Modified veteran Matt Hirschman made a rare trip down South on Sunday afternoon for an early-season test against the seasoned veterans of the SMART Modified Tour at Caraway Speedway.
The day proved to be flawless for Hirschman, who posted the fastest lap in qualifying, led the most laps and passed Burt Myers for the win coming to the checkered flag after giving up the lead for fresh tires with 30 laps remaining.
“We got a little behind,” Hirschman said about the end of the race. “We had just enough time there at the end for what was a crazy finish really. That whole last lap was pretty wild and exciting. ”
Despite qualifying first, Hirschman was relegated to the the seventh starting position following an invert that put 2000 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte on the pole.
Hirschman elected to conserve his equipment during the opening 30-lap stage at Caraway while Jason Myers passed Labonte and took the field to the competition caution.
Jeremy Gerstner took control of the race on the ensuing restart but would soon give way to Hirschman, who led the next 30 laps until a caution from a Jon Kieven spin brought him, Labonte and several others to pit road.
Jeff Fultz, who had stopped earlier in the race for fresh tires, led the race briefly before Tim Brown took over on Lap 77. A slow leak on Brown’s right rear allowed Burt Myers to rapid close in and take the lead with ten laps to go.
Burt was forced to overcome a trailing arm issue earlier in the race, but had now found himself in the top spot late in the event. A string of late-race cautions meant Burt had to hold off both Hirschman and Labonte on old tires to claim the win.
Once Hirschman dispatched Labonte on the final restart, he spent the next three laps working on Myers’ back bumper. A bad exit from Myers in Turn 2 on the final lap gave Hirschman the opportunity he needed to muscle Myers out of the way to win the SMART Modified Tour opener, all while Myers narrowly held on for the second position.
Burt did not believe his car deserved to be in a position to win after the issues he endured earlier in the race, but he attributed his second place run to mistakes he made on the final lap and not the aggressive maneuver pulled by Hirschman for the win.
“If you look at the grand scheme of things, we probably had a 10th place car today,” Burt said. “The issues in the rear end meant we had to change our strategy. I knew Matt was better than I was off the corner, and the last thing I needed to do was let him under me off of [Turn] 2. I drove it in too hard and the car washed me off the bottom and then I had to play defense.”
With many differing strategies going on between his competitors, Hirschman thought that pitting for tires late in the race would have eliminated any chance he had of a win. He considers himself fortunate that the final laps played out in his favor and that he was able to drive his #60 Modified into victory lane with minimal damage.
“There were too many cautions in the middle of the race, and I didn’t know if we would get them at the end,” Hirschman said. “The ones we got at the end brought us back there, but that’s why you run the race. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
Hirschman said that his busy racing schedule in the northeast will prevent him from running most of the SMART Modified Tour events in 2021, but he is leaving open the possibility of returning to claim another checkered flag at some point during the year.
SMART Modified Tour Feature Results: