Ryan Mathews Floors It to Second Place at Michigan ARCA Rookie Scores Career-Best Finish With Late-Race Charge to the Front DENVER, NC (August 19, 2006) -- On lap 99 of the 100-lap ARCA RE/MAX Series' Hantz Group 200 at Michigan International...
Ryan Mathews Floors It to Second Place at Michigan
ARCA Rookie Scores Career-Best Finish With Late-Race Charge to the Front
DENVER, NC (August 19, 2006) -- On lap 99 of the 100-lap ARCA RE/MAX Series' Hantz Group 200 at Michigan International Speedway, a heated battle for the win erupted in contact. That allowed 26-year-old Ryan Mathews to jump into the third position behind new leaders Brent Sherman and teammate T.J. Bell. The caution flag waved to set up a restart where the green flag and white flag would wave simultaneously. Mathews would then have just one lap to go for his first-career ARCA win.
Just before the field went back to green for that final fateful lap, Mathews keyed his radio inside the number-22 ESR Dodge and told his team his strategy.
"She's gonna go right to the floor -- I am not lifting."
That plan worked to perfection. Mathews held the pedal to the metal and found himself in second by the third turn on the final lap. He remained in second when the checkered flag flew as the sun set on a Michigan Friday afternoon. It was his best-career ARCA finish in seven starts this season.
For some, the second-place finish for the rookie Mathews may be a surprise. For the driver, however, it was a feeling of satisfaction to be able to finish at the top of the field in the tough ARCA series.
"This feels really good because the last two races we've had a top-five car, but we haven't gotten that finish on paper at the end. Nashville was just a mechanical failure and at Gateway I made a mistake on a restart that cost me a better finish. This time I wasn't going to let myself make that mistake again.
"On the last restart I just put it to the wood and kept it on the bottom. It's a great turnaround after getting some damage on my car in practice on Thursday. Finishing second is just where I want to be. In my previous racing experience I was used to running in the top-five pretty consistently. It's just nice to be putting myself in that category in the ARCA Series now."
Mathews has grown leaps and bounds as a racecar driver since he first pulled into the MIS infield in June for the rookie's ARCA speedway-race debut. Mathews finished 18th that day, but Friday Mathews proved what he had been showing in just about every event he has entered this season with the Eddie Sharp Racing team -- that he was ready to contend for victories even at tracks where he may have struggled before.
"This ranks pretty high in my racing career, that's for sure. This run feels even better because this was the track that I struggled with the most. It just took me a while to get acclimated to this place the first time I came here in June because it took a completely different style of driving than I was used to. It took some time for me to be able to give some good feedback to the team, but now we are on top of our game.
"To accomplish this kind of finish where I was so much out of my element two months ago feels really good. This is the kind of track that you have to do well at if you want to make it to the next levels, so that's another reason that it feels so good to come out of MIS with a second-place finish."
Mathews' path to the runner-up finish was hardly a smooth one. In practice on Thursday, the ESR number-22 team had a good handle on their setup for the Friday's race. They decided to make a mock-qualifying run in the waning stages of practice. The car was fast as it went out to do a trial run, but another car on Mathews' inside cut a tire and slid across the number-22's nose. Mathews' machine suffered minor hood and fender damage, but the crew had the car looking pristine for Pork Pole qualifying on Thursday afternoon. Ryan set the 12th-quickest time in qualifying and the strong car that he showed early in practice was back for the race.
"We got a little dinged up in practice, but the guys did a great job getting the car fixed. We qualified 12th and I really wanted to keep my top-10 qualifying streak in tact, but 12th was still pretty good for us. We were pretty good right off the start. I had a great car early on, but it started getting tight on me as the race went on. The crew made some changes to free the car up on the first pit stop, but maybe a bad set of tires or something made the car get even tighter on the second run."
Mathews kept himself in the hunt by racing inside the top-10 as the laps wound down. In the final 10 laps, the young driver started his march to the head of the field. With seven laps to go, he was eighth. Two laps later, he took another spot. By lap 98, Mathews found himself in third. The next lap, Mathews' teammate at Eddie Sharp Racing, T.J. Bell, was in the lead when another driver slid up the track and into Bell's Dodge.
It was a tight squeeze, but Mathews cleared the crashing cars. Bell recovered and restarted on the final lap in second with Mathews right behind him in third. The one-lap sprint to the finish saw Mathews getting by Bell as the damage to Bell's car from the previous incident caused a slide up the racetrack.
"When T.J. and the other car got together, I thought I might have a shot to win the race. I knew that the leader was way ahead of me in, but I didn't know if a caution would come out or not. It was a little hairy for a while there because they got together and they started coming down the track right at me. I had two options, to go low or to go high. I went high and that was the right decision. In a one-lap restart to the checkers like that, it's hard to get up the momentum to catch a guy as fast as the leader was with clean air and no lapped traffic in front of him."
Mathews chased down the leader in the final corner, but ran out of time. Still, the second-place finish put a smile on Mathews' face that will hard to knock off, especially as he heads back to the track just about an hour from his boyhood home, The Milwaukee Mile (WI), for his next ARCA start on August 27th.
"I knew I had a top-five car for the end of the race and it showed today," said Mathews after the race. "T.J. had a great car and he probably had the best shot at the win late in the race and I hate that he had to be taken out like that. It would've been great being able to race with him for a good finish late in the race too. Now we'll go to Milwaukee, my home track, and try to do one spot better and get into victory lane there."
While Mathews and the Eddie Sharp Racing team look forward to Milwaukee, team owner Eddie Sharp can't wait to get to the historic one-mile racetrack based on the young driver's performance at Michigan.
"It feels awesome to see Ryan have such a great finish. The kid deserves this kind of finish. He's actually deserved a couple of top-three finishes already, but the luck wasn't there for him. Today it was and I'm very proud of Ryan. He drove a really smart race. He had a top-five car and his second-place finish just shows that you have to be close if you're going to have a shot for the win late in the race. He earned it today."