SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Story and Audio by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — Brad Ovens Photo —
Jimmy Phelps has truly had a love-hate relationship with the Moody Mile at Super DIRT Week. More hate than love, but always mixed success at the New York State Fairgrounds. In the last decade, Phelps has brought several extremely fast cars to Syracuse only to see a tire go down, run out of gas or have a mechanical failure. Phelps ended that streak with a huge win in Saturday’s 358-Modified Series Salute to the Troops 150.
Billy Dunn and Brett Hearn led the field to the initial green flag for the Small Block 150 mile event with Dunn showing how strong his Number One Speed No. 49 was by leading the first 66 laps.
Dunn’s crew was on a 1 pit stop strategy knowing they had a fast car and a driver who has proven that he can charge to the front at the end of the race when the need presents itself. Brett Hearn was also on that strategy and would come out of the pits third when the pit stops completely cycled around.
Phelps rolled off the starting grid in the eighth position and drove the car to maintain their top 10 position as they had a plan to ‘short pit’ at the first big opportunity to do so with a yellow flag. They got that chance on Lap 41 when the yellow flag came out for Chris Raabe’s No. 01, which came to a stop in Turn 4 just two laps earlier.
Phelps’ crew came in and got the fuel they needed to make it to the end, now knowing that on their final stop they could just come to a stop in their pit stall and then race off pit road. This strategy of leapfrogging the leaders seemed sound, but during their pit stop on a Lap 66 caution flag, Hearn’s pit crew called foul saying Phelps did not come to a complete stop.
Hearn’s crew went back and forth with their driver over the radio that they had video evidence showing Phelps did not come to a complete stop. The No. 20 crew showed the evidence to a DIRTcar official on pit road, to no avail. Hearn and Phelps both commented on the controversy after the race.
“I thought I stopped,” said Phelps of the controversy.
“It’s mass chaos on the pit road, there’s always stuff people see and don’t see. We’ve been beat by calls on the pit road before, but at the end of the day the whole field is on pit road at once and you can’t get to your pit stall. You’re slip-sliding on the cinders too. If I didn’t stop, I sure as heck didn’t realize it. I thought I stopped dead.”
Brett Hearn, on the other hand, disagreed and pointed to DIRTcar for being the ones that can right the wrong.
“This is something they go over in the driver’s meeting in the morning,” Hearn said post-race.
“They were very specific about the way you have to stop in your pit box and it didn’t happen. We’ll see how they handle it. I’m just going to hope that DIRT abides by their own rules.”
When asked if the 20 team would file a protest, Hearn said that they would not. As of 8:00PM Saturday night, DIRTcar related that no protest had been filed and that the DIRTcar official in the pit box confirmed Phelps came to a stop. The video Hearn’s team produced on Twitter did not appear to be clear in showing one way or the other.
After the drama on pit road subsided, the race was on for Phelps and Tim McCreadie as they both were on the short pit sequence- last taking fuel on lap 41. Hearn’s team coached the 6-time Syracuse 200 winner to push the leaders hard trying to run them out of fuel if they were that close on making it. At times, Hearn was the fastest car on the track but could not close in on the leaders in ‘dirty air’ from the front two.
A restart with 10 laps to go would see Dunn start to make his push toward the lead as he made an outside pass of Hearn to take over the third spot going into Turn 1. Hearn’s spotter took the blame, but Hearn responded saying ‘That’s OK, he has a fast motor’.
Dunn then tried to make a move on McCreadie going into Turn 1 but the yellow flag would fly on Lap 148, shutting down Dunn’s opportunity to make a move.
On the restart, Phelps pulled away while Dunn finally made the move on McCreadie to take over the runner-up position. Dunn closed in on Phelps coming down for the white flag and attempted the outside pass, but didn’t have enough room and lost ground down the backstretch.
Phelps then had the distance he needed to bring his Troyer retro paint scheme No. 6 down and secure his first major victory on the Moody Mile by winning the Salute to the Troops 150. Dunn came home second, McCreadie third, Hearn fourth and Marc Johnson completed the top five.
We spoke with the top five finishers post-race:
358-Modified Salute to the Troops 150 Winner- Jimmy Phelps
358-Modified Salute to the Troops 150 2nd Place- Billy Dunn
358-Modified Salute to the Troops 150 3rd Place- Tim McCreadie
358-Modified Salute to the Troops 150 4th Place- Brett Hearn
358-Modified Salute to the Troops 150 5th Place- Marc Johnson