Shane Stewart overtook Joey Saldana early in the inaugural 30-lap NAPA Desert Shootout feature on Sunday night at Arizona Speedway then dominated the remaining laps to score his first victory of the 2016 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series season.
Stewart, in the American Born Moonshine/Eneos Oil No. 2, battled his way from the third starting position for his first victory since September 2015.
“We had a really good season last year,” said Stewart, who finished second in the series points after scoring nine wins. “We felt like we built on it over the winter, then we came out here and struggled a little bit in Florida in qualifying the first couple of nights, but hopefully we stumbled across something here where we can get qualified better.
“The new format is tough when you’re not the best qualifier and I never have been, so when you know you have to qualify in the top six or eight it makes it tough. But the good part is, if your car is good then you are able to race yourself into the dash if you’re good enough.”
The Bixby, Okla.–native was fifth fastest in qualifying that was paced by Brian Brown. Then he finished second to Joey Saldana in heat race two to place him in the dash.
Saldana, in the Roth Enterprises/HR Livestock No. 83, had one of the fastest cars early after finishing with the second fastest lap in qualifying, winning his heat and running second in the dash to David Gravel.
Gravel started from the pole-position for the 30-lap feature but lost the lead to Saldana on the initial start. Saldana rocketed out to an early advantage over the rest of the field.
Saldana hit slower traffic early at the 3/8-mile track which allowed Stewart to catch up to the leader after he overtook Gravel for the second position just the lap before.
It did not take Stewart long to work his way around Saldana for the lead as he passed Saldana just a lap after catching him. Immediately after, a caution flew for Daryn Pittman.
“I was able to make the bottom work in the dash and I knew it was going to come into play at some point in the race,” Stewart said. “Early on the cushion was the place to be, but once we got into lapped traffic, I knew the bottom was going to come into play and it did.”
On the ensuing restart, Stewart pulled away from Saldana and Gravel, who started battling for the second position while the leader built a gap between the three.
Near the halfway point, the leaders encountered heavy traffic once again which allowed fourth place Danny Lasoski in the GoMuddy.com/Big Game Tree Stands No. 2L to join the battle for the top three spots.
Lasoski, the 2001 series champion, saw an opening as Saldana and Gravel battled for the runner-up spot and shot around both to claim the position with less than five laps remaining. Saldana slipped back to the fourth position with Gravel sliding in behind Lasoski.
As Stewart took the white flag, the battle between Lasoski and Gravel began to heat up.
Lasoski approached slower traffic which allowed Gravel to challenge for the position. As the field came to the checkered flag, Gravel made his way back around Lasoski securing the runner-up position to race winner Stewart, who won by more than two seconds.
“[This year] we have been struggling early in the night and putting it together later in the night,” Stewart said. “But it’s good for everyone at Larson Marks Racing – Justin and Kyle – to finally put together a full, solid night.
“You can’t start 12th or 15th and win these races because it’s just so darn competitive. Finally we were able to get some spots in the dash and put ourselves in contention to win.”
Gravel’s second place finish was his best finish of the young season, but was not the result he was looking for after winning the dash.
“I had a good start to the race, but I shouldn’t have ran the bottom on the opening lap and gave Joey the lead,” Gravel said. “I messed around with Joey for quite a while when I knew I had a better car than him. It was just a little too late.
“I had a really good car, I don’t know if it was as good as Shane’s. If I was in second I could’ve closed on him in lapped traffic and see what I could do. You can’t complain about a second place finish, it was an awesome night for us after struggling at Vegas, so it’s good to get a good run.”
Lasoski also captured his best finish of the short season, finishing on the podium for the first time in 2016.
“We always want to win,” Lasoski said. “I just want to thank Tod Quiring for putting this great team together. This GoMuddy.com car has struggled so far this year.
We didn’t have the luck we wanted in Vegas after we put ourselves in position to capitalize...but all these guys work really hard and kept their head up. That’s all it is in this sport, each night can change really quick.”
Following a short five day break, the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series returns to action in the Golden State, as the series returns to Thunderbowl Raceway in Tulare, Calif. on March 11 and 12.