BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Picking up right where he left off in last year’s DIRTcar Nationals presented by Bozard Ford, Brandon Sheppard ran away with Monday night’s DIRTcar Late Model feature for his fifth consecutive victory at Volusia Speedway Park.
The defending Dirt Late Model Big Gator champion stole the lead from polesitter Tim McCreadie at the green flag and never looked back, leading all 30 laps en route to his sixth victory at Volusia in the past seven DIRTcar Nationals features.
If anyone thought it was the Rocket1 Racing show during last year’s Florida-Georgia Speedweeks, it’s looking like an even more concentrated go-around this year, as Sheppard now tallies four late model victories in the past seven days.
“It’s been an incredible Speedweeks so far, our consistency has been through the roof all week,” Sheppard said. “When you’re as consistent as we are, the wins are going to come.”
Sheppard led comfortably until the race’s second caution on lap 14, when Scott Bloomquist Racing’s Chris Madden gave him his strongest challenge of the race on the restart. Using the top side momentum to his advantage, Madden got a great run out of turn two and dove into turn three on the bottom. But Sheppard was just too strong in the middle and began to pull away again at the flagstand.
Another restart with nine laps remaining put Madden on the top side at the drop of the green, but he stumbled on the cushion as Brian Shirley and Dennis Erb Jr. drove by on the bottom. Madden fell back two spots further before the checkered, leaving the 2018 Big Gator champion with a sixth-place result.
Shirley had a great race going on the top side, using the speed to make several passes as he climbed up into the podium. He fended off Erb’s fierce challenges on the bottom in the closing laps to secure the runner-up spot with a car he said was very comfortable to drive.
To beat the Rocket1 car ahead of him, however, Shirley believes it’s going to take more than just being good in the feature.
“We’ve just got to make sure we qualify good and start up front,” Shirley said. “I just felt like [Sheppard] was just a little bit better than me out there on the track and could do things that I just couldn’t do, so we’ve just got to get a little better. Hopefully, one night, I can get lucky enough to start on the front row and have a shot.”
Erb had a very strong car the whole race, rounding out an all-Illinois top-three from his eighth starting spot.
“On that last restart, Chris just went way high there and I just went right through the middle,” Erb said. “Once everybody got settled in there, it was awful fast and hard to pass from there on.”
Sheppard fended off the fellow Illinois drivers’ pressure from behind with ease on the following restarts, leading the field back to the checkers for a $7,000 payday.
Sheppard said his continued success comes down to he and his crew’s workflow in the pit area. Each day, they know exactly what it is they need to do to get the job done, and with car owner Mark Richards’ years of experience racing at Volusia, it puts Sheppard at ease behind the wheel.
“It just makes my confidence maxed-out all the time. I know I can drive into turn one, however, I feel I need to and nothing’s going to fall off or break or anything like that because my guys just do such a great job. It’s a lot easier to have a lot of confidence whenever you’ve got a great group of guys pumping you up, and you know your car’s gonna be good,” Sheppard said.
Feature (30 Laps) – 1. 1S-Brandon Sheppard ; 2. 3S-Brian Shirley ; 3. 28-Dennis Erb, ; 4. 39-Tim McCreadie ; 5. 5-Mark Whitener ; 6. 0M-Chris Madden ; 7. 72-Michael Norris ; 8. 29V-Darrell Lanigan ; 9. 7W-Ricky Weiss ; 10. 76B-Brandon Overton ; 11. 97-Cade Dillard ; 12. 20-Jimmy Owens ; 13. 12-Ashton Winger ; 14. 15-Donny Schatz ; 15. 17M-Dale McDowell ; 16. 99B-Boom Briggs ; 17. O-Rick Eckert ; 18. 40B-Kyle Bronson ; 19. 21-Ivedent Lloyd, ; 20. 25Z-Mason Zeigler ; 21. 16B-Tyler Bruening ; 22. 6-Blake Spencer ; 23. OOO-Kyle Lear ; 24. 89-GR Smith ; KSE Hard Charger Award: 76B-Brandon Overton[+12]