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Late-race caution, last-lap heroics lift Hughes to Humboldt win
posted: Mar 14, 2011 11:14:51
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HUMBOLDT, Kan. -- In the eighteen USMTS events at the Humboldt Speedway prior to Saturday night, just three drivers have recorded multiple victories and those three have snagged two-thirds of the trophies taken home from the high-banked 3/8-mile dirt oval.

With an event record 69 cars and drivers signed in to do battle in front of a standing-room-only crowd Saturday night, the final laps of the 40-lap main event once again came down to the same trio of veterans slugging it out for bragging rights at the popular bullring.

John Webb of Pauls Valley, Okla., won his heat race, earned the most passing points during qualifying and drew the pole position for the start of the main event with rookie driver Cody Agler of nearby Emporia, Kan., sitting on the outside of the front row in just his second USMTS start.

The drop of the green flag saw Webb gain the advantage over Agler, but his time at the front of the field lasted just two laps as nine-time USMTS National Champion Kelly Shryock of Fertile, Iowa, blasted into the top spot during the third lap.

Agler got by Webb for second on the ninth lap, but by this time Shryock was already a straight-away ahead of his nearest challenger.

Just as Shryock began to work lapped traffic on lap 16, the yellow flag waved when Ryan Ruter’s tire came off of his machine and came to a rest on the racing surface, wiping out Shryock’s half-track lead over Agler.

On the restart, two-time Humboldt winner Johnny Bone Jr. of Pea Ridge, Ark., snuck underneath Agler to take over second place while Jason Hughes, who started 16th after winning the second Real Racing Wheels “B” Main, powered his way into third two laps later.

Meanwhile, Ryan Gustin was maneuvering his way to the front. Despite starting deep in the field in the 26th position, the 20-year-old from Marshalltown, Iowa, grabbed tenth from Colt Mather just past the halfway point of the race.

Back up front, Bone and Hughes continued to pursue the leader but Shryock added to his margin each lap and was a full straight-away ahead of Bone when the race’s final caution came out with just nine laps to go.

Seemingly poised to take down his fourth career win at “The Hummer,” Shryock got a strong start when the green flag waved while Hughes looked to the outside of Bone in the first turn following the restart.

Hughes got by Bone the next time around and it became obvious that Shryock was about to have his hands full with the defending USMTS National Champion.

With four laps to go, Hughes was able to pull alongside Shryock using the middle of the track while Shryock continued to utilize the low line that had kept him up front for the last 34 circuits.

With the fans now standing and cheering for one or the other, the two winningest drivers in USMTS history battled wheel to wheel for the final three laps in a scene that has been witnessed countless times, but never fails to amaze.

With the white flag waving in the chilly air, Hughes muscled his way past Shryock as they exited the fourth turn and came across the stripe to complete the next-to-last lap as the leader.

Shryock dove into the first corner and nosed ahead slightly before the pair of rival chassis builders drag-raced down the back-stretch.

They entered the final corner neck and neck, but Hughes was able to pull ahead of Shryock exiting the final turn and crossed beneath the checkered flags with three-tenths of a second advantage.

The win was worth $2,000 to Hughes and his first of the year. It was his eighth triumph overall at the Humboldt Speedway and the 94th of his USMTS career.

Despite having to settle for a disappointing runner-up finish, Shryock was dominant for most of the contest and scored his fourth straight top-five finish to open up the 2011 campaign.

Bone held on for third while Gustin climbed all the way to fourth and earned the Mesilla Valley Transportation Hard Charger Award. Jon Tesch rounded out the top five to put four different chassis manufacturers and four different engine builders into the first five spots.

Jason Krohn, Tommy Weder Jr., Chad Lyle and Rodney Sanders garnered the sixth through ninth spots, respectively, while Agler rounded out the top ten.

Up next for the USMTS Casey’s General Stores National Tour powered by Swan Energy is a three-race swing through Texas in and around Houston.

On Friday, March 18, the touring titans invade the Golden Triangle Raceway Park in Beaumont, then head to the Gator Motorplex in Willis on Saturday, March 19, for the second half of the 5th Annual Texas Shootout.

The weekend wraps up on Sunday, March 19, with the Texas Spring Nationals finale at the Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown. Originally scheduled for Feb. 20, the event was postponed by fog.

Friday and Saturday will carry a top prize of $2,000 while the winner on Sunday will walk away with $3,000.