After several seasons of success, including four Super DIRTcar Series titles, Matt Sheppard decided to go it alone in 2016.
That decision to leave the Heinke-Baldwin Racing team to form his own team and chase victories paid off with the season’s first in just its second race of the year.
Sheppard battled hard with Larry Wight and Rick Laubach late, but came out on top of Thursday’s 30-lap feature on Night 2 of the big-block Modifieds at the DIRTcar Nationals at Florida’s Volusia Speedway Park.
“It’s unreal,” Sheppard said in victory lane. “It was such a crazy off-season for us with so much going on, building this team in such a short amount of time. We could say I’m going out on my own, but not really. I’ve got a ton of great people that stepped up and are helping out and everybody really came together.
“The crew’s been busting their butts all night on this car. We had trouble in qualifying, we had trouble in the heat race and they just never gave up. Man, two races in and we’re sitting in victory lane already, that’s awesome.”
Sheppard started sixth and was solidly in the top five by halfway. He dispatched Tim Fuller for second on lap 22, then took the lead from fast-timer Rick Laubach on lap 24. Laubach kept pace for a few laps, then Larry Wight took over the battle for the lead. Laubach and Wight each struggled in lapped traffic, allowing Sheppard to pull away in the final handful of laps.
“It got pretty hectic,” added Sheppard. “I was pretty good on that bottom but there was a pretty good mud puddle in the middle of (turns) three and four, which kind of threw a curveball. I ran out of tear-offs there with five or six to go. That was a little nerve-wracking. I’m just so thankful to be able to hold on. It’s just so awesome for everybody.
Wight was left to only watch Sheppard cruse to the checkered flag ahead of him after being slowed by the traffic.
“I think tonight we had a really good car,” said Wight. “It took me a little too long to find the top of (turns) one and two. In the middle of three and four, we were trying to run around those lines. There at the end, lapped traffic got the best of me and Matt was able to get on the bottom and run away with it.”
Laubach set fast time in hot lap qualifying, then won his heat race. Even after losing the lead to Sheppard, he was still in contention until being hung up by a lapped car that eventually dropped him to third.
“I was going good and I was watching my crew guy and he said I was pulling away,” said Laubach. “I was comfortable with that, but then you get caught up with all the passion of the lapped traffic and I couldn’t see him. That damn guy wouldn’t get out of my way. I don’t know what his problem was all night. He saw me up next to him. If I could’ve just got by him, I think I could’ve held him off. It’s part of it. I wasn’t good enough to get by him, so it’s what it is.”
Stewart Friesen and Erick Rudolph rounded out the top five. Wednesday’s Super DIRTcar Series winner Tim Fuller finished seventh.
The Super DIRTcar Series big-block Modifieds will be back in action Friday at Volusia Speedway Park for their third of four DIRTcar Nationals events.
To see how the race played out, replay the Speed51.com Race Central coverage at this link – click here
Super DIRTcar Series
Volusia Speedway Park
February 18, 2016
– By Matt Kentfield, Speed51.com Executive Director – Twitter: @MattKentfield
– Photo credit: Speed51.com