HARTFORD, Ohio – Brandon Matus nursed his tires enough to earn his first UNOH All Star Circuit of Champions sprint-car victory Tuesday night at Sharon Speedway.
There were several attempts at a green, white checkered finish that resulted in race-long leader Tony Stewart finally blowing his right rear, followed by then leader Kyle Larson and Dale Blaney.
When the green came out, leader Logan Schuchart raced around to the white flag, but his right rear tire let go and he kept going as Matus, who started 18th, drove by and went on to the biggest win of his young career much to the delight of the local crowd.
“I wish I knew how I saved enough of my tires. Everyone knows me for loving these slick tracks. Running up in the dust under cautions helped I know that, but just easy on the throttle – that’s it,” said the 19-year-old driver. “I was a bundle of nerves those last couple of green, white, checkered attempts. There are so many things going through your head- you have no idea. I didn’t know if the tire would last.”
Paul McMahan would come back from an early flat tire to take second after restarting fourth on the final attempt at the finish.
“That was kind of our game plan. We didn’t have much tire left after the heat race. I thought maybe I might be able to save it but it just kept getting flatter and worse and worse. So I just decided to try and tear it up. It’s a bad thing to do, but it’s what you have to do and it paid off for us tonight. We missed it by one spot. Congratulations to those guys (Matus)- he drove a heck of a race to save that tire for 30 laps; he did a heck of a job,” said McMahan.
Another of the cars that did not require a tire change – Eric Williams – would come home third.
“Under that red flag (a fuel stop before the first attempt at a green, white, checkered finish) they told me I hardly had any air left in the right rear so they put some air in it and I was just hoping it would hold,” said Williams. “I just tried to nurse it to the end. I was debating on coming here tonight; I’m glad I did.”
Stewart and Dale Blaney would bring the field to the green of the 30-lap feature with Stewart blasting into the lead while Blaney had his hands full with the winner of the previous two nights, Larson with Caleb Helms, Logan Schuchart, McMahan, Tim Shaffer and Sam Hafertepe, Jr. in tow.
Stewart would pull away and hit lapped traffic by the sixth circuit with Blaney, Larson, Helms and Schuchart in tow.
With eight laps in the books, Stewart was mired in lapped traffic, allowing Blaney to close with Larson comfortably in third while Helps battled with Schuchart and Hafertepe for fourth. Once clear of traffic, Stewart again pulled away from Blaney, Larson, Hafertepe and Schuchart.
The tire situation began on lap 19 when Danny Smith suffered a flat to bring out the caution. On the restart Stewart would pull away from Blaney and Larson. Bryan Sebetto’s tire would let go on lap 23 for another yellow. And again, Stewart would blast away on the restart with Blaney, Larson, Hafertepe, Schuchart, Helps and McMahan in pursuit.
With six laps to go, McMahan’s tire finally blew for another yellow. A lap and another flat, this time for Stevie Smith.
With five laps to go, the running order was Stewart, Larson, Blaney, Hafertepe, Schuchart and Williams. This time the field was able to get two laps in before Stewart’s right rear left go and he retired pit side, handing the lead to Larson. But, the caution flew when several cars blew tires.
That set up the first attempt at a green, white, checkered. On the first attempt, Shaffer blew a tire, followed by Blaney on the second try, necessitating the fuel stop. On the restart, both Larson and second place running Hafertepe suffered flats, handing the lead to Schuchart, who, along with Matus and Williams, were the only cars left from the original start of the event that had not had a flat.
The green came out and Schuchart looked like he might nurse his car home to the victory. He raced around to the white, but when he entered turns one and two, his right rear let go as Matus, McMahan – who had come from the back of the backing the last five laps after getting a new right rear – and Williams applied pressure. Matus stayed glued to the rubber on the bottom and drove home to the victory.