BAYTOWN, Texas – The United States Modified Touring Series is the undisputed heavyweight champion of open-wheel dirt modified racing, so it was a fitting finale Saturday night when the fourth annual USMTS Texas Spring Nationals powered by Lecolift came down to a battle between the all-time Best of the Best in USMTS history.
From the pole position, 2007 USMTS national champion Jason Krohn squirted ahead of Willy Kraft at the drop of the green flag with 2010 USMTS national champion Jason Hughes following into second a few laps later in the 40-lap Swan Energy “A” Main.
Jeremy Payne also moved to the front of the field quickly from his sixth row starting spot and challenged Hughes early on in the contest. Meanwhile, Krohn enjoyed about a ten-car-length cushion over the field for the first half of the race.
With 22 laps complete and Krohn mired in heavy lapped traffic, the race’s first caution slowed the pace and put Krohn’s competitors on his rear bumper for the restart.
However, Krohn was once again able to pull away as Payne, Hughes and two-time defending USMTS national champion Ryan Gustin slugged it out for second, third and fourth while defending event champion Johnny Scott sat in the fifth spot watching the action ahead of him.
Following two more caution periods, Krohn used the bottom and middle portions of the racing surface while Gustin chewed away at the cushion on the high side of the Royal Purple Raceway.
With ten laps to go, Gustin blasted into the lead. Krohn fought back, but another yellow flag killed the momentum with just seven laps remaining.
Back under green, Gustin was able to fend off Krohn’s challenges the rest of the way to take his first win of the year.
“We were pretty free, so I knew we’d be in trouble if we tried to roll through the middle,” Gustin said, referring to his preference for the long way around the track in Saturday’s feature race. “We just had to air it out on the top and hope for the best.
Gustin’s 62nd career USMTS victory was worth $6,000 to the 22-year-old from Marshalltown, Iowa, while Krohn settled for a runner-up paycheck of $3,000.
“We drew the pole and that can be an advantage or disadvantage,” Krohn said. “We had to withstand a lot of yellows, I think before that we had ‘em covered.”
Payne, who swept all three nights when the USMTS invaded the Baytown, Texas, oval three months ago, took the third spot while Hughes finished fourth and nine-time USMTS national champion Kelly Shryock clawed his way to fifth after starting 17th.