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Gustin gets the job done in Las Cruces
posted: Mar 10, 2015 5:09:15
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 LAS CRUCES, N.M.—Ryan Gustin was in the right place at the right time Sunday afternoon at the Southern New Mexico Speedway, and found himself in victory lane at the end of the 50-lap USMTS main event.

Coming into the weekend, the 24-year-old from Marshalltown, Iowa, had won 69 United States Modified Touring Series feature races, but never tasted victory at the high-banked 1/3-mile clay oval in Las Cruces, N.M.

But his efforts Sunday earned him his 70th career USMTS win, a $4,000 paycheck and the title of champion at the 21st Annual Winter Meltdown presented by Barnett Harley-Davidson.

“We’ve had a really good car, but we’ve had bad draws. That’s really all there is to it,” Gustin said following his second win in six starts this season. “It’s pretty tough out here.”

Saturday night’s winner, Philip Houston, garnered the pole position for the start of the race but it was hometown favorite Jake Gallardo who got the best start and took the lead at the drop of the green flag.

Gustin started the main event from the inside of the fourth row, but quickly moved to the high side of the racing surface when he got the chance.

With the field in front of him hugging the bottom groove, Gustin methodically picked off cars until he got by Gallardo with seven laps in the books.

From there, the two-time USMTS National Champion pulled away to a huge lead, but midway through the race Gallardo and ninth-starting Zack VanderBeek began to narrow the gap between themselves and the leader.

“It was good and slick for about twenty laps,” Gustin recalled. “I could see Jake Gallardo’s nose down there. He was coming, he was inching away at it, and the lapped car I was behind started driving away so I said ‘You’d better get down’ and it just played in our favor tonight.”

‘The Reaper’ pulled to the low side and sailed away to the win from there, taking the checkered flag with nearly five seconds to spare.

Gallardo held onto to second until lap 32 when VanderBeek and Daniel Hilsabeck got by when Gallardo slid up ever so slightly in the corner.

Behind the top four, Jesse Sobbing recorded his ninth top-10 in eleven starts with a fifth-place finish while Bumper Jones, Grant Junghans, Alex Stanford, Tom Georges and Terry Phillips rounded out the top-10 at the finish line.

Rookie of the Year points leader Austin Arneson came into Sunday’s program holding a 28-point lead over Dereck Ramirez in the points standings for the MVT Gulf Coast Border Region presented by Day Motor Sports.

Ramirez started directly in front of Arneson in the feature, but the battle for the regional crown had an early climax when Ramirez suffered front-end damage on lap 3 and dropped out of the race.

Arneson finished 13th to win the regional points title and the accompanying $5,000.

“I knew I had to hang around him, and I knew if he didn’t get too far ahead and I didn’t get too far back we’d have the points deal,” a smiling Arneson said following the race. “I don’t know what happened to Dereck; I just saw him go into the infield there. It sucks because everybody kind of wants a close finish for the deal, but we’re happy to get it and we’ll just go from here.”

In the final MVT Gulf Coast Border Region standings, Arneson bested Ramirez by 44 markers, and is now the sole competitor with the opportunity to walk away from the season-ending USMTS awards banquet $150,000 richer.

All he has to do now is win three more regions en route to winning the Hunt for the USMTS Casey’s Cup powered by S&S Fishing & Rental and becoming the 2015 USMTS National Championship.