ARDMORE, Okla. — The Lake Country Speedway welcomed back the USMTS Casey’s General Stores National Tour powered by Swan Energy for the third time in four seasons Saturday night as the series wrapped up a three-race weekend with perhaps the best being saved for last.
For the third night in a row, Ryan Gustin strapped himself into his No. 19r Gressel Racing Hughes Chassis and rolled onto a race track he’d never been to. But while each event began with a different first chapter, all three had the same ending with Gustin celebrating in the winner’s circle.
After recording wins on Thursday at the Heart O’ Texas Speedway near Waco and again on Friday at the Cowtown Speedway in Kennedale, Texas, Gustin was poised to complete the ‘hat trick’ Saturday night when he drew the outside front row starting spot for the 40-lap WIX Filters “A” Main at Virgil Page’s three-eighths-mile clay oval.
Coming into the race, Gustin and Jason Hughes had been a dominant duo in winning 14 of the 18 contests so far this year. When the yellow flag waved on lap 13, a familiar storyline was shaping up with Gustin leading and Hughes riding in second with nine-time USMTS National Champion Kelly Shryock sitting third.
For the next six laps, Hughes hounded Gustin in every corner as he dived to the low side and left Gustin just enough room to come screaming back around the outside as they exited the turns.
As they completed the 20th lap, Hughes edged Gustin by a nose at the flagstand to lead the lap, and then expanded his advantage when Gustin got too high in turn 2 and nearly had to bring his car to a complete stop in order to keep it on the racing surface.
Ten laps later, the defending USMTS National Champion found himself mired in heavy lapped traffic and Gustin used this to narrow the gap and pulled even with Hughes with eight laps to go.
As they drag-raced down the backstretch, Hughes suddenly became the victim of two lapped cars that were embroiled in their own battle for position. Contact sent Hughes slamming into the concrete barrier while Gustin scooted by on the inside.
With an apparent flat tire, Hughes’ machine came to a stop in turn three to bring out a yellow flag, but further exploration by his crew found additional suspension damage that ended his night.
After the restart, Gustin raced away from the field as Shryock battled with Randy Timms for second. With four laps to go, the race was red-flagged when five cars slammed together in turn two that left the track blocked.
As the remaining cars in the field began to roll again after track officials cleaned up the aftermath of the crash, Timms discovered he had a flat tire and was forced to pull into the pit area.
Back under green, Gustin was able to go unchallenged to the checkers and pocketed his third $2,000 paycheck of the weekend with his eighth victory of the season.
Shryock, who earned his fifth AFCO Pole Award earlier in the program, held on to take the runner-up finish while Shane Hebert raced from 17th to third and garnered his second Mesilla Valley Transportation Hard Charger Award in three days.
Rodney Sanders claimed the fourth spot and Rowland rebounded to round out the top five.