MALTA — Mike Mahaney captured the season-opening modified feature Friday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, taking the lead on lap 15 and holding off a hard charge from surprise invader Stewart Friesen to win the 35-lap race as the season kicked off following a delay of nearly two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got one bad-fast race car,” Mahaney said. “We’ve worked hard all year on this car.”
Mahaney started ninth and inherited the lead on lap 15, when Keith Flach suffered a flat left front tire after bouncing off the barriers on the inside of the first and second turns. One lap later, Jackie Brown Jr., who had started on the pole and led the first seven laps of the feature, spun around in the second turn, bringing out another caution.
With the final 19 laps being run under green flag conditions, Mahaney stayed out front, and used lapped traffic to hold off Friesen.
Friesen suffered a broken shock in the fourth and final heat, and as a result, had to start at the tail of the bulky 32-car field. But he had worked his way up to the top 10 after just 10 laps, and was sitting fourth when Brown brought out the caution on lap 17.
On lap 18, Friesen got by Rocky Warner for third, and then swung wide around Ronnie Johnson coming out of the fourth turn on lap 22 for second.
He had been running the far outside groove to get through traffic, but when the top went away, Mahaney was able to extend his lead.
Following Mahaney and Friesen across the finish line were Johnson, Peter Britten and Warner.
Connor Cleveland, the 2019 sportsman division champion, also used some racing luck to get a victory in the 25-lap sportsman feature. Scott Duell, who started on the pole, led the first 12 laps, but broke something in the left front suspension on lap 13, giving the lead to Cleveland, who had started sixth.
Cleveland and Tony Farone, making a rare stop at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, ran side-by-side for five laps until Cleveland was able to get some momentum and pull away, leaving Farone to settle for second.
Nick Stone started on the pole and led flag-to-flag to record his eighth career win in the 25-lap pro stock feature. Luke Horning, defending track champion Josh Coonradt and Rob Yetman all took turns holding down the number two position, but none of the challengers had anything for Stone.
Other opening-night winners were Travis Witbeck (limited sportsman); Devil’s Bowl invader Chris Murray (street stocks); David Frame (dual cam four-cylinders) and Steve Ryan (single-cam four cylinders).