You would think a driver would get tired of ending up on the wrong side of history.
But all Dustin Warlow could do Thursday night was laugh.
Ricky Hardin beat Warlow to the line by 0.008 seconds in the second-closest finish in Lionheart Retro Series presented by DMLC Racing Channel history, capturing his first career win in the Turn Racing 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
“Can you believe it?” Hardin exclaimed. “I just won in Lionheart man. Can you believe it?”
Hardin overtook Wardlow during a mad scramble on the final lap, a shootout after a caution with five laps remaining threatened to end the race under yellow.
Wardlow dominated the night, leading a race-high 40 laps, but Hardin said he had tested his race-winning move a few times and then put it in his pocket, confident he could use the outside to get around Wardlow on the final lap.
He just needed the opportunity.
“I did not want to be trapped on the bottom,” Hardin said. “I was trying not to tip my hand. I was feathering the throttle a few times up top because I didn’t want him to see how strong it really was up there. As soon as I saw we were going to have a one lap shootout, I said ‘I just won.’”
Wardlow could only laugh, congratulating Hardin as soon as the duo crossed the line. The Bakersfield, Calif. driver known affectionately as the Candy Man, an ode to his sponsor Dewar’s Candy, was genuinely thrilled for Hardin, despite coming up short in a photo finish once again.
“I felt really good up in the third lane actually,” said Wardlow, who also lost the third-closest race in series history to Adam Blocker at Pocono Raceway in 2018. The margin of victory in that race was 0.010. “I didn’t want to really be on the bottom there, but I knew I had to be there at the end. I couldn’t be more thrilled for Ricky. He drove so good and gave me just enough room. That’s racing. He did it right, he did it clean. It was a good race, I had fun and I laughed out loud. Not sure I’ve ever done that before.”
Bob Mikes finished third, left to sit back and marvel at the battle in front of him and hope for a mistake.
“I didn’t think I’d still be in the race after I had a car appear ahead of me before we started,” Mikes said. Matt Huston spun on the initial start, and Mikes narrowly avoided the rookie. “I can’t shift these cars through the gears. That was the difference at the end. I tried to make it exciting.”
Hardin’s win proved a popular one. The South Carolina native was an original member of the Retro Series and also competed in other Lionheart Racing Series powered by HyperX series until taking some time off to raise his family.
A full-time return for Hardin and his HardInTheWall teammate Tommy Rhyne has not been glamorous, but both have shown speed and captured recent podiums, leading to optimism heading into Michigan. That optimism proved valid after the race.
“That was the most intense racing I’ve ever been involved with in my life,” Hardin said. “What a freaking race. We were white knuckling it a lot in that race. I told you last week when we finished second that I was going to go out here and win this race, and we did it. We did it.”
The race was slowed by a record six cautions, although iRacing’s new quickie yellow feature proved beneficial for all but Wardlow. Just 18 yellow flap laps were run.
17 of the 29 cars to start the event finished.
Sage Karam was involved in an early accident, and seemed destined to all but fall out of the championship hunt, but defending series champion and current points leader Ryan Otis was caught up in the final crash while running inside the top five, relegating him to an 18th and keeping Karam within striking range with four rounds remaining.
The next three events take place on road courses, starting with a trip to the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the Thumbs Up, Cancer Down Grand Prix of Spa. The race can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network and Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST on Thursday, October 15.