CANANDAIGUA, NY (Aug. 16, 2023) – After finishing runner-up in five of the last seven races, Matt Sheppard broke through and claimed his third victory of the championship season at Land of Legends Raceway Wednesday night.
The win also secured his second consecutive SummerFAST championship.
“Everything just went our way tonight,” Sheppard said. “We had a good car early. Good car in the Heat. Drew a good number for the Feature… Just thankful to finally be here in Victory Lane and not the first loser tonight.”
The 60-lap SummerFAST finale saw SRI Performance/Stock Car Steel Pole Award winner Mike Mahaney shot out in front at the drop of the green flag. After a six-lap battle with Jack Lehner who started to his outside, Mahaney was able to distance himself out front. But he was not alone for long.
Sheppard, the nine-time and defending Series champion, moved into second place by Lap 10, then positioned himself for an attack on the lead. He and Mahaney kicked it into high gear for a fierce multi-lap battle.
Mahaney ran the top line from the start and stayed there as long as he could. Sheppard stayed right on his bumper, running the inside, leaving no room for Mahaney to miscalculate. Mahaney used lapped traffic whenever he could to block a hard charging Sheppard, but as the laps ticked down, he realized he needed to shift down track.
With Sheppard showing a nose around Turn 2, Mahaney used all the gas he had around the back straightaway. Before he shifted to the inside, Sheppard read his play and stayed tight on the inside, using his speed to cross in front and take the lead on Lap 25.
“We had been running the top at both ends and (Turn) 1 and (Turn) 2 was still there for me,” Mahaney said. “On the top of (Turn) 4, the cushion kind of gave up. It didn’t have the bite. (Sheppard) was getting a better run off of (Turn) 4. He would pull up next to me, and I would see him. I knew I had to move down, so I moved down. We crossed in (Turn 1) and (Turn) 2 there, and he moved up in front of me. I crossed high to low; we went down the backstretch, and he had a better run into (Turn) 3 which sealed the deal.”
Sheppard, of Waterloo, NY, found clean air, and never looked back. His #9s machine drove strong as he passed the half-way point of the 60-lap race, extending his lead over Mahaney in second and Lehner in third. But with his most challenging battle behind him, he drove through lapped traffic with precision, and cruised his way to victory.
He retained the title of SummerFAST champion with the win and added 15 points to his lead in the Series points battle.
“I have a lot of laps around this place,” Sheppard said. “I kind of know when to move around. I found the bottom first. (Mahaney) was running the middle and top and leading and probably not knowing where to go. I had the luxury of searching around and judging whether or not I was gaining on him. When I moved around, I felt like I started gaining on him. It was definitely to my advantage.”
After being passed by Mahaney for the lead on Lap 7, Lehner ran a solid campaign for the remaining 53 laps of the race, finishing in third for his first podium of the championship season. Even though he didn’t walk away with a win, the 24-year-old still took lessons from the matchup.
“I was excited to be on the top, I took off (on Lap 3) and I felt really good up there,” Lehner said.”Then, I was like, alright, settle in. I think we might be good. Right before that (Lap 3) caution come out, I saw Mahaney show a nose, on the bottom. I was like shoot, now what do I do? I was the leader, I had choice. I guess I’ll go down to the bottom and I’ll try to take that away from him. Maybe it wasn’t the right move, but at the end of the day, we still ended up third.”
Monday night winner Mat Williamson charged up from 12th to finish fourth, missing the SummerFAST title by six points. He remains in second place in the Series points battle, 64 points behind Matt Sheppard.
Rookie Felix Roy recorded his third top-10 of the season, finishing in ninth place.
UP NEXT: The Super DIRTcar Series Big Blocks head to Ransomville Speedway on Tuesday, Aug. 22 for a 75-lap, $7,500-to-win, spectacular.