Story By: MANDEE PAUCH / HBR – WEEDSPORT, NY – The Heinke-Baldwin race team kicked off the week on a strong note at the 47thAnnual NAPA Super DIRT Week and decided to take a gamble come Sunday afternoon during the prestigious 200 at Oswego Speedway.
“I couldn’t have been happier with our car right out of the box,” Phelps said. “Fortunately, we’ve been onto some really good stuff, so we didn’t need to stray from our normal baseline too far.”
Phelps was fast right off the trailer during practice on Friday, which led him to going out early in time trials.
“We were super happy with time trials,” he said. “Sitting on the pole for the first time there had me proud and confident going into the triple 30’s.”
Phelps rolled off on the pole of the first triple 30 qualifier.
“The triple 30 threw us for a little loop,” he added. “It was no surprise that Peter Britten was really strong. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It seemed like midway through the race our car started to get tight. I had to work a little hard than I wanted to get the car into the turn. We weren’t good enough in traffic like he was. We didn’t really know what our car was going to do on the longer runs. After that we knew we needed to make some minor adjustments going into Sunday’s 200.”
Phelps and the no.98h team were sitting on the high horse leading into the 200-lap main event.
Phelps led the 41-car field to the green flag.
“We went in with an open mind,” noted Phelps. “We had no intentions to go the whole way.”
By lap 120 Phelps thought he’d be coming in for tires and fuel but after strategizing with the team they elected to stay out.
“We had a couple challenges early but never had to push hard,” he said. “The way the yellows kept falling, lap 125/130, we knew we were at our breaking point, but we didn’t fall off yet. The guys with fresh tires weren’t really making a charge at us yet. We thought we could stretch our fuel if the yellows fell our way. We elected to gamble to try and make it all the way.”
Unfortunately, a red flag fell with just 30 laps remaining.
“I thought we made the right move,” added Phelps. “Unfortunately, we had that short red flag, then we went about 10 laps under yellow after that. I think during the red flag the tires started to show their aged and sealed up. We didn’t have the car we had the last 30 laps prior to the red. That’s when we started to struggle but at that point we were committed, it was too late.”
As the fuel load began to get lighter, the cars handling started to get harder.
“That’s when Larry got by us,” he said. “At that point I knew he was better and fresher. I knew we just had to do our best and not lose anymore spots. Then it started sputtering with six or seven laps to go and a yellow came out on lap 196. I knew we weren’t going to make it.”
Phelps went to pit lane, surrendering his second-place position, for a splash of fuel.
“Leading up to about 25 laps to go we thought we had what we needed to pull it off,” noted Phelps. “I can’t thank the guys enough. We had a really good, clean week. We were able to learn some stuff with the small block that probably made it worth it. I can’t thank them enough for all the work. I have a great team. I feel that we put ourselves into position to win and came up a little short.”
Phelps crossed the line in 22nd.
The day prior to the Big Block Modified 200 lapper, Phelps and his team ran the 150 lap Small Block Modified event.
“It’s hard to say where we were missing,” he said. “We had some decent speed but not enough to be a major factor. We definitely lack experience is the main thing. The big block takes you down a path that may not always be the best approach for the 358’s, so when you do it once in a while you get a little behind. We had a good car but from a fine-tuning standpoint, we may have missed a little bit. The 358 wasn’t our priority so to come in and run fairly well, we learned some stuff. We had some decent speed, just didn’t have a lot to show for it at the end of the day.”
Phelps finished 14thfrom his seventh-place starting spot in the Camping World 100 Small Block Modified event.
Teammate, Max McLaughlin, timed 16thfastest overall in the Big Block Modified time trial session against 70 competitors.
“I felt like we hit a good lap,” he said. “I guess we didn’t have the speed like we did in our practice time.”
McLaughlin’s time lined him up on the inside of the third row for the Triple 30 qualifier.
“We tried something different that we wanted to try before the 200,” noted McLaughlin. “We got up to third, but it made us too tight through traffic.”
McLaughlin qualified fourth in the no.6h machine.
McLaughlin’s fourth-place qualifying efforts had him rolling off on the inside of the seventh row for the 200-lap main event.
“We were off to a pretty good start,” he added. “We needed a little more to be there at the end though. We had a good strategy, but the way the race played out, I feel we pitted too early. Our peak was when we got to fourth with 20 to go. Other guys were better later. Those guys who pitted 20-30 laps after us had their peak at the end. We just used our tires up too early. We gambled, and it just didn’t pan out.”
McLaughlin capped off the week with a ninth-place finish.
Friday evening the team will be back in action with the Super DIRTcar Series at Brockville Ontario Speedway for their final points race of the season before they head south to The Dirt Track at Charlotte for the World Finals.