MOBERLY, Mo. – Sunday night proved to be a fight to the finish at Randolph County Raceway, with Iowa’s Ryan Gustin topping a full field of Lucas Oil MLRA late models.
Gustin had to survive a barrage of cautions in the 46-lap main event to capture the $5,000 main event prize, his second with the MLRA at the three-eighths-mile facility.
In just his forth MLRA start of the season, Gustin fired from third on the grid behind front-row starters Chad Simpson and Jason Papich. With all three drivers looking for their first MLRA win of the season, it was Simpson darting to the point at the drop of the green.
The leading trio would find their way into lapped traffic by lap six, slowing for the first time on the night on lap 13 for the stopped car of Kayden Clatt.
With the green back in air it was business as usual for Simpson, maintaining the advantage in front while running deep into lapped traffic.
Gustin was able to make a dart for the lead as Simpson battled lapped traffic, but Simpson quickly returned the favor and maintained the point.
The race took a major change on lap 28 when the second caution waved, as Saturday nights winner Mason Oberkramer slowed down the front stretch with a flat tire.
Under caution, MLRA point leader Payton Looney gave up the fourth position, going pit side with apparent engine issues, ending his night early and tightening the series point battle.
Over the next 10 laps the pace would slow five additional times, all the while Gustin continued to apply pressure onto the bumper of Simpson.
Back-to-back cautions littered lap 38, as Papich and Tony Jackson Jr. took turns bringing out the caution for tire issues.
For the third time on the same lap, race leader Chad Simpson would fall victim to a flat tire slowing the pace for the final time on the night, and handing the lead over to Gustin.
With the pressure on Gustin, he conservatively restarted at the point and led the final eight laps to score his first MLRA win of 2020, one spot better than his season-opening runner-up finish at Randolph County in early June.
“I was pretty nervous”, noted a relieved Gustin in victory lane. “I kept riding up behind Chad and I could see his stuff was corded, so I didn’t know how much I had left. No matter what happened I was just going to let him go and try to stay close enough so (Simpson Crew Chief Gus) Farmer would keep his sticks together and keep the pressure on him and he did.
“Tire management is all it was, I have raced a lot in the rubber in my career and it paid off.”
Gustin had a couple of opportunities to overtake Simpson earlier in the race, but the Reaper’s conservative approach paid off in the end.
“There was a couple times he got up and out of the rubber, but I was just trying to manage my tires so much and I was too far back that I couldn’t get him,” Gustin noted. “I figured hopefully it would pay off in the end. I probably missed three of four times when he missed and I could have gotten by him, but if I would have been pressuring my tires then I might not have made it.”
The Roberts Motorsports duo of Garrett Alberson and Jeremiah Hurst finished in second and third respectively, while Justin Duty and Tony Toste rounded out the top five.
All four drivers behind Gustin were Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders.
Alberson was all smiles following the event and appreciative of the borrowed engine that was loaned to the Roberts Motorsports team for the weekend from veteran Al Humphrey.
“I really wasn’t that good at the beginning, I think the rubber made the car come to it a little because I was too free early on,” said Alberson. “That’s why I didn’t know how hard I could run at the end because I was so free for so long, and I was like man I don’t know if I have any tire left.
“I wanted to go for Gustin and I started changing my entry up a little bit and I could get to him, but I knew I just needed to finish this race and get a good result for this team.”
Looney saw his point lead drop to just 57 over Simpson, while Hurst moved in on the top pair and now sits just 77 markers back of the top spot in his first season with the MLRA.
1. 19-Ryan Gustin ; 2. 59-Garrett Alberson ; 3. 58-Jeremiah Hurst ; 4. 15-Justin Duty ; 5. 91T-Tony Toste ; 6. 93-Mason Oberkramer ; 7. 91P-Jason Papich ; 8. 65J-Tony Jackson Jr. ; 9. 25-Chad Simpson ; 10. F15-Jeremy Conaway ; 11. 14M-Reid Millard ; 12. 3W-Brennon Willard ; 13. 2K-Richard Kimberling ; 14. 12B-Brandon Queen ; 15. 11-Jeff Herzog ; 16. 12-Scott Crigler ; 17. 1X-Aaron Marrant ; 18. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck ; 19. 43G-Jeremy Grady ; 20. 15L-Payton Looney ; 21. 8D-Darek Wiss ; 22. 50K-Kayden Clatt ; 23. 50-Kaeden Cornell ; 24. 3X-Skip Frey .