World of Outlaws: Meyers still chasing Schatz with eye on next yearDonny Schatz doesn't appear ready to surrender his spot atop the World of Outlaws yet, with a third consecutive championship almost certain with three races remaining this season. But if cracks begin to show in the armor next year, Jason Meyers appears to be the most likely driver to pull a slide job to the top. He may be easy to overlook in the wake of Schatz's 16-win season, but Meyers is putting together the best season of his career. It's not likely to be a title year with a 97-point deficit to Schatz with three A-features left starting Saturday night at Heartland Park Topeka (Kan.), but the man second in points has showed the consistent excellence of title material. The ledger shows eight wins, a series-best 47 top-5s in 60 A-features and a bright future for the 29-year-old. "It's been an incredible season," said the No. 14 Elite Racing driver. "We're very, very excited about it, and also excited about what this team is still capable of. We're far from reaching our goals of where we want to be." The goal, of course, lies one notch higher in the standings. That doesn't happen overnight in WoO, it's a process. Meyers' team took a number of steps toward it this season. Last year the Clovis, Calif., native was fifth in points with five wins, a nice season but a flawed one. Two issues were slow starts, an annual problem for him in the winged sprint seasons, and not enough winner's trophies in a long season where the best drivers routinely score double-digit wins. Both of those issues were put to rest this season, as Meyers equaled last year's win total with five victories in the first 11 races. "That's one thing we really talked about over the winter, in past years in World of Outlaws we never started out very good," said Meyers, who also finished second in points in 2005 but was 543 behind the legendary Steve Kinser. "We usually started midpack and worked up 'til spring. We didn't always run well through May and June, but this year we put ourselves in positions to win and put ourselves up there in that championship chase." Only a smattering of early exits kept Meyers from really making this year's chase interesting. He has had flat tires three times in A-features and been involved in two crashes, and in four of those five instances he was leading. Sure enough, in three of those four Schatz inherited the race leads. Schatz, of Tony Stewart Racing, has no DNFs this season. "If you take the races we've fallen out of, we'd be leading by 97 points," Meyers said. "[Schatz] has had an absolute banner year and can't seem to do anything wrong. You don't want to chalk it up to luck, because that team has done an incredible job, but at the same time some things have gone his way, on the flip side they haven't gone our way a few times. But that's just the way racing goes." The great teams make their own luck, with great equipment and people. D.J. Lindsey, the 2007 WoO crew chief of the year, leads his Elite Racing crew and his cars are powered by Garrett Engines. Charlie Garrett, a longtime sprint car engine builder whose clients include Craig Dollansky and Kerry Madsen, will exclusively build for Meyers next year. "He's not just an engine builder that we order engines from, he's a big part of what we do," Meyers said. "I call him 'coach,' he's really got some good insight. Calls me every day before the races, we have a pep talk before going out. "Signing him exclusively is really going to help our program, it frees him up to do some more R & D, more development. He kind of said he would like to slow down a little bit, but if you know Charlie at all he won't slow down. It's a really neat deal for us and for him and should be really exciting." In the meantime Meyers has three races to go before turning the focus to '09, and it's entirely possible he could still notch another win or two or three -- last year he won four of his last five events across several series including the finale of the inaugural Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Catching Schatz isn't a mathematical impossibility but it's improbable. The better shot should come next year, and if this year is a prelude, Meyers should be ready.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.