Phelps Claims Coveted Syracuse Mile Victory In Salute to the Troops 358-Modified Championship 150
Central New Yorker’s Strategy Works To Perfection In NAPA Super DIRT Week Small-Block Finale (Pete MacDonald photo)
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Oct. 10, 2015 – In his next-to-last opportunity to reach victory lane in a feature event at the Syracuse Mile, Jimmy Phelps of Baldwinsville, N.Y., finally struck paydirt in Saturday’s Salute to the Troops 358-Modified Championship 150.
With his Heinke Motorsports team’s pit strategy working to perfection, Phelps assumed command on lap 79 when Matt Janiak of Warwich, N.Y., headed to the pits and never relinquished the top spot over the remaining distance. He survived multiple restarts and a charging Billy Dunn of Watertown, N.Y., on a green-white-checkered finish to secure his coveted Moody Mile triumph and a $20,000 first-place prize.
“We squeezed it in,” a beaming Phelps said of emerging triumphant during the last NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week contested at the historic track that will soon be razed. “I’m just ecstatic for a lot of reasons. It was really neat to get a big win and get a big win here for (car owner) Al (Heinke). It was great to do it with (Troyer Inc.’s) Billy Colton, who was calling the shots on the radio with me. And to do it in the ‘Mud Buss’ (his Troyer car sported a throwback graphics scheme mirroring the Troyer Experimental No. 6 cars that were raced three decades ago) was pretty neat.
“It was just a great night. I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Phelps, 40, steered his machine across the finish line 0.465 of a second in front of Dunn, who charged around the outside of Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., in turn one on the restart with two laps to go and made a bid for a dramatic victory. Dunn pulled up to Phelps’s rear bumper entering one on the last circuit, but Phelps pulled away by several car lengths off turn two and carried the momentum to the checkered flag.
McCreadie, who pitted for fuel with Phelps on lap 41 and was the second car out of the pit area behind Phelps when the two drivers came in again to make their mandatory post-lap-50 pit stop on the 69th circuit, settled for a third-place finish. Brett Hearn of Sussex, N.J., finished fourth — falling short in his attempt to win the event for the third consecutive year — and Marc Johnson of Guilderland, N.Y., placed fifth after cracking the top five on a lap-139 restart.
The most critical move of Phelps’s winning effort came in the pits. Opting to pit for fuel on lap 41 allowed him to simply make a lightning-fast stop-and-go pit visit on the 69th lap while virtually of his rivals had to spend more time on pit road filling their cars’ tanks.
When Phelps returned to the racetrack, he sat second for the restart behind Janiak, who was the lone lead-lap car to stay on the speedway. He inherited the top spot when Janiak pitted during the next caution period and hung tough to the finish.
Phelps admitted, however, that he didn’t consider his team’s decision to pit before lap 50 a stroke of genius. He simply thought it was the right thing to do.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think there was too many that wouldn’t have done that,” Phelps said of his pit strategy. “We just expected that we were coming in with the leaders (on lap 41) … and then when we were the only ones on pit road (aside from McCreadie at the other end). “I said, ‘Oh, no, maybe we didn’t make the right call.’ I really, truly thought that everybody in the top 15 was coming down pit road — because it just made sense. It’s always a track position race, so I have no idea why nobody (other than McCreadie) did it.
“At the end of the day, all we had to do was slide into our pit stall and take off (when making his mandatory stop on lap 69). We didn’t have to touch the car or do any work.
“The gamble on that was, we could’ve very easily gotten wrecked in the back or gotten caught up on pit road to where we didn’t squeeze through quite as clean,” he added. “But luckily for us everything worked out perfect. I mean, when we got back out there we knew that the leader hadn’t pitted so there was no reason for us to push. We just got back out on the track in second and went into fuel-conserve mode — not knowing we were gonna get all them late yellows (that saved fuel consumption). After about five or six of them yellows, we figured we had plenty of fuel and we could race when we had to and lay back when we had to — everything just worked out.”
Phelps kept McCreadie at bay throughout the race’s second half, maintaining an edge of five to 10 car lengths under green-flag conditions. But when the race’s 11th and final caution flag flew on lap 147 to set up a green-white-checkered conclusion, Phelps began to sweat.
“Probably the only time I really got anxious was with two to go,” Phelps said. “We were a little iffy on cold tires and the holes were starting to get deeper and they were kind of sending the car in different directions. We just knew we had to get through turn one without getting the car real upset, and fortunately we were able to do that.”
Dunn, who led laps 1-68 from the pole position but found himself sitting in ninth place after making his pit stop on lap 69, worked his way forward to finally reach second place with his pass of McCreadie on the final restart with two laps remaining. The clear speed Dunn showed certainly made Phelps nervous.
“For the last 10 laps I was a huge Tim McCreadie fan and I didn’t even watch him,” said Phelps, noting that he was hoping McCreadie could hold up Dunn after the 31-year-old former Syracuse 200 champion overtook Hearn for third on a lap-139 restart. “It was a little hair-raising knowing he was back there because obviously he was pretty good to come from where he came from. He found something that we didn’t because he was able to push so hard and pass guys, so naturally your guard’s up because of that.”
