Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – SWEETWATER, TN – Nearly three seconds separated leader Ross Bailes from Cory Hedgecock on Lap 9 of Saturday’s 40-lap Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series Feature at I-75 Raceway. When the flagman gave the two-to-go signal, that gap was gone.
Hedgecock, the 29-year-old standout from nearby Loudon, TN, dropped back to third on the initial start but was able to get around polesitter Ben Watkins for second on Lap 9. At that point, Bailes was almost three seconds ahead, deep in lapped traffic.
But with two previous wins in five starts at the track this season, Hedgecock let his home-track experience drive him all the way to Bailes’ rear bumper in under 30 laps. Using a lapped car as a pick, Hedgecock moved up to the middle groove, drove around both Bailes and the lapper to snag the lead out of Turn 4 and led the field back around to the checkers to score his first career Xtreme Series victory in front of a hometown crowd.
“We’re literally 15 miles away,” Hedgecock said. “You get off the exit, and I’m only five miles off it. So, it’s awesome.”
At the drop of the green, Bailes, the current Xtreme Series points leader from Clover, SC, got a great jump on the field and began to open up a sizeable advantage on the field. Which had Hedgecock concerned at first.
“He worried me there at the beginning of the race,” Hedgecock said. “He spurred out there really, really far. I struggled with [Ben Watkins], but I got by him and it seemed like we’d start reeling him in, then I’d catch a lap car. I couldn’t decide who was quicker.”
Once he made the move past Watkins, it was game-on. Hedgecock began ripping around the favored inside line and matched Bailes’ pace through traffic. Lap-by-lap, he shaved down the gap to the leader. When he finally reached Bailes’ rear bumper, he was ready to make the move.
At the head of the field, Bailes had seen enough of the slower cars and was looking for a breath of clean air.
“I guess I really needed a caution,” Bailes said. “Because I think if I could have stayed out front, I would have had a way better shot.”
With six laps left, Hedgecock first tried the top-middle side in Turns 3-4 to get around Bailes but was unsuccessful.
‘[Bailes] messed up with that lap car that one time, kinda got pinched-off there, and I got a run on the outside,” Hedgecock said. “I tried it again in Turn 3, but I barreled-off in there way too hot and heavy, and just got in the fluff.”
Bailes continue to hold the bottom lane, where he’d been all race long, as he worked past the slower car of Tim Vance with three-to-go. Hedgecock had reeled them back in when he decided to take one more shot at the leader and made the top side work as he drove on by for the lead.
“Going through lapped traffic, as I’ve always said – I’ll live and die by it – I’d still rather be running second,” Hedgecock said. “This particular time it paid off, and I’m happy to get it.”
“That’s just one of those cases where it’s better to be second than in first when we got in lapped traffic like that,” Bailes said.
At the end of the day, Bailes still grew his points lead in the Xtreme Series standings up to eight points over Carson Ferguson, who finished directly behind him after a charge from ninth. Though second place is the strong finish he needed, it still stung a bit to do so after leading 38 of 40 laps.
“It’s good, but it’s not good enough,” Bailes said. “One position ain’t gonna cut it. There’s only seven races, so you might get to the final race and have a two or three-position lead. You gotta get every position you can.”
Ferguson, in his third Super Late Model race, capped the podium after a great run from inside Row 5. Making most of his passes in the middle groove, the young hot-shoe turned heads once again in the Donald Bradsher-backed Longhorn Chassis #93F.
“We were able to steer around ‘em in dirty air,” Ferguson said. “Just run that middle groove.”
The 21-year-old from Lincolnton, NC, now has three Xtreme Series finishes, all inside the top-four, seeding him second in the points standings.
“Everything fell our way, and the car was right where it needed to be,” Ferguson said. “I caught lapped traffic at the perfect time. We just need to Qualify better, hopefully keep that same luck and we’ll be up there.”
The Drydene Xtreme DIRTcar Series next breaks for the holidays before heading back to South Carolina for Saturday-Sunday visits to Lake View Motor Speedway and Cherokee Speedway on Jan 15-16.
Feature (40 Laps) 1. 23-Cory Hedgecock; 2. 79-Ross Bailes; 3. 93F-Carson Ferguson; 4. 16-Ben Watkins; 5. 109-Eli Beets; 6. 83-Jensen Ford; 7. 16S-Sam Seawright; 8. 15-Christian Hanger; 9. 101-Forest Trent; 10. 44D-Dalton Cook; 11. 97-Bobby Giffin; 12. 18E-Ethan Wilson; 13. 56-Michael Asberry; 14. 421-Anthony Sanders; 15. K7-Gary Dillon; 16. 93-Cory Lawler; 17. 6C-Clay Coghlan; 18. 17V-Tim Vance; 19. 86-Jeff Neubert; 20. 03-David Yandle; 21. 6-Jonathan Ingram; 22. 156-Andy Standridge