By Bill Foley
OCALA, FL – Mike Gular regained the lead for the third time in the 50 lap event on lap 43 as he ran the high line down the back stretch while leader Billy Decker was hugging the inside.
Gular took the lead and never looked back as he brought home $8,000 in earning the Sunshine Swing finale at Bubba Raceway Park. It was the second ever Short Track Super Series win.
The winner said, “This feels really good. The guys worked so hard all week and we hadn’t started off so hot. I got used to it and figured out what we had to do and thank goodness we are bringing that money back to PA.”
Continuing he said, ”We were really good in the beginning on the bottom until it started burning off and I was getting loose. Then I went up to the topside a little and it felt better in the brown. Decker got by me as I kept messing up with the top in one and two, but then I fell back to fourth and under the yellow I searched around a little and found a better line to make it work better. To come down here and beat all these guys as there is so much quality just leaves me at a loss for words.”
Decker looked headed for second, but with two laps to go 20th starting Erick Rudolph, the new Sunshine Swing champion, moved into the runner up position while Decker finished third followed by a rapidly closing high side runner Tyler Siri and Matt Sheppard.
There was plenty of movement throughout the field as Stewart Friesen along with Rudolph, Billy Pauch Jr. Jimmy Horton and others made strong runs through the field.
Siri took the early lead from the pole and with ten laps in Siri and Decker were comfortably in front while Gular was a distance third followed by Danny Johnson, Sheppard, Rusty Smith, David Schilling, Tim Buckwalter, Mike Maresca and 22nd starting Friesen.
Coming off the fourth turn on the 11th circuit Decker dove down low and took the lead with Gular following him past Siri.
Gular applied the pressure and on the 17th lap ran as high as he could coming off four to take the lead.
With 20 laps in the books Gular was leading Decker, a fast moving Friesen, Sheppard, Maresca, Siri, Danny Bouc, Pauch, MIke Mahaney and Buckwalter.
Just two laps later Friesen relegated Decker to third as he went under him.
At the halfway point it appeared that the shootout would be between the Mike Gular and Stewart Friesen with Sheppard, Maresca and Pauch Jr completing the top five.
Just one lap later the race changed dramatically.
The top two cars raced side by side out of four and heading into one Friesen’s left front went over Gular’s right front. The 44 immediately lifted off and with no ability to steer Friesen was simply a passenger as the car spun, slammed into a huge implement tire at the pit entrance and was launched high into the air catching the top of the guard rail and coming to rest upside down on the speedway.
The car was unsalvageable, but fortunately the driver escaped uninjured.
The field realigned with Gular, Decker, Maresca, Sheppard and 27th starting Pauch holding down the top five spots while completing the top ten were Siri, Mahaney, Bouc, Rudolph and 28th starting Jimmy Horton.
Decker brought the Jeremy Smith 91 to the front on lap 32, but could not gain much breathing room as Yellow came out two laps later for Dippel and Pauch in a fourth turn tangle. On the 35th Marshall Hurd ended up in the ditch inside of the fourth turn.
With the field bunching up for restarts suddenly with 15 laps to go Rudolph was second behind Decker while Maresca was third and the eventual winner Gular sat in four just ahead of Sheppard.
By the 39th lap Gular had worked himself back to second and on the 43rd lap made the eventual winning pass.
Gular simply ran the top side with confidence and Decker was comfortable and appeared in control on the bottom.
As the laps wound down the excitement was turning toward sixth place Siri as hre had two laps to get into the top five. He simply went to the outside and tracked down Sheppard.
Meanwhile Rudolph had picked up 18 spots as he got past Decker with two laps to go.
At the checkers it was Gular just four tenths of a second ahead of Rudolph while Decker was third, Siri fourth and Sheppard fifth.
Completing the top ten were Danny Hieber, Michael Maresca, Max McLaughlin, Jimmy Horton and 28th starting Brett Haas.
Rudolph picked up all sorts of bonuses for earning the championship and noted, “We clawed back and I think that if we had maybe a couple of more laps we might have been able to do something. I didn’t expect to do what we did this week as I have never been here.”
Decker said, “This place is fickle. I was disappointed we didn’t win it after leading with seven or eight to go. You are supposed to win when you put yourself in that situation. The car was good and Jeremy Smith said to come down here and have some fun, but I really would have liked to have won a feature for him.”
So the second Sunshine Swing is over and Erick Rudolph, Stewart Friesen and Mike Gular all took home multi thousand dollar checks to start off the 2021 season.
Feature Finish (Unofficial) – MIKE GULAR, Erick Rudolph, Billy Decker, Tyler SIri, Matt Sheppard, Danny Hieber, Michael Maresca, Max McLaughlin, Jimmy Horton, Brett Haas, Mike Mahaney, Billy Pauch JR, J.R. Heffner, Brandon Hightower, Danny Bouc, Tyler DIppel, David Schilling, Kyle Weiss, Danny Johnson, Joseph Watson, Marshall Hurd, Tim Buckwalter, Rusty Smith, Ron Cartwright Jr., Stewart Friesen, Jordan Siri, Jeremy Smith, Matt STangle, Andy Bachetti and Danny Creeden