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Payton Ryan excels at AMS despite hand injury

Photo by Derrick Mahone / Payton Ryan looks over his car before taking it on the track for a test drive during a recent practice session at the track.

Photo by Derrick Mahone / Payton Ryan looks over his car before taking it on the track for a test drive during a recent practice session at the track.

HAMPTON – It could have been easy for Payton Ryan to make excuses this season.

Or he could have just taken this season off at Thursday Thunder instead of racing each week between Atlanta Motor Speedway and his hometown track in Charlotte.

But, the Concord, N.C., native wasn’t looking for sympathy or excuses after racing this season with a broken left thumb injury.

With a chance at the Young Lions points championship, driving hurt was his only option to stay in the running for the title.

“I've been pretty pleased with my driving,” said Ryan, who was expected to have his brace removed on Wednesday. “It's been a little rough in Charlotte because of the higher car count.”

Ryan is out of the points race at both tracks, but he still wants to finish the year strong. This will be the final race in Atlanta on Thursday with a couple more in Charlotte without the restrictions of the brace.”

After injuring his thumb in a wreck at Charlotte in the All-Star Race, he had surgery and a cast the last eight weeks. Ryan's thumb got caught in the wheel in a crash.

“It has been difficult driving with just one hand,” he said. “I just wanted to keep going.”

This is his fifth year of racing, and third in the Legends division. Entering Thursday's final race, Ryan is in third place, 16 points out of the lead.

Friend and Charlotte native William Byron leads the Young Lions division with 871 points while Woodrow Mullis, a Brunswick native, is second with 858 points, which is 13 points out of the lead.

Ryan has three wins on the season, and at one point was leading the points standing early in the season.

“In the car, it feels pretty good,” Ryan said about his arm. “We taped up my wheel so I could get a little more padding on it, so I can grip it harder. But it’s mostly just my right arm that I’m using right now. I think once I get it (the cast) off, I’ll definitely be better.”

Regardless of Thursday's outcome, Ryan will have his best finish in three seasons of racing at AMS. In 2009, he finished 11th in the Bandits division and last season he was 11th in the Young Lions division.

The three wins this season are his only checkered flags in the grassroots racing series.

“I thought he has done well despite the injury,” said crew chief Doug Stevens. “He listens very well and does all the things you ask him to do. I think once the cast comes off he will be able to do some more things that will help him.”