BARBERVILLE, Fla. – February 21, 2013 –
Despite fierce challenges from Big Block Modified star Brett Hearn and three-time defending Super DIRTcar Series Champion Matt Sheppard, Danny Johnson wheeled the 27J to victory Wednesday, Feb. 20, for the first Super DIRTcar Big Block Modified Series feature of UNOH DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment at Volusia Speedway Park.
Although Johnson won the pole in qualifying rounds, Sheppard jumped to the lead off the initial green. He didn’t stay there long, losing the top spot to Johnson after a restart in lap four. Johnson maintained his lead for the rest of the 30-lap feature, battling lapped traffic, a second caution and a last-minute battle with Hearn.
“We had some great racers next to us and a great racing surface out there,” said Johnson, who hails from Rochester, N. Y. “I don’t know how it was from the other side, but it sure was exciting from my side.”
Johnson’s victory Wednesday comes on the heels of a successful practice night Tuesday, Feb. 19. “The Doctor” Johnson made fast time in the first round, but fell to fourth in the second round.
“We tried making it faster yesterday, but actually made it slower in the second set of hot laps,” Johnson said. In the mean time, his team seems to have found the right formula.
After the race’s first caution, Johnson held an ever-expanding lead over runner-up Sheppard, until lapped traffic in lap 11 added an extra challenge. Sheppard gained ground on Johnson as the two navigated through lapped cars, and just when it seemed like he might be able to steal the lead, Sheppard’s 9s suddenly spun and brought out caution in lap 26. An issue with his tear-offs causing low visibility for Sheppard, the champion driver was less able to visually gauge speeds and distances of the cars ahead.
“I got in there hot behind that lapped car. I thought I was going to tag him, and I hit the brakes too hard,” said Sheppard, who then lost handling and spun 180 degrees. “I’m just glad nobody hit me when I spun out.”
With no damage sustained, Sheppard returned to the race, starting at the rear of the lead lap cars with just four laps to go. He gained three spots to finish 11th.
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Sheppard, pleased to be able to continue to run a good car for the remaining UNOT DIRTcar Nationals Presented by Summit Racing Equipment features. “We were a little off – we had the car a little too tight tonight, but we were still in the hunt. It would have been a heck of a finish I think.”
With Sheppard taken out of the running for the lead, Hearn, then in third, pulled up next to Johnson for the restart. Johnson, finding a sweet spot in the outside groove, took the outside, but Hearn powered hard at the green and the two were neck-and-neck. However, Johnson was able to claim a decisive lead within a lap, and kept it through lap 30 for the win.
“I was sitting up tall in my seat, there’s no doubt about it,” said Johnson, thankful his 27J was able to maneuver the Volusia turns at full throttle. “I pretty much went into the corner wide open, and when the car turned it didn’t stumble, bump, it did what it had to do.”