Justin Sanders wheels the Mittry Racing No. 2x sprint car. (Joe Shivak photo)

Sanders Pursues First WoO Victory

CHICO, Calif. — For local drivers facing the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series regulars, perfection is required to top the nation‘s best, and Justin Sanders still clearly recalls the lone mistake that cost him a potential Outlaw victory five years ago at Silver Dollar Speedway.

After running fifth on Friday‘s prelim of the 64th running of the Gold Cup Race of Champions, Sanders earned the pole of the Saturday finale in just his eighth career series feature.

The Aromas, Calif., native paced the opening 11 circuits, but as he led the field into traffic, trouble struck.

“I got impatient when I got to Brent Marks,” Sanders told SPEED SPORT. “I followed him for a lap and a half. I was leading, so instead of being able to gauge running second, I got too impatient and tried to pass him around the top when the groove was around the bottom, and I hit the curb, got tight, and Shane (Stewart) rolled right by and never got off the bottom once after that.”

Sanders settled for second. And while it was bittersweet to come so close to victory, Sanders ultimately came away satisfied considering his newness to Outlaw racing at the time and the company he had in the pits, legendary sprint car driver Tim Green.

“For one, it was heartbreaking getting passed, but it was cool leading laps,” Sanders reflected. “It was pretty special. I had Tim Green there with me. He‘s won Outlaw races and did his thing. He kind of helped me and helped tune the car and doing all that. It was awesome. My dream is to win an Outlaw race and came close in 2017, just didn‘t quite get it done, but it was a good experience for sure.”

Now, Sanders is ready for that inaugural Outlaw triumph.

The WoO travel to California this week for the 68th running of the Gold Cup Race of Champions, giving Sanders two shots at redemption with his prelim slated for Thursday and then Saturday‘s $25,000-to-win finale. The series also visits Keller Auto Speedway and Placerville Speedway next weekend.

California‘s sprint car scene is historically one of the country‘s strongest and Sanders is undoubtedly one of the top drivers among the local contingent having racked up 33 wins in the past year and a half.

While the Golden State drivers have home field advantage the next two weekends, Sanders notes the perfection necessary to top the Outlaws applies an immense amount of pressure to locals. The added intensity can create a psychological battle between a driver and his own mind leading to mistakes like Sanders‘ in 2017.

“When we run against the Outlaws, it‘s too much pressure sometimes,” Sanders said. “It‘s so much added pressure. Sometimes it‘s psychologically added pressure, and a lot of us tend to make mistakes that we normally wouldn‘t because we‘re leading or we‘re trying too hard because you know you‘ve got fast guys behind you.

“It‘s just a different feeling that you get,” Sanders continued. “It‘s just like anybody else, whatever their passion is. That‘s the best in our sport. That‘s what we‘re always gunning for. So, I think psychologically, sometimes, it puts too much pressure when you‘ve got to go out there and treat it like any other race. I think that‘s the hardest thing, actually going out there and doing that and treating it like any other race.”

For Sanders, the pressure can extend into the mechanical side as well. Known for being intelligent both behind the wheel and on the wrenches, Sanders calls the shots on the Mittry Racing No. 2x that he‘ll pilot this weekend.

“On this deal, I‘m tuning the car on my own, kind of having to make the decisions and this and that,” Sanders commented. “It makes it a little tough. I think that might be one thing that, I‘m not going to say it‘s going to hinder me as I‘m pretty good with the race car, but sometimes running against the Outlaws you want to do everything perfect, and you might second guess a decision or something here or there when you otherwise might normally not.”

The 29-year-old has primarily driven for Demo Mittry this year in 410 competition and less than two months ago picked up one of his biggest career wins with the team, the Howard Kaeding Classic at his home track, Watsonville‘s, Ocean Speedway.

Heading into this year‘s Outlaw swing, Sanders has been busy piecing together a new Mittry Racing machine that he‘ll debut this week.

“I actually have a brand-new car, from the ground up, that I‘ve been working on for Gold Cup,” Sanders said. “So, hopefully, I can get the car dialed in and everything like that.”

Equipped with the new car and the hunger to add his name to that exclusive WoO winner‘s list, Sanders‘ pursuit of an Outlaw victory resumes on Thursday.

If he can overcome the psychological element and treat this coming swing like any other stretch of races, Sanders might just find his way to victory lane against the best in the sport.

“Guys like Dominic (Scelzi) and me, we want to win so bad,” Sanders said. “This is all Dominic and me and there‘s a couple other guys, all we want to do is win an Outlaw race. We would throw away 50 of our wins to have one Outlaw win.”

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