Brian Shirley needed to beat one of the best in the business to reach victory lane Friday night at FK Rod Ends Arizona Speedway. The 38-year-old driver from Chatham, Illinois did just that, pulling away from Brandon Sheppard on a late restart to win the fourth race of this year's Wild West Shootout.
Shirley, who is known as "The Squirrel," netted a $5,000 check for his win in the 30-lap race and evened the score with Sheppard at two wins a piece during this year's event.
"Heck, when you've got the number-one guy in the country behind you, he's my buddy and my friend," Shirley said on the DirtonDirt.com broadcast. "Obviously, we race as hard as we against each other when we're on the track, but I love them guys to death."
Starting from the seventh position, with Sheppard starting to his outside in eighth, Shirley methodically made his way towards the front during the opening laps of Friday's race. After cracking the top three just after the halfway mark, Shirley began closing in on early race leader Chris Simpson. As Simpson worked the outside grove, Shirley and Ricky Weiss battled to his inside, creating an exciting three-way battle for the lead during the second half of the race.
Shirley made the race-winning pass with nine laps remaining and held off all challenges during two late restarts, including the final challenge from Sheppard with five laps remaining.
"He could keep the momentum better than I could being out in front of me up high," Sheppard said. "I could stick with him up high but I couldn't really make up any ground on him, so I was trying the bottom and trying the bottom, hoping that he would make a mistake or something. We had a really good race car, but we need to start up front. I think he started seventh and I started eighth; I guess I needed to pass him earlier in the race and hold him off there. But it was a heck of a race. It's cool to see my old buddy Squirrel win. Good job to him."
With Shirley and Sheppard each holding a pair of Wild West Shootout victories so far, both drivers will now be eligible for Keyser Manufacturing bonus money during the next two nights of racing. If either driver reaches three wins, they will score an additional $10,000 check. If either driver is able to win Saturday and Sunday's race, they will score a $25,000 bonus.
"Me and Sheppy laughed. We could both walk away with $10,000," Shirley said. "I'd be perfectly happy sharing it with a friend like that."
Chris Simpson completed the podium on Friday night after leading the first 20 laps of the race.
Despite being disappointed about losing the lead, Simpson was pleased with the bounce-back effort from his team after finishing 15th in Wednesday's race.
"That's what we came out here to do. I gave it all I had," Simpson stated. "I didn't set up for the bottom. Not that I didn't set up, I just didn't know what the track was. I left the car a little free and it just killed me on exit. It is what it is. I tried to get up on the wheel. I told the guys I wouldn't let them down so I got up there and rode as long as I could, but when I slid Earl (Pearson, Jr.) down here it really ruined my momentum and they got a run on me, and it was kind of over from there. We'll take it."
After being involved in an exciting battle for the lead near the halfway mark of the race, Ricky Weiss settled for a fourth-place finish. Ricky Thornton, Jr. started and finished fifth.
Race fans can watch the final two nights of the Wild West Shootout Saturday and Sunday on DirtonDirt.com.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Content Manager - Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Wild West Shootout Twitter
1) Brian Shirley 2) Brandon Sheppard 3) Chris Simpson 4) Ricky Weiss 5) Ricky Thornton, Jr. 6) Johnny Scott 7) Frank Heckenast, Jr. 8) Chase Junghans 9) Stormy Scott 10) Cade Dillard 11) Ryan Gustin 12) Mitch McGrath 13) Jay Morris 14) Don Shaw 15) Jason Papich 16) Bobby Pierce 17) Garrett Alberson 18) Clay Fisher 19) Mike Spatola 20) Brian Birkhofer 21) Terry Phillips 22) Earl Pearson, Jr. 23) Nick Deal