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Hughes nips Gustin in USMTS thriller at LA Raceway
posted: Apr 05, 2011 11:12:41
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LA MONTE, Mo. -- With ten events in the books this season for the USMTS Casey’s General Stores National Tour powered by Swan Energy, Ryan Gustin and Jason Hughes had already racked up seven wins between them going into Friday’s Schwab’s Tinker Shop Show-Me Shootout at the LA Raceway.

Hughes beat Gustin to the finish line at this same racetrack last August en route to winning the 2010 USMTS National Championship where Gustin wound up second in the final points standings.

Both drivers won their heat races in dominating fashion Friday night, with Gustin drawing the outside of row 2 and Hughes looming in the eighth spot for the start of the 40-lap main event.

When the green flag waved, Gustin wasted no time and charged underneath polesitter Rick Beebe just before the flagstand to lead the first lap just before the yellow flag slowed the action with one lap in the books.

In the five previous USMTS feature races at the speedplant in rural La Monte, Mo., only three cautions overall have been required. In fact, on two occasions the race has gone non-stop with every driver finishing the race.

That wasn’t the case this time as six cautions dotted the first 16 laps of Friday’s “A” Main and kept the field within striking distance of the leader, including Hughes who found himself on Gustin’s tail for the restart on lap 16.

Back under green, Dustin Boney dove into the first turn and slid up in front of Hughes to take over the runner-up spot. The pair traded punches for the next eight laps, but neither could mount a challenge to Gustin for the top spot.

The race’s seventh and final caution with 16 laps to go allowed Hughes to get by Boney on the restart, and then he and Gustin took off to settle it between themselves.

While “The Reaper” continued to set a blistering pace around the extreme high side of the racing surface, Hughes tried high, low and everywhere in between in search of a way around his 20-year-old apprentice.

Hughes dipped to the inside of Gustin as they came to the line to complete lap 34, but Gustin hit his marks in the next turn and pulled away again as they raced back to the start-finish line.

With the white flag in the air, Hughes again was back on Gustin’s rear bumper and after 39 flawless orbits around the semi-banked 4/10-mile dirt oval, Gustin bobbled in the first turn and Hughes pounced on the opportunity.

The pair drag-raced down the back-stretch with Hughes inching ahead as they entered the final turn. Gustin crossed over and looked to the inside to regain the position but was forced to follow Hughes to the finish line and had to settle for the runner-up position after leading every prior lap.

For Hughes, it tied him with Gustin at four wins on the season and put another $2,000 in his pocket.

Boney held on for second while Tim Donlinger came from 17th on the starting grid to finish fourth. Zack VanderBeek debuted his new 2011 Skyrocket Chassis and was impressive with a fourth-place finish after starting 16th.

Not to be outdone, Tommy Weder Jr. grabbed the final transfer spot in the third Real Racing Wheels “B” Main and made the most of it by passing 20 of his fellow competitors en route to a sixth-place finish and the Mesilla Valley Transportation Hard Charger Award.

Johnny Scott, Beebe, Steve Wetzstein and Colt Mather rounded out the top-10 finishers. Worthy of honorable mention, Kelly Shryock had to use a provisional starting spot to get into the main event but raced from 27th to finish eleventh while Jon Tesch started 25th and finished 12th.

The only Rookie-of-the-Year contender making the feature race was Brandon Davis of Medford, Minn. He won his heat race and started sixth in the main event. First-lap jitters may have helped him slide off the track on the opening lap, but after going to the back of the pack he settled in and brought home a 15th-place finish.

Not only was it Davis’ career-first USMTS event, it was the first-ever race behind the wheel of a full-blown Modified for the 2010 Wissota Midwest Mod national champion.