ARDMORE, Okla. — Twenty-four hours after winning Friday’s feature race, Rodney Sanders was back in victory lane Saturday after winning the 50-lap main event at the Southern Oklahoma Speedway to put the wraps on USMTS Winter Speedweeks.
The 2013 and 2014 USMTS national champ from Happy, Texas, used every bit of the wide 3/8-mile clay oval in Ardmore, Okla., en route to snaring his third United States Modified Touring Series win of the 2016 campaign and 67th of his career.
Saturday’s nightcap turned out to be the best of the weekend, and it was a bona fide barnburner for the first 38 laps before Jason Hughes made a failed attempt to overtake the leader.
For the final 12 laps, Sanders put the race on snooze control.
Most USMTS fans and competitors agree that it’s merely a matter of time before newcomer Kyle Strickler notches his first USMTS win, and early on it appeared that might just happen Saturday night.
The Mooresville, N.C., racer shot to the lead ahead of polesitter Cade Dillard to start the race while Sanders quickly moved by three cars to claim third on the second go-around.
With the leaders churning away at the cushion on the high side, Sanders dug in on the low side of the racing surface and battled side by side with Dillard and Strickler for several laps, eventually edging ahead at the stripe to lead the tenth circuit.
But Strickler held his ground and regained the top spot one lap later. Soon thereafter, Sanders tucked in behind Strickler around the top side. But entering heavy lapped traffic on lap 18, Sanders went low and pulled ahead to lead the 19th lap.
Battling three-wide with Strickler and Johnny Scott, Stormy Scott suffered a flat right rear tire to bring out the race’s first yellow flag with 30 laps complete.
The restart saw Hughes, who was sixth one lap earlier, shoot around the outside and power into the second spot behind Sanders.
Sanders and Hughes raced nose to tail for the next six laps with Dillard, Johnny Scott and Ryan Gustin all lurking close behind.
As the lead duo exited turn four to complete lap 37, Sanders bobbled and slowed momentarily and Hughes got a run on the leader. Using his momentum, Hughes dove to the inside in the first turn and slid up the track in turn 2 to take away Sanders’s line.
But the slide went too far and Hughes pounded the outer concrete wall on the exit of the second turn, climbing both right side tires onto the slabs while sparks showered behind him from beneath his machine.
Although he was able to gather it up and continue forward, Sanders was gone. And nobody got anywhere close to the 26-year-old from Happy, Texas, as he crossed beneath the checkered flag with more than four seconds to spare over the field.
“That top side was just about riding off the track,” Sanders said in victory lane. “You really had to almost stop to get in there and hit the line.
With the win, Sanders pocketed $4,000 for his efforts while Hughes settled for the runner-up paycheck.
“(Hughes) slid me there once and I really thought I was going to get into the back of him,” Sanders admitted. “But it looked like he jumped the wall and let us get by.”
Dillard held off Johnny Scott for third while Gustin came home in the fifth spot. Dereck Ramirez, Jesse Sobbing, Casey Arneson, Lucas Schott and Thomas Tillison Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Sobbing was impressive racing from 26th on the starting grid to claim the seventh position. But provisional starters are not eligible for the KSE Racing Products Hard Charger Award so that wound up in the hands of Ramirez.
He passed one more car than his teammate for the weekend, multi-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series champ Jimmy Owens. After starting 20th, Owens was up to seventh when a three-car tangle sent him to the back of the pack before rebounding to finish 11th.
With USMTS Winter Speedweeks and the first dozen dates in the Production Jars Southern Region in the books, attention turns to the season-opening trio of races to launch the MSD Central Region presented by Day Motor Sports.
Two straight nights are planned at the Humboldt Speedway in Humboldt, Kan., for the 11th Annual Spring Fling @ The Bullring on Friday and Saturday, March 18-19. Then on Sunday, March 20, it’s the 8th Annual Missouri Meltdown at the I-35 Speedway in Winston, Mo.
To learn more about the United States Modified Touring Series, visit www.usmts.com online or call 515-832-7944. You can also like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usmts, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usmts and Instagram at www.instagram.com/usmts or subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/usmtstv.
-USMTS Press Release. Photo credit: Buck Monson