Toledo Debut a Learning Experience for Ryan Mathews Young Driver Races in Top-10 Before Late-Race Bad Luck Relegates Him to 18th DENVER, NC (May 22, 2006) -- Ryan Mathews had May 21st circled on his calendar for months. His 2006 ARCA RE/MAX...
Toledo Debut a Learning Experience for Ryan Mathews
Young Driver Races in Top-10 Before Late-Race Bad Luck Relegates Him to 18th
DENVER, NC (May 22, 2006) -- Ryan Mathews had May 21st circled on his calendar for months. His 2006 ARCA RE/MAX Series debut in the Hantz Group 200 presented by Federated Auto Parts at Toledo Speedway was the focus of Mathews' entire winter and spring and the experience was worth the wait. Mathews raced inside the top-10 for much of Sunday afternoon's event before becoming a victim of another driver's impatience late in the race, relegating him to a 18th-place finish.
Although the finishing result was not indicative of the run that Mathews had earlier in the race, the 25-year-old driver was not about to let his late incidents ruin his first ARCA experience.
"Overall I was happy with the way things went this weekend," said Mathews. "We were fast right off the trailer; we started a little deeper than we wanted, but we still were able to race inside the top-10 for much of the race. We met our goals for the weekend and I'm very proud of the effort that all the guys on the Eddie Sharp Racing team put forth this weekend."
Mathews certainly has a lot to be proud of beyond the hard work of his ESR crew. >From the time that the team unloaded at the track, Mathews was atop the speed charts. Mathews finished Saturday's practice session with the fifth fastest time, giving him plenty of optimism for qualifying later that afternoon and for the race on Sunday.
"We went straight to the top of the speed chart and stayed there for quite a while," said Mathews. "We just worked on making sure it was good on long runs, but each session was only 10 laps long, so it was hard to get a handle on long runs in those few laps.
"We focused mainly on a race setup in practice and we were fast enough to not need to really worry about qualifying trim in practice. When it came time to qualify, several cars crashed during their laps which really messed up the track. The biggest crash happened about four cars before I went out and that put a bunch of oil and trash on the track. The track was pretty skaty right around where he crashed and the track was pretty slick in general. I was expecting a top-10 qualifying run, but we fell a little short by qualifying 13th, but we were still pleased to be starting up front."
The race went perfectly early on for Mathews and the #22 team. Mathews found himself just outside the top-10 for the first half of the race before making his way as high as eighth with just 30 laps to go. A myriad of late-race cautions kept Mathews running with the leaders, but a late incident cost him the top-10 run.
"When I realized that we were still inside the top-10, I was reminding myself that if I just stay consistent, then we'll leave my ARCA debut with a really strong finish. The car went away a bit late in the race, but we were still running 12th with about 20 to go when Bobby Gerhart and another car got tangled and blocked the track. I got off the throttle and the guy behind me just punted me from behind. It bent up the car a little bit and it killed my track position.
"Losing the track position really hurt us. After I got spun the first time, I restarted in about 16th when I got punted by the same guy going into turn one on the white-flag lap. It was frustrating, but that's how short track racing goes sometimes, even in a major series like the ARCA RE/MAX Series. All in all, though, the entire weekend was a great opportunity for me and I can't thank Eddie Sharp and all the ESR guys for this opportunity to run such a competitive car."
Despite the late-race misfortunes, Mathews was able to hold his head high after his ARCA debut. He and the entire ESR #22 team left Toledo knowing that they are capable of top-10 finishes, which is exactly what team owner Eddie Sharp knows is within their reach.
"I'm very proud of Ryan and how well he ran all weekend in Toledo," said Sharp. "We have a lot of confidence in Ryan and when he tested there last week, he was fast and he backed it up at the track this weekend. He got a lot of laps on the track and even though these ARCA cars were new to him, he looked more like a crafty veteran than a young rookie out there. I think that when Ryan gets to Michigan for his next race, he'll be even stronger and with a little more luck we'll be right there with the leaders again."
Mathews' next start behind the wheel of the ESR #22 comes in the Hantz Group 200 at Michigan International Speedway on Friday, June 16th.