DUQUOIN, Ill. — Report by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — POWRi photo —
Even though Christmas isn’t until Thursday, Joey Saldana was handed an early present Saturday night at the DuQuoin Southern Illinois Center.
Saldana took the lead with five laps remaining following a crash in lap traffic that collected then-race leader Bryan Clauson and second-place running Christopher Bell and fended off challenges from 16-year-old Justin Peck and open-wheel veteran Bryan Clauson to claim top honors in the 5th Annual Great Clips Battle at the Center.
The non-points showdown was the first career POWRi-sanctioned victory for the Brownsburg, Indiana native in just his sixth career midget start.
“We got so many people that helped us get this car together,” explained a victorious Saldana. “It’s just the coolest thing to be able to race and stay home with my family for Christmas. I’ve been gone for like 13 years going to Australia, so I figured I better find another thing to do to stay home and enjoy the parts of life that fade away really fast. I wish my kids could have been here; they would have loved this, but my son had basketball last night and he’s got to do what he loves to do and hopefully I can do something that he’s proud of.”
“We had a good car. It just goes to show, if you surround yourself with great people, great things can happen,” Saldana added. “And tonight it was just a blessing, just right place at the right time. I wasn’t fast enough to get caught up in what Bryan and Christopher got caught up in, but I was fast enough to win the race, so that’s what counts in the end.”
Clauson started on the pole and led the early stages, setting a blistering pace before a caution right at halfway for the slowing Andrew Felker and Spencer Bayston machines slowed the action for the first time.
On the restart, Clauson checked out again as Bell began roaring to life, taking second from Saldana on lap 26 and setting his sights on the leader, who was beginning to work lap traffic. However, Felker and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tangled in turn two, sparking the incident that collected Clauson and Bell in its aftermath. While Clauson was able to refire, Bell’s night was over — the dirt-racing phenom, who has won 27 times in 108 starts across the 2014 season, was credited with 16th in the final rundown.
At the end of the road, Clauson made a hefty comeback, sliding past Peck on the final lap to take away second after rallying from the back of the field, but was unable to catch Saldana.
The former USAC champion was also aided after missing a multi-car crash with three to go that took out four of the top six in turns one and two — triggered when Dereck King spun running second.
“It’s a bummer,” said Clauson. “You don’t get many racecars that dominant. Just wrong place, wrong time, I guess. It was just one of those deals. It was a bummer; you hate to lose big races especially with a dominant car.”
Behind the podium, Spencer Bayston and Daniel Robinson rounded out the top five.
Stenhouse Jr. who returned to his open wheel roots after a tough NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign in 2014, made a late comeback as well and picked up a solid eighth place result.
Saldana, Clauson, Bell, Isaac Chappel, Parker Price-Miller, Jody Rosenbloom, Nick Knepper, Dilon Welch and Sean Murphy each collected one of nine heat race wins on the night. Austin Brown and Tyler Thomas took the non-qualifier victories.
For more information, visit www.powri.com.
RESULTS: 5th Annual Great Clips Battle at the Center; Southern Illinois Center; Dec. 20, 2014
POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series Feature (40 laps): 1. 21 – Joey Saldana 2. 63 – Bryan Clauson 3. 5X – Justin Peck 4. 39 – Spencer Bayston 5. 57D – Daniel Robinson 6. 11A – Andrew Felker 7. 7M – Kevin Ramey 8. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse 9. 15 – Tim Siner 10. 14R – Jody Rosenboom 11. 31 – Kyle Schuett 12. 91 – Dereck King 13. 55 – Nick Knepper 14. 2 – Seth Motsinger 15. 11R – Ryan Criswell 16. 71 – Christopher Bell 17. 66 – Shane Cockrum 18. 9P – Parker Price-Miller 19. 14W – Matt Wesfall 20. 1T – Tony Roney 21. 99P – Dillon Welch
Saldana celebrates in Victory Lane after claiming the Great Clips Battle at the Center, his first win in POWRi compeititon. (POWRi photo)