Sunday night proved to be a fight to the finish at the Randolph County Raceway with Marshalltown, 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 3/8-mile facility.
Gustin in just his forth MLRA start of the season, 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 with Papich closely behind. The leading trio would find their way into lapped traffic by lap six, slowing for the first time on the night on lap thirteen 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 series 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 ten 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 thirty-eight, 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, and 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 over-take 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. 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," Gustin concluded.
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 Race Fuels 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 moving in on the top pair and now sits just 77 markers back of the top spot in his first season with the MLRA.
Just five races remain on the 2020 MLRA slate. Next up is a return to the Lucas Oil Speedway October 8th - 10th for the 7th Annual Lucas Oil MLRA Fall Nationals. Action will kick off with a practice session on Thursday night, followed by complete shows on Friday paying $3,000 to win and Saturday night when a $5,000 to win weekend finale will be on the line.
Randolph County Raceway Contingencies 9/6/20
Slick Mist "Fast Time Award" - Payton Looney (16.811 sec)
DirtonDirt.com "Pole Award" - Chad Simpson
Allgaier Motorsports Racing Shocks Award - Garrett Alberson
Casey's General Store's "Hard Charger of the Race" - Reid Millard
Dynamic Drivelines "Crew Chief of the Race" - Brett Ladehoff
Hooker Harness "11th Place Finisher" - Reid Millard
Midwest Sheet Metal "Points Leader Spoiler Challenge" - Payton Looney
Performance Bodies "Performer of the Race" - Ryan Gustin
RacingJunk.com "Hard Luck Award" - Chad Simpson
Sunoco "Rookie of the Race" - Garrett Alberson
Lucas Oil MLRA 24 Entries
A Feature 1 46 Laps | 00:46:08.768 | Lucas Oil1. 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. (DNF) 12B-Brandon Queen; 15. (DNF) 11-Jeff Herzog; 16. (DNF) 12-Scott Crigler; 17. (DNF) 1X-Aaron Marrant; 18. (DNF) 22-Daniel Hilsabeck; 19. (DNF) 43G-Jeremy Grady; 20. (DNF) 15L-Payton Looney; 21. (DNF) 8D-Darek Wiss; 22. (DNF) 50K-Kayden Clatt; 23. (DNF) 50-Kaeden Cornell; 24. (DNF) 3X-Skip Frey
Heat 1 10 Laps | Midwest Sheet Metal
1. 25-Chad Simpson; 2. 15L-Payton Looney; 3. 56JR-Tony Jackson Jr; 4. 43G-Jeremy Grady; 5. F15-Jeremy Conaway; 6. 50-Kaeden Cornell; 7. 12B-Brandon Queen; 8. 8D-Darek Wiss
Heat 2 10 Laps | 00:07:11.000 | Casey's General Stores
1. 91P-Jason Papich; 2. 1X-Aaron Marrant; 3. 59-Garrett Alberson; 4. 91T-Tony Toste; 5. 58-Jeremiah Hurst; 6. 2K-Richard Kimberling; 7. (DNF) 3W-Brennon Willard; 8. (DNS) 14M-Reid Millard
Heat 3 10 Laps | 00:04:30.000 | Dynamic Drivelines
1. 19-Ryan Gustin; 2. 12-Scott Crigler; 3. 15-Justin Duty; 4. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck; 5. 93-Mason Oberkramer; 6. 11-Jeff Herzog; 7. 50K-Kayden Clatt; 8. (DNF) 3X-Skip Frey
Qualifying 1 Lucas Oil Slick Mist
1. 15L-Payton Looney, 00:16.811; 2. 1X-Aaron Marrant, 00:17.267; 3. 19-Ryan Gustin, 00:17.268; 4. 25-Chad Simpson, 00:17.380; 5. 91P-Jason Papich, 00:17.421; 6. 12-Scott Crigler, 00:17.457; 7. 56JR-Tony Jackson Jr, 00:17.553; 8. 91T-Tony Toste, 00:17.608; 9. 11-Jeff Herzog, 00:17.627; 10. 43G-Jeremy Grady, 00:17.665; 11. 59-Garrett Alberson, 00:17.678; 12. 22-Daniel Hilsabeck, 00:17.715; 13. 50-Kaeden Cornell, 00:17.748; 14. 58-Jeremiah Hurst, 00:17.916; 15. 93-Mason Oberkramer, 00:17.920; 16. F15-Jeremy Conaway, 00:17.985; 17. 3W-Brennon Willard, 00:18.091; 18. 15-Justin Duty, 00:18.120; 19. 12B-Brandon Queen, 00:18.361; 20. 14M-Reid Millard, 00:18.494; 21. 3X-Skip Frey, 00:18.515; 22. 8D-Darek Wiss, 00:19.081; 23. 2K-Richard Kimberling, 00:19.282; 24. 50K-Kayden Clatt, 00:19.704