BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Nick Hoffman wrestled the lead from Jacob Hawkins on lap 24 after a multi-lap side-by-side battle and paced the final six laps to win the $5,000 UMP Modified Gator Championship on night seven of the 46th annual DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park Monday night.
The victory was the third Gator Championship triumph of Hoffman’s career and his fourth in six starts this week.
Hoffman’s teammate Will Krup took the lead from polesitter Taylor Cook on the opening lap of the 30-lap feature. Fifth-starting Hawkins quickly drove to second on lap four and took the lead from Krup while racing against the cushion in the outside lane.
Hoffman was able to get to the back bumper of Hawkins’ No.13 on a pair of restarts at laps 12 and 16. Hawkins used the momentum of the outside lane to his advantage though and maintained the lead while Hoffman kept pace on the inside line.
The two drivers engaged in a thrilling side-by-side battle, where Hoffman led at the start-finish line on lap 22 before Hawkins reclaimed the lead on lap 23, only to have it snatched away for good again on lap 24.
“I knew eventually that cushion would go away and my stuff was really good on the bottom,” Hoffman said. “I searched around just to see what I had. I married myself to the bottom again and had so much traction off the corners. He had the momentum off the top, but I could still stay with him.”
Hawkins tried both the top and the bottom grooves over the final six laps in his attempt to regain the lead, but Hoffman had already solidified his lead. At the finish line, Hoffman took the checkered flag 1.7 seconds ahead of Hawkins.
“I saw him down there and I’m kind of kicking myself in the butt a little bit now,” Hawkins said. “I should have tried the bottom down in [turns] three and four. The top was working good for me and when you get the lead up there it’s hard to get yourself to change positions on the track. I definitely think down here in three and four if I had moved down I could have held him off.”
Krup, meanwhile, was ecstatic with a podium finish after his qualifying night win on Sunday. His third-place effort along with Hoffman’s victory put two Elite Chassis cars in the top-three.
“To come out here and run with these guys and end up sharing the same podium is huge, especially to run consistently like we have all week,” Krup said. “Nick obviously is the mastermind behind everything. He’ll find out what works or vice versa.”
Rounding out the top five were Kenny Wallace and Tyler Nicely.
“I can’t thank everybody who helped enough,” Hoffman said. “This is my third Big Gator. I knew he was going to be tough the way those track conditions were tonight.”
Full results can be viewed on the next page…