For 156 laps, the race was Alex Saunders’ to lose.
Dustin Wardlow had other plans.
The Candy Man, as he’s affectionately known, played the tire game perfect and roared from eight seconds back in third to the lead with 10 laps remaining to win the Tower Rentals 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Thursday night.
It was the second career Lionheart Retro Series presented by HPP Simulation win for Wardlow, and his first in 2018.
“Everything broke right,” Wardlow said from victory lane. “I’m still hyperventilating.”
Wardlow passed on tires on both of his pit stops, and a tight car that made for hard passing suddenly found speed late in the final run.
Saunders chose to take tires on his final stop, fearful that that push and lapped traffic he had been battling would cause the tires to fall off too much.
“The car wasn’t feeling right towards the end of the first stint,” Wardlow said. “On the last stint I think I just found the line that worked for the state that the tires were in and everything just worked out perfectly.
“I was totally surprised. I’m shocked.”
Michael Goodman followed Wardlow around Saunders, taking second after hounding the championship contender all race.
“For whatever reason halfway through the race, I lost the low line,” Goodman said. “That just made passing cars a complete nightmare, and when I caught Alex, I zigged when I should’ve zagged, and that was the wrong move. I can’t complain, I finished second.”
Saunders was disappointed in the end result, even more so with points leader Adam Blocker never factoring into the race for the win, settling for sixth.
“First time all season, and it killed me,” Saunders said. “The second stint I was flying at the end, but the car was getting uncomfortably loose so I decided I didn’t want to triple stint them, and I just had no speed…nothing.”
The race featured just one caution, on lap 5, when Greg West and Dan Geren ran out of room racing for fourth. Geren hooked hard into the wall, ending his race.
Saunders closed the gap ever so slightly on Blocker, who leads by 33 points. Wardlow sits third, 72 points behind the leader.
The win comes at a good time for Wardlow, as the Lionheart Retro Series presented by HPP Simulation heads to its crown jewel event, The Simpit 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Wardlow is the defending winner of the event, which can be seen live on the Global SimRacing Channel at 10:35 p.m. EST on Thursday, September 6.