Dunn didn’t have enough time to make a real serious run at Phelps, however. The track position he lost during his pit stop making sure his fuel cell was filled ended up being too much for him to overcome.
“It was an awesome run,” said Dunn, who was the 358-Modified 150’s runner-up for the second time in his four career starts. “It’s just, we ran out of fuel two years ago here (leading in 2013) and we put in more gas than we needed to on that stop, but I was bound and determined that I was just gonna be able to run as hard as I needed to at the end of the race.
“That was about all I had,” he added. “I was about wrecking every lap there the last 20 laps. I really wanted that win in this race, but we finished second twice now (his previous bridesmaid run came in 2012) and always run good. We got the pole and the twin (20 heat) win this weekend and that meant a lot. I just needed to get to the front a little sooner than I did and I think maybe I would’ve had something for him. I really think there at the end that my car came back to life, but it was still a great run for our team.”
The 41-year-old McCreadie, who won the event in 2012 after Dunn’s fuel tank ran dry, was done in by the late caution flags on laps 136 and 147.
“I just couldn’t fire on that last restart,” McCreadie said of his Vinnie Salerno-owned car’s performance after the last caution period. “I couldn’t fire the restart before that either. I needed laps — I needed some green-flag running, and then we would get to where we were rolling pretty good.
“I didn’t want the yellows. We finally pushed Jimmy enough to get him into traffic and I thought, This is our shot, and dang it if the lapped car he was chasing down crashed the guy in front of him (to bring out a caution flag on lap 136).
“That’s the way it goes,” he added. “Jimmy drove a great race, and Billy, he’s a heck of a driver and he did a great job too.”
Phelps, meanwhile, savored his long-awaited turn in the Syracuse spotlight. He was actually a bit surprised that his breakthrough triumph came in the 358-Modified event, in which he made just his third career start and first since a ninth-place run in 2008.
“We don’t a lot of background in this race, so maybe that’s what’s the most interesting thing to digest,” said Phelps, whose best previous finish in the small-block headliner was seventh, in 2000. “We really kind of came in here with an open mind and tried to have some fun, not let it sidetrack us from our ultimate goal which is obviously the Big-Block car (and the Syracuse 200). Of course, once we got out front and had a pretty good car that could win, then obviously the focus changed and we had to get this thing done.
“Maybe that’s the secret to the Big-Block race (which Phelps starts from the 10th spot on Sunday) — you don’t stress over it. You just come in and try to have some fun, and maybe that’s we’ll have to do tomorrow.”
The race was slowed by 11 caution flags for 46 laps.
The most significant accidents involved Brian Sage of Brockport, N.Y. (slid into inside wall after a mid-pack scramble on the original start) and Frankie Caprara of Watertown, N.Y., and Ryan Krachun of Neshanic, N.J. (turn four on lap 100).
Other notable cautions was triggered by Syracuse 200 polesitter Larry Wight of Baldwinsville, N.Y., who slowed with a flat tire on lap 76 after running as high as sixth; former race winner Kenny Tremont of West Sand Lake, N.Y., who spun into the wall between turns three and four on lap 84; and Janiak, who slowed with a ripped-up left-front tire on lap 147.
Among the early-race casualties was five-time event winner Billy Decker of Unadilla, N.Y., who was running fourth when he retired with transmission on lap 28.
NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week XLIV concludes on Sunday (Oct. 11) with the running of the $50,000-to-win big-block Modified Syracuse 200 — the grand finale in the long history of the Syracuse Mile. Also on Sunday’s card is the DIRTcar Sportsman Championship 30 and the BACC-OFF Pro Stock Championship 25 plus held-over Last Chance Races for the Sportsman and Pro Stocks. Action is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
For the latest news and updates about NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week, visit www.SuperDirtWeekOnline.com.
Salute to the Troops 358-Modified Championship 150 Finish
|18||3||Kenny Tremont Jr.||150||$270|
|38||27||Tim Sears Jr.||0||$250|
|Time of Race: 2 hours, 4 minutes, 24.9 seconds|
|Margin of Victory: 1.31 seconds|
|Lap Leaders: Dunn (1-68); Janiak (69-78); Phelps (79-152)|
|Caution Flags: 11 for 46 laps|
|Pole Award: Billy Dunn ($750 – Pole Position Raceway)|
|Outside Pole Award: Brett Hearn ($500 – Mid-State Golf Cart)|
|Rookie of the Race: Mike Maresca ($295 certificate for set of rings – JE Pistons)|
|Leader of Lap 51: Billy Dunn ($510 – Sharon’s Toy)|
|Final Sharon’s Toy Compound Driver Running: Kenny Tremont ($510)|
|Area Auto Racing News Best Appearing Car: Frankie Caprara|