ABBOTTSTOWN, Pa. – All winter, Matt Campbell balanced the excitement of taking over the Premier Racing Team No. 21 with the weighty expectations Brian Montieth left behind.
It’s an interesting mix for the 22-year-old, whose outlook is sky high, yet somewhat daunted because he has shoes the size of an eight-time Lincoln Speedway track champion to fill.
But on Saturday, in Lincoln Speedway’s season-opening Ice Breaker, Campbell put aside all anxieties and turned in a fifth-place run to kickstart his season.
“After having a run like that, any worries, any little doubts that would have been there, are gone,” Campbell said through a smile Saturday at Lincoln Speedway.
With eight laps to go, Campbell had actually challenged eventual winner Tim Wagaman for the lead. It didn’t go as planned, though. Campbell got a little overzealous going for the top spot, swinging himself out of line when he tried setting up the go-ahead pass.
He lost his momentum and three spots in the process, but managed to hold on to fifth.
“Maybe I drove it a little aggressive in there going into [turn] one,” Campbell said, second-guessing himself before remembering why he pulled the move to begin win. “I just tried to set myself up to get a shot at the lead.”
Campbell started fourth in the 30-lap feature and powered his way to second, around Kyle Moody, with 10 laps to go. Over those next two laps, Campbell shrunk the lead in turns three and four, and with eight to go, he set himself up to pass Wagaman.
That’s when Campbell swung it in on the top too aggressively, getting sideways and clipping Moody, who drove by. Tim Glatfelter and Alan Krimes passed Campbell, too, leaving the Premier Racing Team driver backpedaling in lapped traffic.
“At this point, a feature like [Saturday], it’s about a game of patience,” Campbell said. “Maybe I got a little impatient there. I don’t know. I was just trying to set myself to make a pass and get the win. I can’t complain.”
At this stage in the year, with everything fresh and a long, nine-month season ahead, little victories are just as important as real wins.
Campbell was visibly one of the strongest machines of the 26 that competed Saturday, clocking the third-fastest lap of the feature with a lap of 13.799 seconds.
It was just one, overly-optimistic move that ended up defining Campbell’s day.
“It happens,” Campbell said. “We knew we had a good car. We ran up in the front and had a shot for [the win]. It’s not often you come out on the first night and run that good. There’s a lot of good guys that struggled all night. I can’t complain.
“We’re happy with how the car operated. It’s a pretty decent way to start the year.”