It might have taken him 22 starts, but veteran Jeff Strunk is finally a winner in the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Velocita-USA Modified South Region after wiring the field in the South Jersey Shootout at Bridgeport Speedway on Sunday.
Hailing from Bechtelsville, Pa., the former Grandview Speedway track champion rocketed to the winner’s circle after a dominating performance in his No. 126 Big Block Modified and held back superstars Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen on a restart with four laps remaining.
“This car was hooked up,” Strunk told Speed51.com. “Those were two of the best behind us there and we held them back. I’m proud of this team. It just shows how far hard work can go.”
Along with becoming the 23rd different competitor to triumph in Short Track Super Series history, the 49-year-old Strunk remained the single driver to win at the freshly introduced Vision/Sunglass Central Speedway, a 3/8-mile bullring located within Bridgeport.
He scored the victory in the inaugural event at the Vision/Sunglass Central Speedway last weekend.
“I like this 3/8th-mile track (smiles),” Strunk added. “Two in a row is really, really cool. I wish we could come here more often now. It’s just awesome to be able to start the season like this. I hope we can keep it going.”
“Super Matt” Sheppard rallied from a fourth starting position to record a runner-up finish in his No. 9S Hurlock Auto & Speed machine. Despite missing out on the $5,000 payday, the result handed him the overall championship lead in the Short Track Super Series South Region.
“This track definitely has potential,” Sheppard said. “I enjoyed racing here. Of course we always want to win, but a solid finish for our team tonight. It’s nice to leave with the points lead, as well.”
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Stewart Friesen closed the podium on the night after muscling from a 10th starting position in his No. 44 Halmar Racing machine.
Andy Bachetti and Anthony Perrego rounded out the top five positions.
Boasting a 46-car field for their second event of the new season, the Short Track Super Series swung open the gates around 1:00 p.m. EST and welcomed drivers from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
Richie Pratt Jr., Friesen, Craig Von Dohren, Anthony Perrego, and Dan Creeden took victories in their respective heat events and advanced to the redraw, which would set the field for the 40-lap feature.
Strunk, who finished second in his qualifying event, also moved to the redraw and selected the pole award for the South Jersey Shootout at Bridgeport, which started around 7:30 p.m. EST.
Utilizing the first starting position, Strunk powered to a hefty advantage in the early circuits and extended his lead to a few seconds before the first caution, which flew when Frank Cozze slapped a pole that sits outside the track.
Shortly after the incident, he was checked and released from the track ambulance.
On the ensuing restart, Strunk miffed the start and forced a stack-up in the rear of the field. Jared Umbenhauer, who was flipped onto his side in the accident, and Pratt, Jr. were both involved and relegated to a DNF (did not finish).
From there, it was lights out for Strunk.
Aside from a caution with four laps remaining after Creeden blew a tire, Strunk was able to hold back Sheppard and Friesen, the two most winningest drivers in Short Track Super Series history, en route to claiming the checkered flag.
Ryan Godown, Rick Laubach, Duane Howard, Billy Pauch Jr., and David Van Horn closed the top 10 positions in the 28-car field.
Entering the South Jersey Shootout in the championship lead, defending Short Track Super Series South Region champion Ryan Watt advanced from a poor starting position to an 11th-place effort in his No. 14 Big Block Modified.
In the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series South Region Crate 602 Sportsman feature, Tom Collins Jr. dominated en route to earning a $1,000 check and his first-career series triumph.
Surviving a caution-plagued event, Corey Cormier, Rick Wegner Jr., and Dylan Swinehart rounded out the top five position.
Exiting ‘The Garden State’, the Short Track Super Series South Region and promoter Brett Deyo now turn their attention towards the Diamond State 50 at Delaware Int’l Speedway on Thursday, May 24, which is the third event for the South Region. Before that, the Short Track Super Series North Region will be in action during the rescheduled Hard Clay Open at Orange County Fair Speedway on Tuesday, May 8.
Race fans can watch every Short Track Super Series race in 2018 both live and on-demand by becoming a premium subscriber to the Speed51 Network today.
-By Marshall Gabell, Speed51.com Mid-Atlantic Correspondent
-Photo credit: Speed51.com / MoJo Photos
Short Track Super Series Unofficial Results
Bridgeport Speedway (NJ) – April 29, 2018
1.) Jeff Strunk
2.) Matt Sheppard
3.) Stewart Friesen
4.) Andy Bachetti
5.) Anthony Perrego
6.) Ryan Godown
7.) Rick Laubach
8.) Duane Howard
9.) Billy Pauch, Jr.
10.) David VanHorn
11.) Ryan Watt
12.) Brian Krummel
13.) Craig VonDohren
14.) Mike Gular
15.) Dan Creeden
16.) Jimmy Horton
17.) Danny Bouc
18.) Neal Williams
19.) Dillon Steuer
20.) Matt Stangle
21.) Brett Kressley
22.) Joseph Watson
23.) Dave Hunt
24.) Frank Cozze
25.) Richie Pratt, Jr.
26.) Billy Pauch
27.) Jared Umbenhauer
28.) Billy Decker