Shirley gets a break in Clarksville

Brian Shirley (3s) grabs the lead at Clarksville Speedway. (Photo Josh James)

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – In the lead since the green dropped with a fast car at the top and a second ahead. Payton Freeman was seven laps away from his first DIRTcar Summer Nationals Feature win.

And then a similar scenario came up again.

After losing the lead in traffic after starting on pole at Sycamore Speedway two weeks ago, Freeman was watching the winding traffic again with Brian Shirley hot on his heels Saturday night at Clarksville Speedway.

Determined to pull through and hold on to the lead, Freeman stuck his nose inside, but Thomas Hunziker’s No.38 didn’t give in.

The next turn, Freeman came down off the top and hooked it inside Hunziker in turns one and two. But again, he couldn’t make the pass. Behind him, Shirley had completely closed the gap and had no intention of waiting.

“I showed [Hunziker] that I was there two or three times,” Freeman said. “I thought he would walk away. I guess he didn’t get the point.

On the straight, Shirley poked her nose inside Freeman in a strong attempt to take the lead and held it into turns three and four with hard sliding work to pass both Freeman and Hunziker .

“[Freeman] whoa-ed up in the bend one behind [Hunziker] and didn’t get a good run,” Shirley said. “I went to the bottom and had a very good race.”

As Freeman cleared Hunziker behind him, Shirley took the lead and immediately grabbed the front, opening up an advantage that Freeman couldn’t overcome by the checkerboard. Shirley had taken the lead, the win and the $10,000 check out of reach for the Hell Tour rookie and crossed the finish line for her third Summer Nationals victory of the season.

“I’ve come all the way to [Freeman] where I knew I was going to bump him a little bit, but not enough to knock him out of the race or anything stupid,” Shirley said of her head move. “Just one of those things where the timing worked out for us and we were able to get the job done.”

Back in the pits, Freeman was understandably downcast.

“I try to have everyone race with respect, whether we’re turning or passing for position,” Freeman said of his approach to passing slower cars. “But there’s no point in going out there and tearing up a bunch of stuff and pulling yourself out to win the race.”

Freeman took the green right inside of Shirley on lap one and got the jump, which allowed him to lead the first 33 laps around the quarter mile on red dirt. Turns out that may have been part of Shirley’s plan all along.

“Initially, I wasn’t super worried even though [Freeman] got me because the winding traffic here is so hectic,” Shirley said. “I knew that, so I was like, ‘Even if he takes you initially, get right behind him and try to make sure you can be there to capitalize on something like this.

“I’ve been in quite a few races here, and I’m sure you can also see that doubled traffic always comes in [play].”

While it may have been one of the most bitter finishes of his young career, Freeman did something few other Summer Nationals rookies have on their first attempts in this grueling summer time. He knows it and will build on it as the second half of the tour begins next week.

“As frustrating as it sounds, we have speed,” Freeman said. “We are improving and getting closer. We’re going to keep our heads up and keep going and we’re going to win one of these races before it’s over.

The end:

Feature (50 laps): 1. 3S-Brian Shirley[2]; 2. F1-Payton Freeman[1]; 3. 212-Josh Putnam[7]; 4. 32-Bobby Pierce[3]; 5. 15-Christian hanger[4]; 6. 25-Jason Feger[8]; 7. 14G-Joe Godsey[5]; 8. 81E-English Tanner[9]; 9. 18-David Seibers[11]; 10. 30-Mark Voigt[17]; 11. 14R-Jeff Roth[16]; 12. 31AUS-Paul Stubber[15]; 13. 38-Thomas Hunziker[14]; 14. J8-Jadon Frame[6]; 15. 26M-Brent McKinnon[13]; 16. 27-Joe Denby[12]; 17. 18C – Matt Cooper[18]; 18. 16-Brandon Tibaldi[21]; 19. 15F-Richard Frost[20]; 20. 21-Billy Moyer Jr.[10]; 21. 4D-Doug Tye[19]; 22. 23NZ-Mick Quin[22]

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