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CNYM Exclusive: Notes from the DIRTcar 358 Modified Series Salute the Troops 150

By CAMDEN PROUD

When the checkered flag flew on last night’s DIRTcar 358 Modified Series Salute the Troops 150, it was the ‘Franklin Flyer’ Billy Decker crossing the line first towards a $20,000 payday for LJL Gypsum Racing. Decker passed Erick Rudolph on a restart with fourteen laps to go and never looked back, earning his seventh career victory in the small block portion of Super DIRT Week.

Rudolph, who has been red hot as of late, would have to settle for second. The DIRTcar 358 Modified Series points leader will now go into the final race of the season at Brockville Ontario Speedway with nearly a 200 point lead on rookie championship contender Dave Marcuccilli.

“We absolutely can’t be disappointed with this,” Rudolph said. “The caliber of competition here is the absolute best. My tires went away a little bit on the last restart, but this was an awesome effort. We had the car totally dialed in and there really aren’t any complaints from me. It was a lot of fun. From the drop of the green to the end, we were dialed in perfect.”

Rudolph and Larry Wight swapped the top spot several times during the 150-lap affair. When Rudolph went under Wight for the lead in traffic on lap 105, it appeared that may be the beginning of the end for everyone else as the No. 25 car began to build a considerable lead.

However, the driver of the No. 91 had other plans.

While the caution flag and ensuing lap 136 restart gave fourteenth starting Decker the opportunity he needed, it killed all of the momentum Rudolph had built, erasing what nearly was a half straight lead with lapped cars between him and Decker. Instead, Decker sailed by on the outside. Had the caution flag not come out, perhaps the outcome is quite different.

“We really had something today, but just not quite enough on that last restart,” mentioned Rudolph. “Hats off to Billy (Decker) and we will move on to tomorrow. The small block program has been exceptional this year and we’re happy. The big block has been spotty. Sometimes awesome and sometimes just alright. Hopefully the 200 works out good.”

Two Out of Three Gypsum Cars on Podium 

For awhile, it looked like we would see one of the other two Gypsum cars; driven by defending Billy Whittaker Cars 200 champ Larry Wight, pull into victory circle. It would have been Wight’s first career victory in the small block race,  but he fell just a little bit short to Rudolph and his teammate Decker.

“We’re actually still on a bar car,” Wight noted. “I think we are the only one out here with bars. We were great in the middle where the brown was starting to go away and the black was there. Then, when the track got super black we struggled to find traction up high and that was the difference in Erick (Rudolph) going underneath me.”

Wight was happy for teammate Decker, a driver he spent several years watching while growing up. This year, Decker is again driving for Larry’s father John. Despite a trying season, the magic for Decker and LJL Gypsum Racing is clearly still there with one of the most important weekends of the season on tap.

“I’m happy for Billy and his team,” added Wight. “You heard him talk about how they’ve been struggling this year and trying to get things better and I think they finally hit on it. I could hang with him and Rudolph in the corner, but down the straights we were struggling big time. Maybe I should take some of their notes from today.”

Salute the Troops Takeaways 

Forty cars started the Super DIRT Week finale for the DIRTcar 358 Modified Series, meaning that another forty three had to go home on the trailer following the LCQ’s that took place just prior to the 150-lap main event…

A few of the notable DNQ’s included David Schilling, Dillon Steuer, Matt Farnham, Marc Johnson, Nick Krause, Rob Bellinger, Brian McDonald, Michael Stanton Jr, Peter Britten, Rocky Warner, and LJ Lombardo…

Yan Bussiere and Lance Willix were two of the first cars in the pits on lap 21 after being involved in the same incident down the front stretch…

Mike Maresca’s stellar small block week, which included three podium finishes, came to an early end around the same time with mechanical issues…

Several drivers that were picked as contenders for the 150; Danny Johnson, Dave Marcuccilli, Pat Ward, Ronnie Davis III, and Brett Hearn, all struggled. These drivers finished twenty second through twenty sixth…

Marcuccilli was impressive early on, but experienced issues later in the going and was only able to rebound for a top 25 result…

Polesitter Jimmy Phelps was once again bitten by fuel strategy as the 98H ran dry with only three laps to go. After leading the opening laps and running top ten the entire race, Phelps would have to settle for a disappointing nineteenth…

Mat Williamson, certainly a favorite to win this race, faded as it went on. He battled Wight and Rudolph for the lead in the first half, but fell to fifth late…

Tim Fuller continued his strong stretch with the Slack Racing 3RS, racing to a fine fourth place finish…

His Slack teammate, Ryan Susice, came from nineteenth in the field all the way up to seventh in the 38s…

It was also a good night for the Graham Racing team, with Anthony Perrego and Billy Dunn in contention all night long. They would finish sixth and eighth, respectively…

Mike Mahaney recovered from his LCQ crash on Friday night to make the field and finish in sixteenth…

Jessica Friesen finished twentieth in her No. 1Z while husband Stewart was busy racing to a top five finish in theNASCAR truck division at Talladega…

Sixth fast time trialer Todd Root struggled a bit, and was only able to come up with a thirteenth place effort…

With just one event remaining, Rudolph leads the 358 Modified Series point standings over Marcuccilli, Mahaney, Williamson, and Corey Wheeler…

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