BULLS GAP - Nextel Cup driver Kasey Kahne may have finished 19th in both races he ran in over the weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, but he didn't leave the area without a win.
Joey Saldana drove the Kahne-owned sprint car to victory Saturday night at Volunteer Speedway as the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series made its first trip to the high-banked dirt track.
Kahne served as grand marshal for the event and then sat back and watched as his driver set a track qualifying record (11.696 seconds at 123.119 mph), pulled off a thrilling win at the line in the A-Main and moved to within seven points of the series' points lead.
Saldana inched out Tim Shaffer at the finish line as the pair exchanged slide jobs over the last several circuits of the 35-lap main event.
Saldana took the white flag in the lead with Shaffer closely shadowing him. Saldana was committed to the top side of the track, while Shaffer made up ground on the bottom. Coming off the third and fourth turns, Shaffer nosed ahead of Saldana, but with the momentum he had coming off the 32-degree banking in turn four, Saldana was able to win by 0.199 seconds and take home the $10,000 payday.
"That was a great race," Saldana said. "I started running the top and stayed with it and it paid off. I may not have been the fastest car at the end, but I think I was the fastest car throughout the race. It was a good run for the team."
Jason Meyers starting from the pole and led the first 20 laps. On lap 21, contact between Meyers and points leader Donny Schatz, as the latter went for the lead, forced Meyers to the infield pit work area and allowed Saldana to move into the lead. Schatz did a 360 but was able to keep going, retaining his spot in the running order after an inadvertent yellow flag was waved.
Saldana held the lead for five laps before Schatz charged around him at the start/finish line on lap 26. By the time the pair entered the second turn, Saldana had regained the lead on the defending series champion.
While Saldana and Schatz battled at the front, Shaffer powered his way from the ninth starting spot to third before getting by Schatz to challenge Saldana for the lead.
"That was a blast," Shaffer said. "We had a great race car and everything worked great. Everything seemed to go right tonight and it was a lot of fun."
Schatz finished third to earn his ninth top-five finish in the first 10 races. "We had all of our chances, we just didn't get long enough runs," Schatz said.
Three-time World of Outlaws champion Sammy Swindell finished fourth, followed by Daryn Pittman, who started 21st.
In the Super Late Model feature, Jimmy Owens and Vic Hill battled each other for 40 laps, with Owens holding off the four-time track champion for the win. Jeff Maupin, Mike Smith and Rick Rogers rounded out the top five.
The Gap will be back in action in April 7 for a regular points race.