The second annual Short Track Super Series Stampede at ‘Toga lived up to its name Wednesday night at Albany-Saratoga Speedway (NY). After a 24-hour weather delay and with more precipitation bearing down on the “The Great Race Place” from the start of the event, the 50-lap main event produced some of the most intense racing of the 2018 season.
The first 40 laps were headlined by a duel between Frank Cozze and Ronnie Johnson, with Cozze seemingly defeating Ronnie Johnson at every turn. But that changed with 10 laps to go when Johnson got a great run on the outside to snag the lead from Cozze.
But Johnson was not safe as his fellow home track driver Marc Johnson and defending Stampede winner Matt Sheppard surged in the closing laps. While Ronnie Johnson was committed to the outside, Marc Johnson had taken a liking to the inside, throwing the No. 3J in deep into turn one with five laps to go to snag the lead.
But neither Ronnie Johnson or Matt Sheppard would give in, with Ronnie staying on the outside, and Sheppard desperate to find some racing room, even making it three-wide with two to go. In the end, Marc Johnson locked down the inside, to take home his first career Short Track Super Series Modified win.
“It feels pretty good, the check feels good, the wins feels good, and I like to represent home turf here and take home the win. It’s got to be up top, probably the best win I’ve ever had against all these guys, a big race here, on a mid-week show when all the best guys can come here, it’s got to be my biggest win.”
It is the fourth-straight race in the STSS North that has been won by a home track driver with Johnson following in the steps of Jerry Higbie at Accord Speedway (NY), Jeremy Smith at Afton Motorsports Park, and Billy Van Pelt at Woodhull Raceway (NY).
But Marc Johnson knew that, even after getting the lead, being that fourth home track winner was not a guarantee.
“I knew Ronnie was there, in the interview before they said Sheppard was poking his nose down in there, but I had never seen him.” Johnson explained.
“The racetrack was going away and you had to be in the right spot coming off the corners. I was just digging on the bottom and plugging away. I saw a couple of people poking their noses in there. I tried making it as wide as I could and was making them go around me if they were going to get me. I was just waiting for that white flag and hoping that we came across the checker first.”
With ten laps to go, Ronnie Johnson thought he would be the one to represent the home guard in victory lane after working so hard to get the lead from Frank Cozze.
“I kind of did, but you never know until the checkered flag falls. I was committed to the top, I didn’t know the bottom was that good at the end. Marc Johnson races here every week, he’s a good racer, and he knows this racetrack, so it doesn’t surprise me. It’s a little disappointing, but we could’ve had a mid-pack finish too, so overall it was a good night.”
It seemed as though Matt Sheppard’s chances of a good night were in jeopardy early in the evening, after being too light on the scales after winning his heat race, Sheppard was forced to start at the tail of the first consi race, failing to advance. He was able to start from pole in the B-Main, winning the 15-lap race to start in the rear of the feature, and not having to utilize a provisional.
‘Super Matt’ went to work in the feature, making steady progress through the field with the help a strong car and some yellow flags. Even with a three-wide attempt, in the end there was just not enough racing room for Sheppard to make a defining winning move.
“We were pretty close there, those guys are just running side-by-side, there wasn’t anywhere to go, just ran out of laps I guess. We had a really good racecar, it was just that the track was really jammed up, it was just tough to get anywhere. But to come from 27th to third it was a pretty good run.”
Behind Sheppard, Anthony Perrego managed to get past Frank Cozze over the closing laps to finish fourth, with Cozze rounding out the top five. Matt Williamson, Mike Mahaney, Billy Decker, Kenny Tremont Jr, and Mike Gular completed the top ten.
The Short Track Super Series shifts back to the South Region in the State of Delaware at Georgetown Speedway for the highly anticipated Blast at the Beach. It will be the first ever Short Track Super Series event to be televised on MAVTV. You can also see it live on Speed51.com.
For more from the Stampede at ‘Toga, visit Trackside Now.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos