CONCORD, N.C. – Matt Sheppard completed one of the most improbable comebacks in Super DIRTcar Series history and capped off perhaps the strongest season of his career Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, winning the finale to the Textron Off-Road World Finals to clinch his sixth series title.
Sheppard’s dominant performance in the 40-lap feature was not only his record-tying 12th win of the season, but also completed a rally from as low as eighth in points after having to serve a two-race DIRTcar suspension during the mid-summer stretch.
For the Waterloo, N.Y. native, his sixth title was perhaps his sweetest moment yet.
“Man, this is amazing. It’s great to be here,” Sheppard said. “For us to overcome everything we did this season and have the wins we’ve had … I’ve had a lot of good years but this one is right up there near the top. Winning (Super DIRT Week) at Oswego, winning here, getting another championship … you can’t ask for much more than that.”
The only dicey moment during the race was inside of 10 to go in the 40-lap main event, when Sheppard ran into trouble trying to lap Billy Whittaker and Keith Flach began to charge one final time.
“You can’t take a lap off at this place; you have to be up on the wheel every single turn,” Sheppard explained. “It’s tough passing lap cars here. I could get a run on the outside (of Whittaker), but I kept getting squeezed into the wall and I didn’t want to tear the thing up. I knew the 43 (Keith Flach) was back there, but thankfully we were able to bring it home.”
Sheppard elected the outside for the initial start, firing off from the pole and leading Flach and Mike Mahaney at the conclusion of lap one. Meanwhile, his title rival Billy Decker was on the move early, cracking the top six in less than a lap after starting eighth.
The first caution of the night flew with seven laps complete, after Thursday night winner Mat Williamson slowed on the frontstretch with an issue on the left front of the No. 6 machine.
Though that set Flach back up alongside Sheppard for the restart, it also gave Decker a chance to close ground and pick off positions in hopes of stealing the championship if Sheppard ran into an issue.
Sheppard again chose the outside lane and again pulled away when the green lights kicked back on, pulling out to a second and a half advantage as Flach and Tim Fuller traded slide jobs for the runner-up spot, while Decker picked off Danny Johnson for a spot in the top five.
By lap 13, the advantage for Sheppard was two seconds, but Flach wasn’t about to give in as he turned up the wick and started to reel the leader in as they began to catch the back of the field.
Just before Sheppard could begin lapping cars, the caution flew with 16 rounds complete, as Larry Wight and Brian Swartzlander both slowed simultaneously with issues on the backstretch.
That again cleared the race track and gave Sheppard smooth sailing for the next restart, but an immediate caution slowed the field back down after a two-car crash on the frontstretch involving Brandon Walters and Justin Wright.
Sheppard was unfazed though, leading Flach, Mike Mahaney, Johnson and Fuller at the halfway point as he again opened up a commanding two-second advantage.
Though Flach closed the margin to under a second as Sheppard worked through a minefield of traffic in the race’s second half, it wasn’t enough to be able to have a shot at unseating the winner and champion.
“We were very blessed all weekend long,” smiled Flach. “It’s been a great weekend and it’s a great way to end the year. To run second to a guy like Matt is just phenomenal. We’ve had our struggles this year because we’re still relatively new to the series, but this is our first podium and I’m super proud of the effort of this team. We’ve always had speed here, but we’ve never been able to put it together until tonight.”
Mahaney, Johnson and Fuller completed the top five finishers, while Decker faded to seventh in the final rundown and settled for second in the final point standings.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…