BRITT — When It was over with the clock reading 1:47 a.m., Richie Gustin pulled into victory lane, his car looking like it had taken part in a demolition derby.
He had a hard time comprehending what had transpired. That was the prevailing feeling with many who watched the final few laps early Sunday morning during the Modified feature at Hancock County Speedway.
By the time it ended after a frantic final seven laps, Gustin stood in victory lane after winning the Night of 1,000 Stars with a stunned look on his face.
“I contemplated making a few laps and pulling in,” Gustin said.
He’s glad he didn’t.
It was a race dominated by Ryan Ruter, who again endured heartbreak in his search for a Night of 1,000 Stars victory as he broke an axle with seven laps remaining and a straightaway lead.
From that point, the Night of 1,000 Stars turned into a seven-lap battle of attrition.
Eight cars (25 started) finished the 50-lap race, many forced to pull off in the final circuits when drivers opted to do anything possible to reach the front.
It was a night that featured an 83-minute rain delay, turning a dry, slick race track into a sloppy, heavy track built for horsepower.
That was part of the reason two-thirds of the field weren’t around to see lap 50.
“It was a war of attrition,” Gustin said. “If you showed me the car now and asked if I won, I’d say no. Usually this race track is phenomenal. Tonight we were just dealt a hand with the weather.”
Gustin held off a bunch of beat up race cars during a green-white-checkered finish to beat Jeremy Mills and Troy Swearingen to the finish. Joel Rust and Corey Dripps rounded out the top five. Mills and Swearingen each started at the tail of the 25-car field.
The race appeared to be a walk for Ruter before his late-race trouble. From the time he reached the front, the feature turned into a battle for second.
And when Ruter exited, Benji LaCrosse inherited the lead. He held the top spot until he and Gustin came together with two laps remaining in Turn 2.
LaCrosse ended up sideways, bringing out the final yellow flag.
“I felt like if I could stick to the bottom of 1 and 2 I was all right,” Gustin said. “When I got to LaCrosse it kept getting tighter and tighter. Once I got underneath him, he was going to be hard pressed to run that middle line above me. He tried to drop me down, and that was the same thing I would have done.”