Matt Sheppard reminded fans and competitors why he is the eight-time and defending Super DIRTcar champion by claiming his first Series win at Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Saturday night.
Starting from 15th –after missing the redraw – Sheppard stayed out of the purview of onlookers for the first half of the Feature. While the focus was on the frontrunners, he gradually made his way up the field taking over 10th place by the halfway point.
With 17 laps left in the 100-lap matchup, things became interesting. Adam Pierson, who had led every lap besides the first up until that point, unexpectedly left the track with mechanical issues. Anthony Perrego moved into the top spot and was then tasked with holding off the advances of Billy Decker and Jeremy Pitts. As he held his focus there, Sheppard took every bit advantage of the extra time offered in the race’s duration to continue putting pressure on his competitors.
With 10 laps to go, the Waterloo, NY driver had made his way into fourth. But with some smooth maneuvering of his machine, he passed Jeremy Pitts and then soon after Billy Decker for the lead, crossing the finish line in first five laps later. It happened so quickly, it even surprised Sheppard himself.
“So, when we had the last caution on Lap 35 give or take, I was still 11th,” Sheppard said. “Adam Pierson was leading, and I know how good Adam runs here and I know Decker was running second. I got by Decker at the end there and I thought to myself we might have got second or third here. Finally, I looked over at the Jumbotron and saw my number on the top and I was like, what?! When they announced it on the one way, I actually believed it then, I guess.”
Second place finisher Decker battled for his runner-up position every step of the way. After starting on the pole, he dropped to third place where he battled to catch Perrego and Pierson. When Pierson left the track, he moved up and momentarily held the lead. But a hard charging Sheppard proved to be too much to handle as he was passed with five laps remaining.
“It got a little hairy over there,” Decker said. “I got facing down the backstretch there. I got a little aggressive getting into three there. I thought I could hook the cushion. Under that caution, it got a little slimy up there. This JSR team has been working really hard. We’ve been sneaking up on this a little bit. Not quite fast enough. The year is closing in. It was pretty close tonight, just not good enough.”
Anthony Perrego finished third, Marc Johnson finished fourth, and Jeremy Pitts finished fifth.
The contention offered the winner $10,000 and a guaranteed starting spot at the 50th Running of NAPA Super DIRT Week. Due to Sheppard having already secured a position at the prestigious race, the spot was then granted to the runner-up.
AROUND THE TURN: The Super DIRTcar Series will travel to Oswego Speedway in Oswego, NY for the 50th Running of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week, Oct. 3-9.
Feature (100 Laps)
- 9S-Matt Sheppard; 2. 91-Billy Decker; 3. 4-Anthony Perrego; 4. 3J-Marc Johnson; 5. 27-Jeremy Pitts; 6. 21A-Peter Britten; 7. 111-Demetrios Drellos; 8. 83X-Tim Sears Jr; 9. 99L-Larry Wight; 10. 98H-Jimmy Phelps; 11. 8H-Max McLaughlin; 12. 35-Mike Mahaney; 13. 2L-Jack Lehner; 14. 115-Kenny Tremont Jr; 15. 34-Kevin Root; 16. 19-Tim Fuller; 17. 88-Mat Williamson; 18. 2RJ-Ronnie Johnson; 19. 21C-Brian Calabrese; 20. 14-CG Morey; 21. 37-Paul St Sauveur; 22. 87-Neil Stratton; 23. 17-Marcus Dinkins; 24. (DNF) 215-Adam Pierson; 25. (DNF) 12S-Darren Smith; 26. (DNF) 44-Stewart Friesen