Hughes Returns To Winning Form
GREENWOOD, Neb. – Jason Hughes scored a come-from-behind victory Friday night after he outdueled Ryan Gustin over the final dozen laps on opening night at I-80 Speedway’s second annual Silver Dollar Nationals.
Hughes has struggled over the past couple of weeks while Gustin was racking up five straight wins coming into the 21st USMTS National Championship Series tilt of the season, but the 37-year-old from Watts, Okla., was on his game Friday night.
Gustin started the 40-lap Swan Energy “A” Main from the outside of the front row, but it was polesitter Jeremy Payne taking control at the drop of the green flag. Payne’s reign was short-lived, however, as Gustin blasted by to lead lap 5.
Two laps later, Rodney Sanders snuck past Payne for second but ‘The Rocket’ was unable to reel in ‘The Reaper’ and the gap between the two 21-year-olds expanded over the next 13 laps until the race’s first yellow flag waved.
A flawless restart gave Gustin another big cushion as the field went back to green flag racing while Payne slipped underneath Sanders to regain the second position. Hughes also found the low groove to his liking and followed Payne by Sanders one lap later as Dereck Ramirez and Terry Phillips followed close behind in a battle for fifth.
With 25 laps complete, Hughes moved around Payne for second. Gustin, meanwhile, had his sights set on a career-best sixth straight USMTS triumph but his advantage disappeared for a second time when the caution lights lit up the 4/10-mile clay oval for a second time on lap 27.
Back under green it was evident that Hughes was going to give Gustin all he could handle for the last 13 laps. With Hughes finding his rhythm on the bottom, Gustin continued to run from the high side to the middle and the pair did not disappoint the packed house looking on.
Hughes edged ahead of Gustin to lead lap 31, but Gustin fought back to lead by a nose the next time around. With 33 laps in the books, Hughes crossed the line first again as they raced side by side under flagstand.
While Gustin searched for a better line in each corner, Hughes consistently rolled around the bottom and held on over the final seven laps to beat Gustin to the finish line by .095 second and register his fifth USMTS National Championship Series win of the 2012 campaign.
Hughes’ 110th career USMTS triumph was worth $4,000 and kept him within striking distance of Gustin in the $30,000-to-win points battle. Sanders, who currently sits second in the standings and leads the USMTS Casey’s Cup Series points, finished third while Terry Phillips snared fourth with Chris Brown passing eight cars en route to a fifth-place finish.
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