CHICO, Calif. — Putting a recent string of bad luck behind him Bixby, Oklahoma’s Shane Stewart proceeded to score an emphatic victory on opening night of the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series sanctioned Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway on Friday.
Stewart has shown immense speed during the Western Swing, and it paid off with his sixth victory of the 2016 season aboard the Larson Marks Racing No. 2 machine. It was also the second straight season he opened the Gold Cup Race of Champions in victory lane.
“This has always been one of those events that I’ve wanted to win, so hopefully we can come back tomorrow and do the same,” Stewart commented following the race. “We’ve had some tough luck, but have gained a lot of speed lately, which has given me a lot of confidence. These races are so hard to win with the competition that it’s always a big deal when you can do it. My guys have worked really hard so I can’t thank them enough. We got through traffic pretty well in the main event, and the cautions fell our way. We’ll now try and do it again tomorrow.”
Stewart took the lead from Brownsburg, Indiana’s Joey Saldana on lap 11 in traffic and led the remaining distance without worries, except for one slight moment with a couple laps left when he got over the back stretch. It allowed Saldana to close, but Stewart was able to hang on and take the checkered flag by 0.680 seconds.
Saldana himself was locked in a closely fought battle with Wooster, Ohio’s Jac Haudenschild. The two former Gold Cup champions ran closely together the final half of the race, which ended with Saldana claiming second at the stripe.
Saldana had taken the lead at the waving of the green flag over pole sitter Mason Moore of Princeton, California. “My guys worked really hard tonight and it’s nice to be back up here on the front stretch,” said the driver of the Roth Motorsports No. 83 mount.
“Having a shot to win is all you can ask for and we were right there tonight. Shane [Stewart] did a good job in traffic and he had some really nice restarts. We’ll come back tomorrow and try to get one spot better.”
Haudenschild came home in third to continue what has been a solid week driving for California car owner Paul Silva. He hounded Saldana’s rear bumper for a number of laps, but couldn’t quite find a way by.
“Paul Silva gave me a great car again, so I want to give him a huge thanks. It’s nice to be back at the Gold Cup. I’ve always loved coming here to Chico over the years. It would mean a lot if we can get another one tomorrow.”
Owasso, Oklahoma’s Daryn Pittman claimed a fourth place finish for the second race in a row, with Fargo North, Dakota’s Donny Schatz rounding out the top-five. The remainder of the top-10 was completed by Grass Valley, California’s Brad Sweet; Fremont, California’s Shane Golobic; St. Mary’s NSW, Australia’s Kerry Madsen; Eunice, Louisiana’s Jason Johnson and Watertown, Connecticut’s David Gravel.
One red flag period occurred during the feature when a multi-car pileup was seen in turn three on lap 12. Rutherford, California’s Rico Abreu and Nashville, Tennessee’s Paul McMahan both got upside down during the melee, but were okay. Also involved were Jacob Allen, Logan Schuchart, Kyle Hirst and Jason Johnson.
As noted, Mason Moore won the Craftsman Club® Dash, while Hanford, California’s DJ Netto captured the C-main and Clarksburg, California’s Justyn Cox claimed the Last Chance Showdown. Four 10-lap heat races were held during the night, with victories going to Joey Saldana, Mason Moore, Jac Haudenschild and Shane Stewart.
With 38 cars signing in for opening night of the Gold Cup, split qualifying was used. Daryn Pittman set fast time in the opening group, while Rico Abreu set fast time in group two. Abreu’s lap of 11.652 was the overall quick time for the night.
The World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series will return to action tomorrow night for the finale of the 63rd annual Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico.
-World of Outlaws Press Release & Photo