SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse 200 polesitter Matt Sheppard backed up his fast-time on Thursday with a $4,000 win in the opening round of the “Friday Night Lights” qualifying program at Super DIRT Week.
He shared victory lane with Brett Hearn and Henke-Baldwin Racing teammate Jimmy Phelps, who duplicated his flag to flag run.
Billy Decker got the drop on Sheppard on the initial start but the start was called back when two back markers tangled in turn three. Sheppard was ready to go the second time, as was Rick Laubach, who blasted under Decker down the frontstretch. Tim McCreadie tried the same move but didn’t make it and that’s how they finished, with JR Heffner hanging on to fifth all the way.
Tim Hindley, Kenny Tremont Jr., Justin Haers, Ronnie Johnson and Matt Billings rounded out the top ten.
“The track is fast and my car is fast. I was just coasting,” offered a smiling Sheppard. “The problem is that it’s narrow and I don’t think the USAC guys will widen it out tomorrow like everybody thinks.”
Hearn blasted off when the green flew on round two, with third starting Vic Coffey shooting to second. But two cars went around in turn one and they had to do it over again. Hearn again prevailed but that time Billy Dunn shut the door on Coffey.
A yellow on lap 10 gave Coffey another shot at Dunn and he shot underneath him on the restart only to have Jimmy Horton spin and draw another yellow. That time Coffey went around the outside to second when Dunn blocked low and they ran that way to the checkers. Peter Britten was fourth ahead of Ryan Godown, Dominick Buffalino, Eddie Marshall, Jimmy Davis, Brian Swartout and Rob Bellinger. Keith Flach, who had run fourth until suffering a flat, clawed his way back to 11th.
“These cars are a lot easier to drive in clean air, so it was pretty easy,” summed up Hearn. “I was just watching my gauges, figuring out some things for Sunday and coasting along.”
Round three saw Duane Howard jump the start and drive away from Phelps, but officials called it back and that time, Phelps controlled the start with Erik Rudolph jumping to second briefly before Howard got going.
The star of that race was Stewart Friesen, who had a flat on the jumbled first start and had to go to the rear. He flew through the field, diving outside cars going into the turns and pinching them down enough that he could get around them. When the checkers flew, it was Phelps, Howard, Donnie Corellis, Rudolph, Larry Wight, Pat Ward, Friesen, Dave Rauscher, Danny Johnson and Vinnie Vitale in the top 10.
“I didn’t go because he jumped me,” said Phelps. “After that, it was easy. I never broke a sweat.”