DUNDEE, N.Y. — For the 24th time in his career, Matt Sheppard triumphed in Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Fueled by Sunoco competition, capturing the third stop on the River Valley Builders North Region tour at the Outlaw Speedway on Tuesday evening.
Sheppard banked $5,000-plus with the win – more than enough to pay for his right-rear tire that fell flat as he rolled into victory lane.
“Definitely a lot of laps around this place; that certainly helped,” Sheppard. “Everything worked out in our favor tonight.”
The Savannah, N.Y., driver, who ranks second all-time in STSS history with 24 wins, marched through the field from sixth starting spot, beating Stewart Friesen, who is the all-time leader with 34 STSS wins, to the front of the pack of the 50-lap feature event.
Friesen was strong enough for second, ahead of early-race leader Billy Decker, strong-running Brett Haas and local young gun Alex Payne.
Decker led from the outset, launching from his outside pole starting spot to edge in front of Larry Wight, Brady Fultz, Danny Tyler and Alex Payne. Friesen and Sheppard battled one another for sixth and seventh before an early caution on lap two.
Once again, Decker led on the restart after choosing the outside lane and Danny Johnson, donning his famous No. 27J, rocketed around both Friesen and Sheppard on the outside lane and narrowed the gap to Payne and Fultz.
By lap eight, Friesen was back past Johnson and also maneuvered Payne with Sheppard following behind. Then, just before Decker hit lapped traffic, the caution flew again for a spinning Pat Ward on lap 11, a pivotal moment of the event.
On that ensuing restart, Sheppard catapulted from sixth to second, shuffling Wight to third while Friesen followed to fourth, ahead of Payne. On lap 13, Friesen shoehorned under Wight for third as Sheppard set his sights on Decker. After a brief challenge, Decker pulled away using the outer edge of the surface before another caution on lap 15.
Decker held him off for a few laps but Sheppard eventually strangled the lead away from Decker on lap 18 on the very bottom of the track. Decker held second over Friesen and Wight as Mat Williamson rose to fifth after starting 12th.
The race halted again as Wight slowed with a flat on lap 21, surrendering a top-five position. When the green flag flew once more, Williamson scooted into the runner-up spot from fourth as he, Decker and Friesen briefly ran three-wide for the spot.
Friesen settled into third and Decker fourth. On lap 27 and after a few corners of side-by-side action, Friesen took second from Williamson and began his hunt of Sheppard.
With 15 to go and Sheppard stuck in a pack of slower traffic, Friesen closed. Once Sheppard, aboard his traditional No. 9s, sliced through some two-wide action, he once more pulled away before Williamson suffered late-race heartbreak with a flat tire while running third.
The lap-46 caution bunched the field again but also gave Sheppard clean air as he jaunted away for the victory.
“The top was so far out at the end, and I wanted to get down on the bottom like I normally would,” Sheppard said. “But I was just afraid Stewie would roll around the outside of me.”
“We were close,” Friesen said afterward. “On that long run with Matt searching in traffic, I was just saving my stuff on the bottom, but in clean air he could sneak away a little bit.”
Decker finished a solid third.
“We fired really good, just got loose,” Decker mentioned in Victory Lane. “I think we were a little soft on rubber and got loose. It would give up after a lap and a half, but a solid run nevertheless.”
A stout field of 41 STSS Modifieds filled the pit area.
Kreg Crooker topped the Crate 602 Sportsman feature.
Feature (50 laps): Matt Sheppard, Stewart Friesen, Billy Decker, Brett Haas, Alex Payne, Danny Creeden, Andy Bachetti, Mike Mahaney, Larry Wight, Danny Tyler, Alan Johnson, Jeff Taylor, Bobby Hackel, Ajay Potrzebowski, Mat Williamson, Danny Johnson, David Schilling, Erick Rudolph, Brady Fultz, Pat Ward, Kyle Coffey, Jerry Higbie, Neil Stratton, Cory Costa, Jeffery Daugherty, Steve Paine, Derrick Podsiadlo.