Blaney, Larson take first two wins at Winter Heat 2016

Blaney, Larson take first two wins at Winter Heat 2016

Redemption and resumption.

Those are the two words to best describe the first two nights of the second annual Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown at Cocopah Speedway.

In Friday night’s opening round of action, Dale Blaney, from Fowler, Ohio, who went 0-for-5 at the inaugural event in 2015, came out and made a statement in winning the feature event.

And on Saturday night, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson, from Elk Grove, Calif., won the feature event in much the same fashion as he won the second night’s feature event in 2015 —by dominating the field.

After two nights of racing, Blaney, who drove to a solid fourth place finish behind Larson in Saturday night’s feature event, finds himself atop the leaderboard in the race to the Winter Heat series title.

It is quite a contrast to the series Blaney had in 2015 when he struggled for four nights, ran strong on the fifth night, but did not go home with a win to his credit.

“Being in somebody else’s car last year was tough, you know, the way I sit in it, the way I drive it, it was just totally different,” said Blaney from atop victory lane Friday night, comparing 2015 with 2016.

Now behind the wheel his own sprint car, Blaney said he’s much more comfortable.

“We were good all night, good in the heat, good in the qualifier, we got ourselves in good position,” said the reigning UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions champion.

“It’s always on your mind, just getting used to racing against, you know, wheel to wheel against guys again, but it worked out.

“This is like Ohio here, it gets smooth, it gets slick, I’m right at home on this race track.”

Justin Henderson, from Sioux Falls, S.D., finished second behind Blaney, Greg Hodnett, from Memphis, Tenn., was third, Roger Crocket, from Medford, Ore., was fourth and Bud Kaeding, from Campbell, Calif., rounded out the top five.

On Saturday night, Hodnett earned the pole position for the 30-lap feature, with Larson starting outside on the front row. And when the green flag dropped, Hodnett took immediate control of the race with Larson in tow, both running the top groove, hugging the fence.

But Hodnett hit a hole in Turn 2, spun briefly and Larson got past and set sail for the checkered flag.

“It was a good solid night, no mistakes really,” said Larson afterward. “I passed cars every time I was on the track, and we got lucky with Hodnett spinning out there as the leader. He caught the hole and it upset his car and he spun out.

“It would have been a good race,” he continued, referring to his trying to reel in Hodnett. “Traffic is always interesting and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Larson said the chain of events, struggling during Friday night’s show — he finished ninth in the feature event — and running smooth and solid during Saturday night’s show, which he also did in 2015, was a matter of getting back in the groove of driving a sprint car after spending the year behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride.

“I think it’s just knocking the rust off,” said Larson. “I think it takes half a night, but that first half of the night you kind of bury yourself in a hole.

“So I learned some things (on Friday) and got comfortable. Paul (crew chief Paul Silva) got the car driving better, and the track worked out to my advantage tonight. You know, last night it was bottom feeding track and tonight it was up close to the wall, where I like to run.”

Finishing second behind Larson was Shane Stewart, from Tulsa, Okla., in the car owned by Larson. Third place went to Danny Lasoski, from Dover, Mo., with Blaney in fourth and Jason Johnson, from Rocky Mount, Mo., finishing fifth.

Through two nights of racing, Blaney leads the field in overall points, with Larson in second place, Jason Soldwold, from Burlington, Wash., in third, Stewart in fourth and Lasoski, the defending series champion, in fifth.

The five-night series resumes Tuesday night, which will be Larson’s farewell appearance. After that show Larson will be on his way to Florida for the Roar Before the Rolex 24 testing and practice. He did the same thing in 2015.

Following Tuesday night’s show, which is expected to feature the return of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne, the 2016 Winter Heat will wind up with racing on Friday and Saturday nights.

NOTEBOOK

• The 2016 Winter Heat Sprint Car Showdown features 46 entries, compared to 34 in 2015.

• Bud Kaeding, from Campbell, Calif., was treated and released at Yuma Regional Medical Center on Saturday after suffering burns to the face and inhaling fumes when his car caught fire during a heat race.

• NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne is expected to be in the lineup for Tuesday’s third night of racing, returning from racing in Australia.

• Craig Dollansky, from Princeton, Minn., and Kyle Larson, from Elk Grove, Calif., were both caught on radar running 124 mph down the front stretch at Cocopah Speedway during heat race action Saturday night.

• Six-time Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series national champion Jason Johnson, from Rocky Mount, Mo., is in the Winter Heat lineup after missing the 2015 event.

• The nickname for driver Johnny Herrera, from Albuquerque, N.M., is “Hollywood.”

• Rico Abreu, from Rutherford, Calif., brought out a brand new car for Saturday night’s show after his primary car was severely damaged in a flip during Friday night’s feature event.

• Kyle Larson is the first driver to have won two Winter Heat feature events. He won on the first Saturday night in 2015 and did the same thing this time around.

• Nineteen-year-old driver Dominic Scelzi, from Fresno, Calif., is the son of Gary Scelzi, the three-time NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel champion and one-time Funny Car champion.WH3 BKCBFLIPBERG

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