As NAPA Super DIRT Week XLIV continues on, the number of chances to get a Moody Mile win dwindles. Jimmy Phelps, a two-time Syracuse 200 fast qualifier, had never won a feature at the New York State Fairgrounds. That all changed Saturday as the 40 year-old was victorious Salute to the Troops 150 for the DIRTcar 358 Modifieds.
On a track surface that saw constant action since 8 a.m. due to rain the previous day, passing was at a premium. The race potentially needed to be won in the pits as a result from strategy. That’s what Phelps, who started eighth, and the Heinke Baldwin Racing team decided to do when a caution flew on lap 39.
“With this 358 deal we’ve watched it enough to understand it’s all track position,” Phelps told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We felt that from where we were starting and what kind of fuel mileage we were getting, that we really needed to do something out of the box. It could have failed badly. We could’ve gotten wrecked on pit road or in the back of the pack there for the 25 laps we were running around back there, but it worked perfect.”
A rule was in affect during the 150 mile distance that teams were required to pit at least once after the lap 50 mark. After filling the car with fuel prior to that mark they chose to come down pit road when virtually the entire field did on lap 61, stopped in the pit, and immediately took off. There were some discrepancies from other competitors around whether he came to a complete stop, but Phelps concluded that the strategy won them the race.
“The guys got me in and out and we were able to find a clean hole to make our pit stop and get stopped quick but not get boxed in,” Phelps summarized. “That was most important.”
Billy Dunn was the fast qualifier and early leader, but felt that the track conditions and mandatory pit stop did not play in the favor for him or another top competitor that was the two-time defending winner of this event.
“It was just amazing to be back in traffic and what it did to change the handling in your car,” Dunn explained. “Clean air means so much on this track. The pit rules kind of put me and Brett (Hearn) in a box. We both had to wait until lap 50 to pit. Being the leaders you don’t want to short pit.”
With the odds stacked against him, Dunn made some bold charges. First he would pass Hearn, and then on a final restart would go around the outside of Tim McCreadie, who was on a similar strategy as Phelps, for the runner-up spot in the final order.
“I did the same thing to Brett, just kind of faked him out a little bit and made it look like I was going low,” Dunn explained. “I knew I had enough gas so I just drove it as hard as I could. It’s the last race at Syracuse so it’s either wreckers or checkers.”
Even if he had another shot at Phelps, Dunn believed that he may not have been able to make the same move again.
“By then he probably would have figured out my gig and he would have rode high,” Dunn said. “It is what it is and I’m happy with second.”
A transponder issue in Thursday hot laps and a flat tire in his heat relegated McCreadie to a starting position outside the top 30, but finished the day in third.
“We just knew that we had to pack it with fuel and take tires to maybe make the car handle better,” McCreadie noted. “It worked out.”
The final green-white-checkered restart; however, made the difference from finishing one position better.
“It took me two or three laps where I was a little bit of a sitting duck,” McCreadie continued. “Jimmy had been cutting me a break on restarts and going early and then the last time he didn’t go. When he didn’t it got me jammed up and it got Billy too close and that was it.”
Hearn and Marc Johnson rounded out the top five.
For Phelps, winning for the first time at a track that will be no more following this weekend was extra special. Nevertheless, they continue to concentrate on their Sunday efforts in the Big Block Modified.
“I’m shocked that it came in the 358 because we just don’t do it that much,” Phelps said. “Obviously we have to keep focused on tomorrow, but it feels really good and we’re going to enjoy it for a few minutes.”
Sunday’s Finale at the Fairgrounds will have similarities to the events that led to the finish on Saturday as well.
“Tomorrow the big thing is going to be to put ourselves in a position to win,” Phelps predicted. “If it’s meant to be it’s meant to be, but we’re going to work our tails off to get there.”
The last bit of nostalgia with Phelps’ win was the scheme he was running, reminiscent of the Maynard Troyer-piloted asphalt Modifieds from the 1970s and named the “Mud Buss” after the first assembly line Dirt Modified.
“It’s been really fun bringing it out. A lot of people seem to really not only remember it but have a story or just genuinely be excited to see it so it was kind of cool to be a part of that.”
By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com New York / Pennsylvania Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
DIRTcar 358 Modified Salute to the Troops 150 Results
|18||3||115||Ken Tremont Jr||150|
|37||25||3a||Kevin Albert Jr||0|
|38||27||83x||Tim Sears Jr||0|