MASON CITY — When Cade Dillard began competing regularly on half-mile race tracks there was a learning curve.

The driver from Robeline, Louisiana, grew up racing on short bull rings in the South.

There’s no need to question his ability to wheel a race car around bigger tracks any more, and it’s fair to throw him in the mix of contenders to win The Hunt for the Casey’s Cup, the United States Modified Touring Series’ playoff that determines a national champion.

Dillard came to Mason City Motor Speedway third in the playoff standings Sunday night. When he left, he had put a dent in Jason Hughes’ lead.

Dillard slid by Hughes, the pole sitter and early race leader, on a restart before the halfway point and never relinquished the lead as he was the class of the field on his way to a $3,000 feature victory.

“I grew up on those quarter-mile race tracks, so this is a lot different than what I am used to,” Dillard said after beating Rodney Sanders, Zack VanderBeek, Johnny Scott and Hughes to the finish. “Just getting out and doing it more and more is what helps the most.”

Dillard appeared comfortable from the start Sunday. He started fourth and quickly shot into a position to put pressure on Hughes. And when Hughes bobbled entering Turn 1 on a restart, Dillard darted to the front.

Despite numerous cautions in the 32-lap main event, Dillard excelled on restarts and was never challenged in the final circuits.

That doesn’t mean he was comfortable, however.

“You are just a sitting duck out front,” he said. “You just hope you are running the right line. In this series you can’t get hand signals, so you are just kind of out there riding.”

Dillard isn’t just driving these days. He’s thriving. In the first four Cup races, Dillard had three top-five finishes. Now he has a win to go along with those solid runs.

He said this season has exceeded his expectations.

“We got a new team, and it’s actually been beyond our plan, which was just to go out and win a couple races,” Dillard said. “We wanted to be competitive in The Hunt, and we’ve done that.”

Breaking through: Hobby Stock driver Scott Dobel’s 2016 season has featured a little bit of everything. Sunday may have been the high water mark. The veteran driver held off a late-race charge by Weston Koop to win his first race of the year at Mason City Motor Speedway.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Dobel said. “Broke a lot of parts and fought a lot of battles. Peaks and valleys, man, Peaks and valleys.”

To find victory lane, Dobel had to hold off the driver who has been the best in the class at MCMS in 2016.

“I knew he was coming up quick,” Dobel said. “Once I saw his nose I knew I had to part it on the tires in 1 and 2. That brought back memories of the old Mason City.”

SUNDAY’S RESULTS

USMTS – Cade Dillard, Rodney Sanders, Zack VanderBeek, Johnny Scott, Jason Hughes, Brad Dierks, Josh Angst, Scott Drake, Mike Jergens, Jacob Bleess, Joe Duvall, Dan Ebert, Brock Bauman, Dereck Ramirez, Stormy Scott, Mike Densberger, J.D. Auringer, Lance Town, Jett Big Eagle, Masen Big Eagle, Kevin Stoa, Daniel Hilsabeck, Lucas Schott, Jesse Sobbing.

Stock Cars – Phil Holtz, Mitch Hovden, Jesse Brown, Joe Willier, Steve Jackson, Blake Cole, Calvin Lange, Pat Graham, Shawn Wilson, Scotty Anderson, Kevin Donlan, Wyatt Medlin, Brandon Hare, Kevin Opheim, Cody Frerichs, Andy Stinson, Dan Feltus, Josh Zieman

Hobby Stocks – Scott Dobel, Weston Koop, Andrew Borchardt, Austin Jahnz, Zac Smith, Cory Gansen, Spencer Cole, Tanner Green, Blaine Hanson, Derek Willert, Jim Lokenvitz, Chris Hovden, Tyler Pospisil, Jonathon Trunkhill, Jay Servantez, Chanse Hollatz.

B Modifieds – Dan Hovden, Jared Boumeester, Taylor Ausrud, Alex Zwanziger, Dan Christopher, Nate Chodur, Kyle Germundson, Levi Chipp, Anderw Bleess, Matthew Looft, Dustin Kruse, Josh Appel, Nick Wagner, Brandon Hare, Coby Bangasser, Travis Greenfield, Greg Barnett, Levi Carlberg, Autum Anderson.

Tuners – Devin Jones, Oliver Monson, Kyle Balik, AJ Myott, Hunter Benson, Chris Wilson, Ken Winkowitsch, Nick Hamlin, Jamie Tapp, Mitch Balik, David Balik, Taylor Fields, Nathan Miller.

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