By MIKE MALLETT
Matt Sheppard beat Billy Decker on Friday night at the World Finals by one spot to add five more points to the gap between the pair as they battle right down to the end for the Super DIRTcar Series championship. The buffer for Sheppard currently stands at a mere 37 markers. That means on Saturday night, if Decker wins, Sheppard has to finish seventh or better to pick up his sixth championship.
Sheppard is putting no pressure on himself going into the final night. Last year the team headed south with the championship wrapped up. He plans to go out and run Saturday’s event as hard as he can. He’s not point racing. He’ll let it all play out.
“At the end of the day, we had so much fun coming down here last year and just racing hard for once and not worrying about the points that I told myself I wasn’t going to worry about the points this year,” mentioned Sheppard. “I was just going to come down here and run hard and whatever happens, happens. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. If it’s not meant to be then it’s not. There isn’t anything you are going to do about it.”
Sheppard was a little disappointed with himself that he let Friday night’s feature get away. He redrew the pole position for the race, led the first few laps only to see Mat Williamson take advantage of a restart on lap six. Williamson beat Sheppard to the top of turns one and two and it was over. Sheppard could hang with him, but there was going to be no getting back by.
“He (Williamson) got too good of a restart and by the time we got to one I couldn’t clear him,” cited Sheppard. “That was basically the difference. It was a little bit of a gamble restarting on the bottom. I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to restart on the top and get beat to one, but then at the same time I didn’t want him to be next to me when we got to one either. He just got a good enough restart that I wasn’t able to clear him. Other than running him up the race track or out of the place, that was probably the difference in the race. Whoever got to turn one first was going to win the race. We were pretty darn equal. That was the way it was.”
It wasn’t the win that Sheppard wanted, but the runner-up finish did increase the gap between himself and Decker.
“It was a good run for us,” mentioned Sheppard. “We beat Billy and we are one race closer to the end. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
While Sheppard did what he had to do, Decker did all he could to get up to third to keep the damage at a minimum. Unfortunately Decker didn’t get a caution late in the race to allow him to challenge Sheppard for a spot. It was an impressive drive from his 10th starting position to keep the points tight. There is no give up in his team.
“That is trouble, he (Sheppard) is running so good that you can have a good night and it’s still not good enough,” stated Decker. “This Mike Payne Racing, Page Trucking car has been really good. Everyone is working hard. We aren’t rolling over. We are going to dig and claw until the end and see what happens.”
Like Sheppard, Decker’s going to let the cards fall where they may on Saturday night. He’s going to go hard and go for the title, but it’s out of his hands.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “Every race we go to win and let the points take care of themselves. We certainly didn’t point race tonight. At the end of it you got to race. That’s what we are going to do tomorrow night.”
For the finale Sheppard has yet to get his starting position as he is in the redraw for one of the top five positions, Decker will be rolling off from the eighth spot. It all comes down to one final 40-lap feature event.