RPW Column: Twelfth To First In Three Laps For Matt Sheppard At Utica-Rome; Grabs Win Number Nine Of ’22

Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – VERNON, NY – Sometimes, there are amazing performances in feature events where the person standing in victory lane put on a world class driving display.

Then, there’s what Matt Sheppard did Friday evening at Utica-Rome Speedway. “SuperMatt” was just that…super…on this night.

Sheppard started the 30-lap Modified feature in the 12th position, and by the lap three, he was in the lead.

For the rest of the main event, he was untouchable as the driver from Savannah, NY scored his ninth victory of the season.

“The beginning of the feature’s kind of a blur,” Sheppard said.

From the moment the initial green was unfurled, the driver of the #9s was fun to watch. He methodically worked his way on the inside lane, and by the time the caution flew on lap two, was already in fifth position.

“We got a good start the first half a lap,” he said. “We were able to clear some guys and get to the bottom of three and four. Then, we were able to get buy another car or two and the yellow flew and we were fifth.”

On the ensuing restart, Sheppard hooked the extreme bottom off of turn four and went four-wide with second-place Pat Ward along with the entire second row of Darren Smith and Nick Heywood.

Things settled out heading into the first turn, but he still went three-wide with Smith and Ward for the number two spot. He was able to get the second position by the time the field hit turn three on that lap.

He still wasn’t done.

Grabbing insane bite through turns one and two on the third circuit, Sheppard raced to the top spot around leader Justin Wright.

“We got another killer restart on the bottom and were able to work our way to the front quick” he said. “The seas don’t always part like that, but when they do, we’ll definitely take it.”

From there, he was in another zip code. However, there were still 27 laps left to go.

What type of mindset did Sheppard have knowing he still had nearly the entire race to try and defend the top spot?

“You’re watching the scoreboard and trying not to abuse your stuff too hard,” he said. “At the same time, though, when the track’s so fast like this, you can’t ever just cruise, really. You just have to run hard but run smart and hopefully everything goes your way.”

As soon as Sheppard took the lead, it appeared as if starter Joe Kriss put his yellow silk back in the flag holder. Except for one more time on lap six, the remainder of the race went clean and green.

“We were able to get out front and I don’t think there were many more cautions the rest of the race,” he said. “That gave us a big advantage and things definitely went our way tonight.”

Friday night was Sheppard’s ninth win of the 2022 season at Utica-Rome Speedway. This is turning into an amazing year for the defending champion and he’s looking to finish things off strong over the final races.

“Hopefully, we can keep things rolling,” he said. “I’d hate to have a season like we’ve had here and falter, especially the $25,000-to-win New Yorker night. However, you know, it’s racing and anything can happen.”

Billy Decker drove the wheels off his Jeremy Smith Racing #91 all night, moving from his sixth starting spot to finish in second. However, nobody was any match for Sheppard on the night.

Rocky Warner was strong as well and came home with a fine third place finish.

Stewart Friesen started 13th and didn’t make much headway through the first half of the feature. However, the Halmar #44 came on through the final 15 laps, making moves through the field to come home with a solid fourth place showing.

Darren Smith completed the top five.

Finish (30 laps): MATT SHEPPARD, Billy Decker, Rocky Warner, Stewart Friesen, Darren Smith, Pat Ward, Alan Johnson, Justin Wright, Alex Yankowski, Kyle Coffey, Willy Decker, Shaun Walker, Jessica Friesen, JaMike Sowle, Alan Barker, Will Shields, Randy Shantel, Brian Murphy, Loren Lincoln, Tim Mayne, Nick Heywood, Rich Price, Aaron Jacobs, Ronnie Johnson, Brad Poppleton.

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