Friday was a night of attrition but the World of Outlaws’ two front-runners rose to the top in the opening round of the Kasey Kahne Challenge.
Sammy Swindell and Joey Saldana, who entered the $10,000-to-win World of Outlaws event at Missouri State Fair Speedway within five points of each other for the championship lead, put on an electric show on a crisp night in front of a large crowd at state fairgrounds.
The duo nearly took each other out on a restart with three laps remaining as they made contact entering turn one on the half-mile oval.
Instead, Swindell held on to the top spot after an aggressive move to get to the bottom of the track and he pulled away to pick up his first World of Outlaws win at Missouri State Fair Speedway since 1985.
“We’re not just driving around people so you’ve got to use every bit that you have and you’ve got to take advantage of it,” said Swindell, who also won with the Outlaws in Sedalia in 1982.
“The main thing is to put yourself in the right position,” Swindell said. “When we’re in front we had control of the first corner. Once it was like that and you get out there running, the guy has to run behind you in the dirty air and if their (air was) like mine, it wasn’t much fun.”
It was a bittersweet night for Saldana, who is only eight points behind Swindell after a runner-up finish.
“When you’re racing guys like Sammy Swindell, Steve Kinser, Donny Schatz, they’re champions (and) have won a lot of races,” Saldana said. “You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and hope that you don’t do it again. We were in position. I just had to put my car in a better spot and I think we could have won the race.”
The drivers battled throughout several aggressive restarts, including one on lap 15 where the duo made it three wide with leader Cody Darrah getting stuck in the middle. Swindell capitalized on momentum in the outside lane to rocket into the lead off turn two, as Saldana catapulted off the bottom lane to move into a close second.
Grain Valley resident and local favorite, Brian Brown, maneuvered from sixth to third on the same restart, as the trio pulled to a sizable advantage. Darrah, who was running fourth, brought out a caution with three laps remaining when he stopped in turn four with a broken U-joint.
Swindell chose the outside lane on the double-file restart and Saldana entered turn one side by side for the lead. They exited turn two in a tight battle before the final caution waved as NASCAR star Tony Stewart had a flat right rear tire while running fifth.
Swindell again picked the outside lane, which set up a drag race to turn one. In what looked like a dead heat, Swindell edged Saldana to the inside groove in turn one as their cars touched. Saldana lost momentum as Swindell cleared him for the lead.
“The way he raced me going into (turn) one, I should have raced him a little harder going into (turns) three and four,” Saldana said. “I had position on him there and I let it go. I just should have raced him harder because of the way he raced me earlier in that lap.
“I was just trying to race my car really clean. You get to a point like that and you kind of have to throw that out of the window if you’re going to win an Outlaws show. Tonight I think I just drove my car a little too easy.”
Brown closed within two car-lengths of Saldana before his car began to show signs of running out of fuel, forcing Brown to race conservatively the last two laps.
“When you run a top three anywhere, it’s good, especially with the Outlaws,” Brown said. “With two to go, I was running out of fuel or I thought we may have had something for them. Hats off to Sammy and Joey. They’re at the top of their game right now and to run third to those guys is an honor.”
Donny Schatz earned the Hard Charger Award after driving from 19th to fourth, which kept him third in the championship standings — only 20 points behind Swindell. Jason Sides, who started 14th, rounded out the top five.
Kerry Madsen drove from 12th to sixth with Kraig Kinser finishing seventh. Brady Bacon was eighth and Craig Dollansky placed ninth after violently flipping on the first lap of the dash. David Gravel charged from 17th to round out the top 10.
Stewart, the outside polesitter, Dover resident Danny Lasoski and Swindell each claimed a heat race. Brown won the Last Chance Showdown and Dollansky was the fast qualifier with a time of 15.975 seconds.
Lasoski finished 11th, and Stewart was 14th.
Round 2 of the Kasey Kahne Challenge will be May 20 at Hagerstown Speedway in Hagerstown, Md.