By MIKE MALLETT
Matt Sheppard lost a feature event on Wednesday night when Stewart Friesen snuck up and stole the win on the very last lap and last corner of the feature. Monday night he also lost the lead at Plattsburg Airborne Speedway when he gave up the top spot to Larry Wight. Sheppard was good on the bottom Monday, but an implement tire got knocked into his preferred lane allowing Larry Wight to scoot by on the top. He settled for the second in that Super DIRTcar Series feature as well.
On Thursday night at Land of Legends Raceway, Sheppard was back at it with the Super DIRTcar Series for the Liberty 100. The Waterloo, N.Y., driver wasn’t really happy with his car and how things were going for much of the 100-lap affair. He just wasn’t that good.
Fortunately for Sheppard, he put himself in the right position. While sitting third the leaders got together which took them both out of contention handing the lead and win to Sheppard. It’s been a week for Sheppard were sometimes the racing gods giveth, other times they taketh away. On this night he was on right side of things.
“You never know what is going to happen,” commented Sheppard. “Last year how many flats did we get leading series races? A ton of them. Next thing you know tonight we are running fifth, then third and end up with a win. I guess I’ll take it.”
Sheppard had worked his way into a top five position after starting 11th by lap 40. On lap 43 he hit a hole in turn one shooting the car up the track. He fell all the way back to sixth at this point.
“That got me out of rhythm,” mentioned Sheppard. “We lost a few spots there. We had a decent car, just not a great car. Hitting that hole knocked us back. We were fortunate to get a couple of good restarts.”
The key restart for him came on lap 83. Alan Johnson brought out the caution when he slowed with problems on his No. 14j. At the green Billy Dunn and Peter Britten battled hard for the third spot. The pair worked each other over of the exit of turn two allowing Sheppard to get them both on the bottom to get up to third.
“They were leaning on each other pretty good off of two and down the backstretch,” cited Sheppard. “That opened up the door for me. I was able to sneak up in there.”
At that point Sheppard settled in was going to be pleased just to get a third-place finish. That was before all hell broke lose on the final lap allowing him to take over the lead.
“When I was riding I was really just trying to hold on,” he said. “I saw the white flag and I was more than happy with third if I could hold on. I went down into three and next thing I know I see those guys parked on top of each other and everything else.”
It wasn’t over at this point just yet as the caution flag came out setting up a green, white then checkered finish meaning Sheppard had to hang on for a few more laps.
“I got excited for a minute and went back to start finish line and they called yellow,” explained Sheppard. “I thought ‘damn we got to do a green white checkered here.’ One lap was going to be hard enough, but I didn’t want to do two. Thankfully we were able to hold on. We got a nice Fourth of July gift.”
He held on and as he said got a nice gift for Independence Day.
Dunn has No Complaints About Second
Billy Dunn ended up finishing second after the dust settled on Thursday night’s feature. He wasn’t disappointed with the effort, but rather happy to get a solid finish and payday.
“We’ll take it,” said Dunn. “We’ve been good here all year, but always come up one spot short. We were probably a third or fourth place car tonight. We got a little lucky at the end and picked up a few spots.”
Restarts weren’t good for Dunn, but once a few laps kicked off it seemed as if his No. 49 Bicknell car came to life. At times he felt as good as Sheppard or even better, but on the final restart he was going to need some help.
“Before that caution came out I thought I was running him down a little bit,” cited Dunn. “I was making the bottom work a little better than he was. There are parts of that race on restarts that I thought I was going to sink, but once I got going I was good. With the last two lap run he had clean air. He would have had to screw up and he isn’t going to do that with two laps to go.”
Phelps Continues Late Race Surges
As of late Jimmy Phelps has been racking up top five finishes after recovering from early night struggles. Thursday night was more of the same for the Baldwinsville, N.Y., driver. Phelps didn’t do what he needed to in time trials and then finished fifth in his heat to start 20th in the feature. He moved forward throughout to finish fourth.
“Honestly, it’s just disappointing,” commented Phelps. “We went out there and drove like a pansy in time trials and that buried us. In hindsight if I had gone out and beat the crap out of it we could have had a good starting spot. I felt good in the heat, felt like we were just okay at the beginning of the feature. It seemed like everybody started slip sliding around in the middle and the bottom came back to us. I was able to grab some spots. We were fortunate to get to the top five.”
The team will continue to work to figure out ways to get better early in the night. For now he’s happy that the car is coming on late in races.
“I would rather be good at the end, but I have to figure out how to be a little better early in the night,” said Phelps. “That is historically easier to figure out than why we fall apart at the end. We are on the right track. We just have to keep digging.”
Super DIRTcar Series Side Bites
A nice field of 38 cars attended the Liberty 100 on Thursday night…
Larry Wight earned the Billy Whittaker Cars and Trux fast-time award for a lap of 19.053. Heat race victories were garnered by Billy Decker, Wight, Pat Ward and Matt Sheppard. Matt Farnham and Dave Marcuccilli won the pair of Last Chance Showdowns…
Gary Lindberg filled in for Dave Rauscher in the No. 48too. He unfortunately failed to qualify…
Billy Pauch was behind the wheel of Graham Racing No. 1 for the event. He also failed to make the show…
Billy Decker redrew 12 for the feature earning him a free Hoosier Tire.