New Hampshire Motor Speedway might as well be renamed Candyland.
Dustin Wardlow took the lead with 20 laps to go and held off early race favorite Marc Cohn to win the Tower Rentals 175 Thursday night.
It was the second consecutive win for Wardlow at NHMS in the Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker.
“Cross your fingers and stay off the wall,” Wardlow joked when asked why he’s been so good at the Magic Mile. “I don’t know, but I’m liking it, whatever it is.”
Known as the Candy Man - after his longtime sponsor Dewar’s Candy - the Bakersfield, Calif. driver spent most of the race chasing Cohn, who led a race-high 118 laps from the pole.
But after green flag stops, and while battling back through off-strategy cars, Wardlow took advantage of Cohn’s mistake exiting turn two and rocketed past on lap 138. Wardlow inherited the lead when the caution flew with 21 laps remaining and the leaders hit pit lane for fuel.
“That whole race was about trying to stay within half a second,” Wardlow said. “And then everything just kinda broke my way again with the traffic.”
Cohn couldn’t help but feel dejected despite his second-place finish and strong points night.
“I did everything I could with lapped traffic,” Cohn said. “I got held up for a while and it was costing me time, I made a mistake forcing the move and went high and that ultimately cost me the lead. Driver error.”
Big Joe Hassert sliced his way through the field over the final 40 laps, moving up from outside the top five to the podium in the final 40 laps.
“I got a little happy on the loud pedal (on the final restart),” Hassert said. “I tried to time out Dustin and swung and missed. All the sudden, there was Aaron. It was a good battle.”
Aaron Morgan and Scott Holmes rounded out the top five.
The race saw the caution flag fly seven times for 25 laps, including the final yellow with three laps remaining. The race-ending wreck had major championship implications.
Ryan Otis, the points leader and on a run of seven consecutive top five finishes, went tumbling down the front straight after Holmes pushed up the track and into him in a battle for fifth.
Otis finished 19th, his worst effort of the season.
As a result, the championship battle tightened up.
Otis leads Wardlow by 100 points. Sage Karam, who missed the event while racing in the NTT IndyCar Series event in Toronto, sits third, just four points behind Wardlow. Cohn jumped up to fourth, another five behind Karam.
The Lionheart Retro Series presented by ButtKicker heads back to the road and a doubleheader week with its sister series, the Lionheart IndyCar Series presented by First Medical Equipment, in the rolling hills of Alabama.
The Minus 273 Grand Prix of Barber is scheduled for Thursday, July 25 and can be seen live on the iRacing eSports Network at 10:35 p.m. EST, with Global SimRacing Channel on the call.
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