DELAWARE, Ont. – He may be a part-time competitor on the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series, but Pete Shepherd III sure makes the most of his opportunities.
Shepherd took the lead from J.R. Fitzpatrick on Lap 150 and held on through three restarts over the final 50 circuits to take the checkered flag in Saturday's EMCO 200 at Delaware Speedway.
The triumph marked Shepherd's fourth career victory. The Brampton, Ont., native has found Victory Lane four years in a row now, despite making just 17 starts during that span. However, going up against the full-time teams wasn't quite as hard as it appears given the right circumstances according to Shepherd.
"Tonight, it really wasn't that bad. The car was awesome," said the driver of the No. 7 National Exhaust/Diamond Material Handling Dodge. "When you have a car like that, you just need to make it to the end of the race. We knew if we could stay out of trouble early on that we could race for the win at the end."
It also marked Shepherd's first win at Delaware, where his previous best finish in three starts on the venerable half-mile oval was fifth on two occasions.
Shepherd, who led a race-high 74 laps, had to deal with several challengers down the stretch, but none more so than Fitzpatrick.
"J.R. is one of the best in the business and he definitely had me concerned on those restarts," Shepherd said. "He raced me clean and I want to thank him for that. He and I have a mutual respect for each other. It was a great night."
Fitzpatrick settled for second place as once again a win on an oval eluded the championship contender. Seven of his eight series career wins have come on road courses and his lone win on a circle track came in July 2007 at Motoplex Speedway in Vernon, B.C. Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick and the No. 84 Equipment Express Chevrolet team was upbeat at the end of the night after a rough go in the season opener produced a finish near the rear of the field.
"It's not exactly what we came here for, but in a way it was," Fitzpatrick said. "We were pretty far back in the points, so second is pretty good and we led a lap (to pick up the one-point bonus)."
He echoed Shepherd's sentiments on the final laps.
"I could've punted him, but I have too much respect for him to do that," Fitzpatrick stated. "Down the stretch his car got better and better. I can't thank my guys enough for a great race car tonight."
Steve Mathews crossed the line in third for a series career-best finish after being among the leaders all evening.
"We didn't have the car at the start, but we had some adjustability built into it and we were able to use that to our advantage," said the pilot of the No. 15 Bill Mathews Motors Ford.
At one point late in the race Mathews found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle with D.J. Kennington and Ron Beauchamp Jr. on a track not exactly built for that type of racing. Beauchamp seemingly came out the loser in that battle and made his feelings known after the race by confronting Mathews.
"To Beauchamp, I have to say sorry about that, but I was in the middle and along for the ride," Mathews stated. "There wasn't much I could do."
Kennington, who was in search of his fourth Canadian Tire Series win on his home track, finished fourth followed by Martin Roy in fifth. Noel Dowler, Larry Jackson, Hugo Vannini, Dave Connelly and Joey McColm brought home the remainder of the top-10 finishers in the second race on the 2013 slate.
Kennington took over the top spot in the point standings after L.P. Dumoulin experienced mechanical problems early in the race and limped to a 19th-place finish. Jeff Lapcevich is second six points in back of the leader followed by Jason Hathaway in third just seven tallies off the pace.
The EMCO 200 will air on TSN on Sunday, June 23 at 1 p.m. ET and on RDS2 on Monday, July 8 at 9 p.m.
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series will return to action with the Clarington 200 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on June 22 in Bowmanville, Ont.