From Brendan Capria
MECHANICSBURG, Penn. (October 14, 2016) — A late push to the top Friday night ended in a victory lane celebration on the front stretch for Danny Dietrich, who won the World of Outlaws Craftsman® Sprint Car Series Champion Racing Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway. The Gettysburg, Pa. driver hoisted the $25,000 check in the air in front of a local crowd.
“This is pretty incredible,” Dietrich said. “This may have been one of the toughest races I’ve ever ran. They were setting a heck of a pace. It was no easy win. Props to those guys for racing me clean. I hope the fans got their money’s worth. These are the toughest guys to race against – ever. This is the National Open and people dream about winning this. But, dreams do come true.”
Dietrich, who finished on the podium in the series’ previous show at Fulton Speedway (N.Y.), finished mid-pack in qualifying earlier in the night’s program. Tim Wagaman recorded the fastest lap time at Williams Grove all season with a 16.314 in qualifying. Logan Schuchart, who set the track record at Fulton, was two-thousandths of a second slower than Wagaman in the following group.
It was Dietrich’s second place finish in the third heat that gave him a favorable starting spot for the feature. Dietrich finished sixth in the Craftsman Club® Dash and started in the spot for the 40-lap A-Main. However, he was not an outsider looking into the top five for long. When the green flag waved the 26-car field into the feature, Dietrich’s No. 48 car sprang into action.
In the opening lap, second place starter Brad Sweet moved to the inside of the half-mile oval; Dietrich followed suit, eventually challenging seven-time Series Champion Donny Schatz for fourth position in turn three of the second lap. Platinum driver David Gravel, who beat Dietrich in the heat race, was also in the mix.
Entering lapped traffic by the sixth lap, Gravel swapped third position with Schatz while Sweet briefly overtook pole-sitter Joey Saldana for first. Both Saldana and Schatz avenged their battles, and Schatz moved by Sweet with 21 laps remaining. On lap 23, Dietrich knocked Sweet’s No. 49 car out of his podium position before the feature’s first caution.
“We had the speed,” Sweet said. “You just need to get the track position. Things went right for us there. We were off the front row. I’m a little disappointed because I thought we had a car capable of winning the race. I felt like the driver gave it away a little there.”
The field endured an open red that allowed teams to refuel their winged-sprints. On the restart, Dietrich powered through Schatz into second position before the race’s second caution on lap 24. Including another yellow flag on lap 26, Saldana strung together a series of strong restarts to retain first position. Even so, Dietrich gained on Saldana with each lap. Dietrich consistently cut the corner in turn three, shaving seconds off Saldana’s half-second lead. Dietrich momentarily passed Saldana until the fourth caution on lap 27.
“These guys are really good out here when you come here to race,” Saldana said. “[Dietrich] snickered me on that restart there, and I just got lucky. We did have a good car. You have to come out here and perform.”
One more near-perfect restart from Saldana kept his No. 83 car in front of the field; however, Dietrich resumed his strategy by sticking to the inside groove. On lap 34, Dietrich was able to get under Saldana exiting turn four for the lead. Saldana fought back. In a back-and-forth, Saldana was back out front.
“I kept working the bottom there,” Dietrich said. “I really wasn’t good anywhere but the bottom, so I just kept working it. I felt I could keep-up better down there than running on the top. I was a little too loose to be running around the top. I just couldn’t get to the exit with speed like I needed to. If you told me by lap 10 I’d be standing up here [in victory lane], I would’ve laughed.”
In the final laps, Saldana moved to the bottom of the track to block a hard-charging Dietrich. With four laps remaining, Dietrich overpowered Saldana for the lead. Dietrich ultimately won the battle, while Saldana and Sweet rounded-out the podium. In victory lane – removing the storied Outlaws-PA Posse rivalry from the picture in that moment – the three joked and laughed. Surrounded by a packed front stretch, the crowd applauded the three for another instant-classic to be added into the event’s 54-year history.
Saldana, who won the dash and led the field into the green flag, was in position to win his 100th series race of his career. He was in contention to join Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Donny Schatz, Mark Kinser and Doug Wolfgang as the only series drivers to record 100-plus series wins.
“That’s something I want to accomplish before I’m done is to get at least 100 [wins],” said Saldana, who was not even thinking about his milestone during the race. “We were close tonight, just couldn’t get it done.”