break to think and compute everything that we are doing, and that is to compete and win races every night."
With track time at a premium at most events, Saldana knows there is constant pressure on all the drivers to turn the best laps they can every time they are on the racing surface. This is where his experience of running with the World of Outlaws for 10-plus years comes into play. Saldana is able to adjust and adapt to always changing track conditions, and to be fast right out of the box at tracks that he only visits once or twice a year.
"You get very few laps to test out here," said Saldana. "It is a very demanding sport, and you really don't get a chance to try anything, you just have come out and do it. If it's wrong, you have to deal with it the whole night."
With the season now in its final month every team has a different goal. Some are looking ahead to next season. Some are looking to gain some spots in the point standings. For Saldana who is third in the standings, the plan is to pick up a few more wins and pick up the momentum the team was riding earlier in the season and carry it into next season.
With an average finish of 1.5 this season at Knoxville, it is the perfect place for the team to continue their half-mile magic.
For ticket information, go to Knoxville Raceway's Web site at www.knoxvilleraceway.com. On Saturday October 7, adult reserved tickets will be $27, while reserved seats for children will be $13.50. Adult general admission tickets will be $25, with general admission tickets for children just $12.50.