VIVIAN, La. – Matt Sheppard capitalized on an early-race restart, launching from third to the lead to capture the opening night victory of the Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series Cajun Swing Wednesday at Ark-La-Tex Speedway.
The triumph is Sheppard’s 13th overall and second in as many races in Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series competition, coming less than two weeks after his win at Georgetown (Del.) Speedway as part of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Weekend.
“Man, it’s awesome to be down here in Louisiana,” Sheppard said in victory lane after his $4,000 triumph. “What a race track we had tonight and it’s nice to start the week with a win.”
The Savannah, N.Y., resident redrew fourth after running away with the night’s first heat but snatched the lead on just the second lap after a pair of early cautions. With just one lap in, Sheppard was shot out of a cannon from third and tiptoed around the bottom to take the lead out of turn two. After securing the lead, Sheppard went to the top shelf and used the very outside of a racy track on Wednesday night to lead the ensuing 39 laps.
“I had a better launch off turn four on the bottom, but I definitely wanted to race up top,” Sheppard said of his decision to choose the bottom immediately after cautions. “This engine runs so good and the car was so hooked up on the restarts, I wanted to restart on the bottom and race up top.”
Despite a dominating effort, Sheppard did defend a slew of charges from second-place finishing Mike Gular. From the eighth-starting spot, Gular advanced to third by lap six and moved into the runner-up position on the seventh circuit, using the bottom to pass Cajun Swing teammate Jeff Strunk.
“I was really trying to make the bottom work,” Gular explained. “This is a good track down here, real racy, and I’m excited for another night.”
Gular’s pass for second led to Strunk and Stewart Friesen waging war for the final podium position. Once Friesen cleared for third, Strunk, Jack Lehner and pole-sitting John Willman swapped spots before Lehner moved into fourth on lap 13.
Just after the midway point of the 40-lap feature event, the top-three entered hectic lapped traffic as Gular and Friesen both closed on Sheppard. On lap 27, Friesen surged to the outside for second, but Gular used lappers to his advantage and fended off his challenges by sticking to the bottom.
“Lapped traffic was definitely tough,” Gular said. “Just racing with people you don’t know or aren’t familiar with is a different challenge.”
Just two laps later, though, the caution flew again, this time for a left-rear flat on the Halmar International-sponsored No. 44, forcing Friesen pit side with 11 laps to go.
Once more, Sheppard led Gular on the restart with Strunk passing Lehner for third and Modified rookie Derrick McGrew Jr. rounding out the top five. As the top three separated from the field, Lehner, McGrew and Willman danced for position before McGrew slowed with eight circuits remaining.
On the ensuing restart, Lehner passed Willman back for fourth and then, after changing a tire and coming from the back, Friesen bolted back inside the top five. The recently-crowned STSS South Region champion, Friesen bashed the outside curb around Willman for fifth with just six laps left, dispatched of Lehner while the flagman held up five fingers and finally moved around Strunk for third on the final lap.
“We had a really good car tonight,” Friesen said of his third-place finish. “We were really good on the longer runs but we just ran out of laps at the end.
Strunk capped the night in fourth while Lehner rounded out the top five.
Neil Kemp won the accompanying 25-lap Factory Stock main, earning $1,000 for his efforts, while Brandon Ball took the 20-lap Limited Modified feature.
Matt Sheppard, Mike Gular, Stewart Friesen, Jeff Strunk, Jack Lehner, John Willman, Caleb Dillard, Jeff Heotzler, Dave Rauscher, Greg Dillard, Kory Keimig, Eric Williams, James Griffin, Glenn Stone Jr., Derrick McGrew Jr., Tommy Hall, Tommy Rascoe, Brother Fowlkes, Jimmy McCommas, Shane Hebert, Joe Roswell, David Forbis, Keith Badiali.