NEW RICHMOND, Wis. –Incredibly hard racing, endless passing for positions, charges from the back to the front and a couple of heated exchanges were all part of Saturday night’s Modified Masters finale at the Cedar Lake Speedway, but the one constant was Rodney Sanders who led all 70 laps while the war was waged behind him.
From the outside of the three-wide front row, Sanders grabbed the lead at the drop of the green flag and never wavered from his high line around the high-banked clay oval in New Richmond, Wis., fending off challenges early from Dereck Ramirez, late from Cade Dillard and 11 caution flags.
In the end, the 28-year-old from Happy, Texas, netted his 83rd career USMTS victory and a big, fat check for $40,000 for his efforts.
The yellow flag waved three times during the first nine laps-first for Tyler Wolff’s flat tire on lap 4 and again two laps later when contact between Terry Phillips and Dustin Sorensen in turn 4 which sent Sorensen careening toward the infield and collecting Lucas Schott.
Then on lap 9, USMTS Hunt for the Casey’s Cup national points leader Johnny Scott looped his machine in turn 2 while hounding Sanders for the lead.
After things settled down, Sanders continued his march at the front with Ramirez and Dillard, who started eighth, lurking in his tire tracks.
Meanwhile, Ryan Gustin was finding his rhythm. Coming into the night ranked 55th out of 62 drivers in passing points Friday night, ‘The Reaper’ clawed his way through his Last Chance Qualifier, the “C” Main and the “B” Main to garner a spot in the 26-car main event.
After starting 23rd, Gustin had just slipped past Ricky Thornton Jr. for the seventh spot when the caution came out to slow the action with on lap 31.
Another quick caution came out after the restart and saw Zack VanderBeek duck into the pits and return at the tail of the field, and the third caution in two laps waved on lap 32.
That’s when the fireworks started between Gustin and Thornton. Diving into turn 3 after the restart, Gustin slid up to take the spot away but contacted the left front of Thornton. In the next left-hander, Thornton drove in deep and slid to the top but Gustin was there and the two made hard contact at the top of turn 2.
The result was Gustin suffering a broken rear-end while Thornton hooked the cushion and barrel-rolled several times before coming to a stop halfway down the banking. After a heated discussion between the all-star racers, both cars were too damaged to continue but neither driver was injured.
Dillard got around Ramirez on the restart, and pulled up to the rear bumper of Sanders but could never complete a pass for the lead. Ramirez grabbed the spot back a few laps later, only to relinquish second-place back to Dillard with 16 laps remaining.
After surviving 10 cautions, the 11th and final slow-down with nine laps to go did not deter Sanders from the biggest payday of his career as he drove to a four-car-length cushion at the checkered flag while Dillard settled for a $20,000 runner-up finish and Ramirez earned $10,000 for third in the 48-minute contest.
Dirt late model ace A.J. Diemel, who looked to be on his way to his first USMTS win on Thursday night before mechanical gremlins sidelined him, finished fourth in Saturday’s battle between the Best of the Best while Jason Hughes returned to the track with an impressive fifth-place run after starting the race in 22nd.
Cedar Lake Speedway legend Jimmy Mars saw his MB Customs chassis take the top two spots while he turned in a sixth-place effort in the 70-lapper.
VanderBeek bounced back to score seventh, Joey Jensen was eighth, Adam Hensel crossed the finish line ninth and Jake O’Neil rounded out the top 10 finishers.
All of the starters earned no less than $2,000 for taking the green flag.
After a week off to visit the car wash, pound out bent sheet metal and tighten every nut and bolt, the stars and cars of the USMTS return to action for a three-night excursion through Western Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Racing kicks off Thursday, June 28, at the Nobles County Speedway in Worthington, Minn., moves to the Brown County Speedway in Aberdeen, S.D., on Friday, June 29, and then wraps up on Saturday, June 30, at the Devils Lake Speedway in Crary, N.D.
To learn more about the United States Modified Touring Series, visit www.usmts.com online or call 515-832-7944. You can also like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usmts, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/usmts and Instagram at www.instagram.com/usmts or subscribe to our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/usmtstv. Keep up to speed with everything USMTS by joining our email list at www.usmts.com/subscribe.