Strong Qualifying Effort and 100 Laps of Learning Lead to 13th-Place Finish at MIS DENVER, NC (June 19, 2006) -- Ryan Mathews grew up racing around the short tracks of the Midwest. Most of these tracks were a half-mile or shorter in...
Strong Qualifying Effort and 100 Laps of Learning Lead to 13th-Place Finish at MIS
DENVER, NC (June 19, 2006) -- Ryan Mathews grew up racing around the short tracks of the Midwest. Most of these tracks were a half-mile or shorter in distance, but they have produced some of the best stock car racers of all time. Ryan Mathews is on his way to becoming an elite driver, but if he wants to get to that point, he'd have to master the speedways like Michigan International Speedway.
In his first ARCA RE/MAX Series big-track experience, Mathews passed every test thrown at him during Friday's Hantz Group 200, finishing 13th. Mathews qualified an impressive seventh on Thursday and fought through an ill-handling car to capture his career-best finish in just his second start.
"I like to set some pretty high goals for myself, so I wanted a top-10 finish and I would've really liked a top-five, but finishing 13th was still a good day for us," said Mathews. "The guys work really hard on this car and they did a great job both at the shop and at the track. If I can come out to Michigan for my first speedway race and finish 13th with an ill-handling racecar, I know I can run in the top five every time out with a good racecar."
The strong top-15 finish was hard-earned after Mathews and his Eddie Sharp Racing #22 team fought handling problems all race weekend long, starting with practice on Thursday morning. Mathews' car was fast, but wasn't handling the way the 25-year-old wanted it to in the sole practice session. The ESR team made some radical changes before time trials, but their hard work was rewarded with an impressive sixth-place qualifying effort.
"We had some issues in practice. The suspension was binding up in the car. We spent pretty much all of practice trying to figure out the problem. Once we did, we had a good car for qualifying. We changed to a stiffer right-front spring and we taped it up for qualifying. We put a good lap down in qualifying, and we started up front."
At the start of the race, Mathews immediately noticed that his car was not quite the same as it was in practice. Without the aid of a caution flag early in the race, Mathews had to make the best of a tight racecar before being able to come to the attention of his ESR pit crew on a green-flag pit stop. Mathews made a second stop under caution later in the race and by the time the checkered flag waved, he was turning fast lap times and making numerous passes for position.
"Once we took the tape off the nose after qualifying, the car got really tight on us in the center of the corner and off. You can't have a tight racecar, especially at a big place like this where you have to get a lot of momentum coming off the corner going down the long straightaways. When you're pushing, you're just scrubbing time off and you're not in the gas.
"We did just about everything we could do to make the car better on that second pit stop. Wedge, track bar, air pressures...we did it all to get it to free up. If we could've started the race where we were with the car at the end, we would've had an even better finish."
After his second and final pit stop with 25 laps remaining, Mathews restarted from the 17th position and started working his way through traffic. With several late-race passes, Mathews rallied to 13th to take his best finish in ARCA competition after finishing 18th in his debut at Toledo last month. With a strong run despite an ill-handling car, car owner Eddie Sharp has high hopes for Mathews' runs in the #22 machine later in the year.
"I don't think we gave Ryan everything he needed to win the race today," said Sharp. "He's a better driver than his finish will show. We started too tight, but we worked all day on loosening him up. He got some valuable experience out there today and when we go back here, we'll be ready to do a lot better. He's gonna be good, that's for sure."
Mathews' next start behind the wheel of the ESR #22 comes in the Kansas Lottery $200 Grand at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, July 1st.