VERNON, N.Y. — For the third consecutive week, defending Sunoco Modified champion Matt Sheppard was in victory lane at Utica-Rome Speedway.
The Savannah, N.Y., star was victorious on Broedel Fuel Group & Energy night, driving from his 12th starting position to a dominant victory in the 30-lap main event worth $2,400.
“We really feel like we hit on something on Opening Night, and the car’s just been perfect ever since,” explained Sheppard.
Andy Bachetti and new speedway regular Alan Barker led the field to green for the Sunoco Modified 30-lap feature. Third-starting Darren Smith beat Bachetti to the line on the opening lap before the first caution of the race fell.
When racing resumed, Bobby Hackel IV quickly joined Smith up front. The lead duo paced the field for much of the first half of the race.
Rocky Warner – who was charging from ninth – made strides before catching the top three just four laps in. Warner disposed of Bachetti quickly and began searching for a path to get by the top two.
With Smith and Hackel tucked to the bottom side of the speedway, Warner began maneuvering his way across the Route 5-oval in pursuit of the lead.
While Warner pressured the top two, Sheppard was kicking his racecar into high gear. Sheppard raced by Shaun Walker and Alan Johnson quickly to claim sixth, then quickly closed the gap to Alex Yankowski and Bachetti, looking to crack the top five.
Two laps after catching them, Sheppard raced by Bachetti and Yankowski both to take fourth away and lock eyes on the podium runners.
When lap 14 was completed, Smith, Hackel, and Warner were the top three with a charging Sheppard stalking the lead trio.
Hackel appeared to find speed around the halfway mark, suddenly applying more pressure to leader Smith than any other point of the first 15 laps.
Hackel’s attempts to pry his way underneath Smith only slowed the top two, bringing Sheppard to their bumpers after dispatching Warner for third.
With Smith and Hackel both using the bottom groove, the top side of the progressively banked half-mile was wide open for ‘Super’ Matt’s use. Smith put up a valiant effort, holding off Sheppard for a couple of laps, but Sheppard was once again too strong.
Sheppard cruised for the remaining 13 laps to his third consecutive victory, each one more impressive than the last.
Bachetti found the outside groove in the late stages, racing to a runner-up finish, his best of the new season at Utica-Rome. Smith rounded out the podium with Hackel finishing fourth and Warner rounding out the top five.
Danny Varin was victorious in the return of the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints (ESS), capitalizing on a late race restart to take the win.
The Fonda, N.Y., resident raced from his 10th starting position and appeared content to finish third for a long stretch of the race.
Paulie Colagiovanni was leading the field through lap traffic on lap 21 when second- running Kelly Hebing spun out, shuffling the deck, and moving Varin into the runner-up spot.
The lap-21 restart saw Colagiovanni get a great jump on Varin, pulling away by more than five car-lengths as the field went down the back stretch. One more caution would prove to be the difference, after Joe Trenca spun off the third turn embankment.
Varin got a better restart and kept pace with leader Colagiovanni before making his move in the first turn.
“I just didn’t lift going into one, I wasn’t sure if it would stick, but I had to try it,” proclaimed Varin. Varin’s slide job gave him the lead for good, as the remaining three laps fired off caution-free.
Colagiovanni held on for second and ‘Racin’ Jason Barney rounded out the podium finishers.
After appearing to be the fastest car on the track in the early going, Shawn Donath settled for fourth with Jordan Poirier rounding out the top-five.
Matt Janczuk returned to Victory Lane in the Worthington Industries Crate 602 Sportsman 25-lap feature.