OSWEGO — It’s a special feeling to stand in Oswego Speedway’s victory lane at NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week for the first time. It’s even more special knowing you drove from 19th on the starting grid to get there.
Zach Sobotka did just that on Sunday afternoon, wheeling his No. 38 DIRTcar Sportsman Modified machine from inside Row 10 to the lead in 55 laps and holding on to win $4,000 in the Chevy Performance 75.
“This is only my third time here. To be able to get the win is just amazing,” Sobotka said.
The 21-year-old from Parish used the numerous caution flags and restarts to his advantage, staying out of wrecks and using the top groove to advance his position. But it took a lot of patience, a heap of awareness and a pinch of good fortune to get there by the end of 75 laps.
Polesitter Chad Edwards took the lead at the drop of the green and led through the opening stages, which endured an abundance of spins and other various incidents. One of which retired sixth-starting Chris Mackey in a multi-car incident coming out of the second turn on lap 17, which nearly collected Sobotka on his drive up through the field.
“When Chris Mackey got taken out coming out of turn two, I thought I was gonna go right into him, honestly,” Sobotka said. “I’m glad he held the brakes, because he was probably gonna back right up into my left side.”
Once Sobotka reached the top 10, he began making more passes using the outside groove in the first and second turns.
“Everyone was trying to fight for the bottom in turns three (and) four, but going into (turn one), I just found (the top),” Sobotka said. “That’s almost the problem with starting up front. You don’t really know what line is better, you’re just trying to protect.”
By lap 48, Sobotka was staring down the rear bumper of Matt Janczuk, who was riding second behind leader Edwards. A quick yellow set up a restart on lap 51, where Sobotka again jumped to the top side in the first turn and got around Janczuk for second.
In hindsight, Janczuk, an Oneida native, knew Sobotka was coming, but veered away from the aggressive driving to try and get him back. He’s chasing the Sportsman Modified Series points championship and Fall Championship, and was thinking of the future in the moment.
“I saw him on the board,” Janczuk said. “[Sobotka] was in a better position than us. We were points racing. We had to finish the race, for one, and I didn’t want to make any huge mistakes and fall back and get myself in a position to get wrecked.”
Now with the runner-up spot, Sobotka didn’t have to wait long to get the lead, as Edwards blew a right-rear tire just three laps later. This handed the lead to Sobotka and completed his drive from over halfway through the field. But it wasn’t over yet.
One final restart with 12 laps left saw the top-two break away from the pack in the final circuits. Sobotka switched to the high groove in the third and fourth turns to try and keep Janczuk at bay, but it had the reverse effect as Janczuk closed to within two car-lengths before taking the white flag.
“I was mainly looking at the [DIRTVision big screen] in the (first turn) to try and see where [Janczuk] was,” Sobotka said. “It looked like he was coming out high in (turns three and four), so I went up there and tried it, and thought ‘Ah, this doesn’t feel right.’ So, I had to go back to the bottom and keep going through those holes.”
Now back on the bottom in the third and fourth turns, Sobotka led the field back around to the checkered flag and the first Chevy Performance 75 victory of his career.
Janczuk crossed in second, which one-upped his best career finish of third in 2019.
“We kinda ran out of time, and [Sobotka] had a little bit better car overall, I think,” Janczuk said. “It’s only our second time here, so a third and a second in two races … I can’t be upset about that.”
Crossing the stripe in third was Brian Calabrese, who came into Oswego on Sunday facing a unique situation after racing elsewhere on Saturday night. He drove back to his shop in Johnstown after the race and wanted to be extra sure he’d make it to Oswego for his first start in the big show.
“I slept in my pickup truck last night because I was too afraid I wasn’t gonna wake up to my alarm,” Calabrese said. “I wanted to lay down in my bed, but if my alarm clock didn’t wake me up, at least I was in my pickup truck when the crew guys got to the shop.”
He ran inside the top 10 the entire race after starting ninth and was able to crack into the podium with a pass on Justin Stone with 10 laps to go.
“I dove it in there on the bottom and it stuck,” Calabrese said. “Risk vs. reward.”
While he didn’t get the final restart he was looking for, Calabrese did bag a solid third-place finish to match his runner-up at Weedsport on Wednesday and fourth-place finish at Brewerton on Thursday.
“At that point, [the leaders] were too checked out. I’m not saying I would’ve won the race, but if we would’ve had [another] restart, it would’ve been interesting,” Calabrese said.