CHICO, Calif. — It‘s time for the opening prelim night of the 68th running of the Gold Cup Race of Champions at Silver Dollar Speedway.
With more than 60 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars entered to compete, new track promoters Brad Sweet, Kyle Larson and Colby Copeland made the decision to restore a measure of tradition to Gold Cup by utilizing a split-field format for the preliminary nights, meaning half the entrants will hit the track tonight with the remainder taking center stage on Friday.
Points are the name of the game this evening as they‘ll be accumulated through qualifying, heat races and the feature with the top-two at night‘s end locking into Saturday‘s dash, guaranteeing at least a top-eight starting spot for Saturday‘s $25,000-to-win finale.
Sweet & Larson Are Thursday Favorites
• A pair of drivers on the Thursday roster immediately stand out as the two who could be the high point earners, and they‘re none other than two-thirds of the new promotional group at Silver Dollar — Brad Sweet and Kyle Larson.
Larson‘s first two Outlaw victories came at the 2011 and ‘12 editions of Gold Cup. Long before Larson became co-promoter at the historic facility, the Elk Grove, Calif., native turned some of his earliest sprint car laps there, picking up wins with the California-based NARC 410 Sprint Cars and Civil War 360 Sprints in the 2000s.
Sweet‘s racing abilities were shaped in part by the northern California bullring, also winning with the two local series on the route to his current stardom.
The hunger to claim a Gold Cup victory is strong for Sweet as “The Big Cat” has twice topped a prelim night but never the finale. In the last two editions of Gold Cup, Sweet has occupied the second and the third step of the podium on Saturday, so he‘ll look to make that final step to the top this week.
• Two full-time Outlaws who can always be counted on to contend, Logan Schuchart and Sheldon Haudenschild, will be in action Thursday.
Last year, Schuchart earned his first Gold Cup win in his latest step of turning his results around at the quarter-mile. In the Hanover, Pa., native‘s first nine starts there, his best result was sixth. In the five appearances he‘s made since, he‘s finished sixth or better all but once.
After struggling in his first five WoO appearances in Chico with just a single top-10 in that stretch, Haudenschild has improved to the tune of four consecutive finishes of ninth or better including three within the top five.
Sanders Leads Cali Clique
• A good chunk of the field on both nights will be occupied by some of California‘s most talented wheelmen — and a handful of them have a solid chance of upsetting the Outlaws.
Aromas, Calif., native Justin Sanders leads the local contingent of tonight‘s roster.
Back in 2017 at the Gold Cup, Sanders, making just his seventh and eighth career Outlaw starts, finished fifth in the prelim and second in the finale after leading the opening 11 laps. In 10 career series starts in Chico, Sanders owns five finishes in the top seven.
The 29-year-old owns a couple big wins at Silver Dollar Speedway in a 2019 Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial and the 2021 Louie Vermeil Classic, both coming with NARC.
Overall, Sanders has tallied 10 Chico triumphs, five of which have arrived since the beginning of last year.
• The legendary local duo of Sean Becker and Andy Forsberg will take the track tonight.
Becker sits second on the all-time track win list with 66 triumphs. Forsberg isn‘t far behind with 57 victories to his credit, good enough for sixth all time.
In 2012, Becker scored his lone WoO win on the second Gold Cup prelim night. The checkered flag came as part of three consecutive main events in which he scored top fives against the Outlaws.
Forsberg is still eying an elusive Outlaw victory, but he‘s been close in Chico with three podiums against the nation‘s best competition.
• Another potent pair of Californians, Willie Croft and Mitchell Faccinto, are among tonight‘s field.
Croft is a nine-time feature winner in local Chico action including the 2018 Bradway Memorial. One of Croft‘s two career WoO top-five finishes came in the 2017 Gold Cup.
Aboard the Tarlton Racing No. 21, Faccinto has already visited Silver Dollar victory lane this year, claiming a strong payday in March‘s Silver Cup finale.
• A driver with plenty of eyes on him will be the young wheelman out of Clovis, Calif., Corey Day.
The son of another famed California driver, Ronnie Day, has wowed sprint car fans across the country this year primarily for his exploits in his home state. Among the 16-year-old‘s accomplishments is a dominating NARC win at Chico in April in which he took the checkered flag more than six seconds ahead of second place.
• Last year a loose tail tank cost Tanner Carrick a potential first Outlaw victory at Gold Cup, and the Lincoln, Calif. driver will be aiming for redemption with that mission beginning this evening.
Carrick led 16 laps before the safety issue with the fuel cell sent him to the pit area and from the lead to the back of the field in just his third series start.
The 20-year-old owns four victories at Silver Dollar.
Beware Of The Dark Horses
Plenty of names stand out as competitors who could have a strong showing or maybe steal a victory.
• It may seem strange to include 2021 Outlaw Rookie of the Year, James McFadden, in the dark horse category, but his experience in Chico is very limited compared to much of his competition.
Despite the lack of laps, McFadden managed to secure a runner-up in last year‘s Gold Cup finale aboard the Kasey Kahne Racing No. 9, and this year he‘ll pilot the Roth Motorsports machine in search of victory lane.
• When Ryan Timms is entered in any race, he‘s always capable of contending, and the youngest driver to ever podium with the Outlaws will begin his Gold Cup debut tonight.
• A pair of Californians who could turn some heads on a big stage are Kalib Henry and Landon Brooks.
All five of Henry‘s Outlaw feature starts have been at Silver Dollar Speedway with a respectable 12th in 2016 being his best result. Henry will be aboard Nick McColloch‘s No. 17, the same ride he wheeled to victory lane at Chico‘s prestigious Fall Nationals in 2021.
Back in April, Brooks had only a pair of 410ci sprint car starts under his belt when he got an opportunity to drive the Vanlare No. 5V that he’ll pilot this weekend. With the 410 under the hood at Silver Dollar, Brooks motored to quick time in his qualifying group and finished a solid 11th in the feature at the Brownell and Herseth Classic.
The next night at the same track with NARC in town, Brooks qualified fifth against a strong field of 30 cars and ran in the top-three for most of the main event before fading late.