CHICO, CA (September 6) -- Jeff Shepard is having the time of his life as he races through the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series' California tour like wildfire. The Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year candidate passed Jonathan Allard early in the...
CHICO, CA (September 6) -- Jeff Shepard is having the time of his life as he races through the Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series' California tour like wildfire.
The Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year candidate passed Jonathan Allard early in the 29th lap Thursday to win the Preliminary Feature on opening night of the 48th Annual Gold Cup Race of Champions. The $5,000 victory was Shepard's fourth in the series' last nine feature races.
"I like California," the Upperco, MD, racer yelled to the capacity crowd at Silver Dollar Speedway. "I've never done anything like this before (put together such an outstanding streak); that's why I'm having so much fun. My crew's been doing a great job, everything's felt good and nothing's fallen off the car. I'm just so excited, I don't really know how to describe it."
Shepard got the first preliminary program off to a fast start, breaking the single-lap record Pennzoil World of Outlaws Series points leader Mark Kinser set at Silver Dollar Speedway 13 1/2 years ago. Shepard drove Guy Forbrook's #5 Wirtgen Maxim around the high-banked, 1/4-mile oval in 11.477 seconds, an average speed of 78.418 m.p.h. He finished third in the First O'Reilly Heat Race and followed Jason Meyers, Jason Statler, Kinser and Johnny Rodriguez across the finish line in the Channellock Dash for the right to start the 30-lap feature inside the third row.
Meyers, who won his fifth Channellock Dash of the season, drove DOCC Motorsports' #20 Eagle Raceway Maxim into the lead as the green flag fell in the Preliminary Feature. Allard, who started outside the third row, raced past Shepard and Kinser early in the first lap to take over fourth place.
Danny Wood lost eighth place two laps later when the #21W Pepsi Avenger turned sideways in turn four, allowing nine cars to race past.
Meyers was six car-lengths ahead of Statler when they entered lapped traffic five laps into the race. Statler caught Meyers in dense lapped traffic two laps later.
Statler hit Meyers's rear bumper as the leaders scrambled to avoid Jim VanLare, who spun in front of them in turn four late in the eighth lap. Although the collision loosened the front wing of Statler's #00, he and Meyers retained their positions.
Allard continued his run toward the front three laps after the green flag replaced the yellow, taking the inside line through the second corner to pass Rodriguez for third place.
Meyers was a straightaway ahead of Statler when he caught the back-markers again late in the 13th lap. A driveline malfunction caused Meyers to stop in turn two the next time around, however, and Statler restarted ahead of the 24-car field.
Allard took full advantage of Meyers' misfortune as the race resumed, passing Statler for the lead high in turn two. Kinser and two-time Gold Cup champion Andy Hillenburg raced past Rodriguez for fourth and fifth place during the next two laps.
Allard was 12 car-lengths ahead of Shepard when he entered lapped traffic during the 19th lap. Kinser won a back-stretch drag race with Statler to take over third place two laps later.
Wood took the leaders out of lapped traffic late in lap 23 when he spun in the second corner. Hillenburg passed Statler within a lap after the green flag replaced the yellow, steering his #2 Luxaire J&J into the low groove between turns three and four to take over fourth place.
Only 1 2/3 laps remained when Shepard took the lead from Allard deep in the second corner. Shepard, who also won the First Preliminary Feature at the Harvest Classic a week earlier, took the checkered flag with three car-lengths to spare.
"I was looking at the lap counter there on that last caution and saw we only had seven laps to go," Shepard said. "I'd been taking my time trying to be patient, but I figured 'it's now or never.' I just thank God it was a safe race and nobody got hurt."
Kinser held off the hard-charging Hillenburg for third place. Joey Saldana finished in fifth place, ahead of Statler, Peter Murphy, Johnny Herrera, 17th-starting Andy Forsberg and Eric Rossi.
Steve Kinser, who has won nine Gold Cup championships, drove his #11 Quaker State Maxim past three cars to finish 11th. Rodriguez was disqualified for losing his muffler late in the race.
The field was split for the prestigious, $148,575 event. Approximately 40 more sprinters will race in Friday's second preliminary program and line up by points in Saturday's feature races.