Saturday night, Matt Gusler scored his first victory at Motor Mile Speedway since July 25th, 2014.
It was also his first victory at the Radford oval since losing close friend Mike Keith.
The outcome of the Super Street race was of special significance to Gusler. The winning No. 05 race car was the same machine Keith had piloted in nearby dirt races in previous seasons. Nearly one year ago Gusler, in tribute, drove it in Keith’s funeral.
Gusler paid tribute to Keith again Saturday night. This time, he drove it into Victory Lane.
“It means a lot to me. I wondered all year what I would do. What I would say,” Gusler said of the emotional triumph. “It’s just a good night.”
Gusler started first on the 13-car grid following the post-qualifying re-draw, but was immediately embroiled in an electrifying three-car fray for first that included Kyle Barnes and Dennis Holdren. After staving off his primary challengers through the opening eleven circuits, Gusler surrendered the point to Holdren in Turn 2 on Lap 12. The pass marked the first of three lead changes in the riveting 25-lap sprint.
Kirby Gobble became the third different leader of the race following the second caution flag of the feature on Lap 15. Gobble powered past Holdren from the top side of the track in Turn 2, completing the maneuver for first down the backstretch. Gobble led the succeeding seven circuits uncontested. But as the race drew to a close, Barnes began to close in.
The battle for the win began down the back straightaway on Lap 22. Having erased Gobble’s lead advantage, Barnes leaped to the inside of Gobble’s No. 63 entering turn three in a bid to unseat the leader. Close-quarter racing action ensued, with Barnes managing to position the No. 0 alongside Gobble down the front straightaway. The duel for first climaxed with unintentional contact entering Turn 1, with Barnes’ machine leaning into the left-side door of Gobble’s entry. The impact sent Gobble skating up the Turn 1 banking, necessitating the third and final yellow flag of the contest. Barnes was relegated to the garage with a flat tire in the aftermath of the collision.
“It was just hard racing,” Gobble said. “I’ve been doing this for 32 years. I’ve been wrecked, and I’ve wrecked my share of people. It’s just like playing baseball. You are going to strike out. If you race, there are going to be times when you get hit and turned around. No hard feelings whatsoever.”
Barnes shouldered the blame for the late-race incident.
“I have to apologize to Kirby Gobble. When we got into Turn 1, it wheel-hopped, and we hit wheels. We were gone at that point,” Barnes said.
Holdren inherited the lead on the Lap 23 restart, with Gusler completing the front row. It was the opportunity Gusler needed, and the veteran Super Street competitor capitalized on it.
Gusler rocketed ahead of Holdren down the backstretch as the leaders sprinted to the white flag. Holdren launched a comeback in Turn 1 on the last lap, lunging to the inside of Gusler in the apex of the corner. Slight contact was made, but the fleeting attempt to wrestle the lead away from Gusler was to no avail. Gusler was the first to the finish line by a 0.227-second margin of victory.
“In racing, you don’t get many second chances… and I got one. I knew the competitor Dennis [Holdren] is, that I had to capitalize on it. And I did,” Gusler said. “I’m just glad we got to end the race on a good note.”
The effort was Gusler’s fifth-career division victory. Holdren placed second, with Scooter Hollandsworth rounding out the podium.
Barnes rebounded to lead 11 circuits en route to the victory in the 25-lap nightcap race. Gobble finished second. Gusler tallied third.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Mike Looney collected both checkered flags in Saturday night’s Pepsi TWIN 50s. It marked the second twinbill sweep of the season for the Billy Martin Racing No. 87 team. As a result, Looney’s lead in the Late Model track standings has swelled to a colossal 215 points over Kyle Dudley.
Philip Morris placed second in pursuit of Looney in both features. Kres Vandyke placed third in the 50-lap opener, with newcomer Austin Thaxton completing the podium in the finale.
Karl Budzevski dominated Saturday night’s Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division feature, leading 34 of the 40 scheduled circuits en route to his fifth win of the season. Points leader Cory Dunn finished second. Rookie Josh Gobble posted his best result of the season with a third-place showing.
The 25-lap Carpet Factory Outlet MOD-4 division feature produced a first-time winner, with Tanner Young visiting Victory Lane over division track champions Dennis Holdren and Doodle Lang. Holdren and Lang finished second and third, respectively.