Matt Sheppard enters the World Finals Weekend at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway (NC) the Super DIRTcar Series points leader, looking to wrap up his fourth title after letting that opportunity slip away this very weekend last year.
Sheppard’s lead is fairly large, 86 markers on Billy Decker. But he’s not getting too comfortable with the cushion as he treated Thursday’s qualifying day at The Dirt Track as simply another day at the office. He cruised to his heat race victory to lock up a front-of-the-field start for Friday night’s festivities. He will also keep Decker on his toes early Saturday when they lead their other qualifying heat to green.
“[Winning that heat] is definitely a big bonus out here,” Sheppard told Speed51.com Powered by JEGS immediately after climbing out of his car. “Anytime you have a fast car and know you can start out front, you give yourself a lot better chance of winning.”
“In my ideal situation, we go out and win tomorrow night, gain a few more points, and lock it up before Saturday. I mean, anything can happen, but we’ve put ourselves in the best possible situation.”
Decker Knows The Deck Is Stacked Against Him
Billy Decker described his Thursday effort at The Dirt Track as “okay”. He ran well enough, finishing second in his heat for Friday’s race and then setting fast time to lead the Saturday heat to green.
The problem, as Decker is well aware, is that okay is simply not going to cut it. Sheppard’s point lead makes it pretty hard for Decker to simply run well and slip into the title. He’ll need both for Sheppard to have a bad night or two and for Decker’s #91 team to capitalize with some podiums at worst.
“The car is good, I know we’ll be solid,” Decker said as he packed his car away for the night. “But we already gave up points. Matt won his heat race and we couldn’t. We’re not doing what we need to do. We needed to set fast time in both of them.”
“So at this point, we just got to run. We just got to perform. Let the chips fall where they may.”
McLaughlin Turns Heads in DIRTcar Debut
Max McLaughlin, the 15-year-old son of former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Mike McLaughlin, has put in a solid rookie year of Modified completion, running well in his Summer Nationals and Renegades of Dirt efforts and also collecting the 2015 King of Carolina title.
But in his last start of the year, McLaughlin looks poised to leave the most favorable impression the dirt community to date. In his first career effort at the Super DIRTcar Series, McLaughlin set fast time in both of his qualifying groups and, for the Saturday group, the overall fast time out of 45 entrants.
“I have no idea how I did that,” said McLaughlin. “These guys prepared an awesome race car. It doesn’t change what we got to do though. I just want to get in the show. That was my goal coming here and it still is.”
McLaughlin did just that, at least, for the Friday main event. In that qualifying heat, despite overdriving the first corner, he came home 3rd and is locked into the main event.
Saturday Schedule In Flux
The qualifying heats for Saturday’s feature were moved from Thursday night to Saturday afternoon after heavy rains in the Charlotte area meant the track conditioning on Thursday required extra work. After the time consuming effort of getting the track in good condition, Speedway officials elected to move the heats as they were coming up against a time constraint for track operation.
Saturday’s schedule has not yet been finalized and may be in further flux as heavy rains are expected to enter the Charlotte area earlier in the day.
— Story by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn
— Photo Credit: Daryl Canfield for Speed51.com