SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Story by Race Chaser Online New York Correspondent Steven Ovens — Jeremiah Fish photos — Matt Sheppard has had an outstanding year in his first season with Heinke-Baldwin Racing.
‘Super Matt’ has really had great success in whatever car he sets down into in 2014. He has several times taken feature victories in the Norm Hansell 357 Modified at various big money shows. As we bear down on the end of the Super DIRTcar Series though, Sheppard is looking up at Brett Hearn and Billy Decker in the standings.
Sheppard took 1000 points from the Home Track Bonus for his track championship at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park. His win at Mohawk a couple of weeks ago gave the Waterloo, N.Y. driver over a 50 point lead heading into the 100 lapper at ‘The Track of Champions’, the Fonda Speedway. That is where the Super DIRTcar Series points took almost a 100 point swing.
Hearn would go on to score the victory with Billy Decker finishing second, allowing both drivers to leapfrog Sheppard in the points and put a little distance between themselves. But with the Syracuse 200 looming on Sunday October 12th, this could be just what Sheppard needs to turn it back around and narrow the gap or even reclaim the points lead.
Sheppard has been strong on the ‘Moody Mile’ and in his first season with HBR, I don’t expect that to be any different. Team HBR has taken Sheppard’s teammate, Jimmy Phelps, to 2 podium finishes in the 200 in the last 3 years. The team used pit and fuel strategy both times to vault the 98H into contention for the win, but would finish 2nd to Stewart Friesen in a gas mileage race in 2010 and come home 3rd in 2012 to Brett Hearn in a rain-shortened race that went 113 of the scheduled 200 laps.
Sheppard has 3 finishes in the Top-3 since 2008, including his lone victory in the 200 in 2009. For 2014 — a new team, a new chassis but the same driver behind the wheel and his same crew chief that he had when his team at Jeff Brownell Racing had so much success. They won the Super DIRTcar Series title 3 times in that partnership.
Those 3 Super DIRTcar Series titles certainly didn’t come from strong finishes at the Orange County Fair Speedway for the Eastern States 200. In his history running Eastern States Sheppard only has 1 Top-5 finish- a 4th place finish in 2011. When it comes down to the final race at the World Finals at the Dirt Track at Charlotte, Sheppard has been strong and closed out those championships in Charlotte, NC. In his 8 World Finals starts (2 per year since 2010), Sheppard has Top-5 finishes on 5 occasions including running second in both features in 2011.
As you’ve read through these stats you must be asking ‘Ok, what is Matt’s best shot at the championship?’ As I see it, Matt and the HBR team needs to run well at Syracuse, Brockville and the World Finals. You can leave Middletown as a wildcard for now, as it’s unlikely that any of these three drivers will dominate all 4 race events. If you wanted to give each driver a ‘mulligan’ in the remaining races, I think Middletown would be it for Sheppard based on the numbers.
The thing to remember about Sheppard is that he has proven a lot of people wrong this season. Some questioned how long it would take for him and his new team to gel coming out of the box. But as their performance has shown- they are definitely already on the same page heading to ‘The Moody Mile’.