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DIRT race may be cream in Coffey's year

Vic Coffey says that he will get a chance to enjoy the best of both worlds this weekend when he defends his Rite Aid 200 title Sunday, the climax of Super DIRT Week XXXVII at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

Coffey recently secured the World of Outlaws Late Model Rookie of the Year honors. He is free to venture to Syracuse in an effort to capture the third Rite Aid 200 victory of his career. The race is the most prestigious annual event for DIRT Modifieds.

Only Buzzie Reutimann (1972, '73); Gary Balough ('76-78, 80); Jack Johnson ('79, '84); Merv Treichler ('81-82); Alan Johnson ('83, '89, 2003); Brett Hearn ('85, '90-91, '93, '95); Jimmy Horton ('87, '94); Danny Johnson ('97, 2006); Billy Decker ('98, 2000-01, 2005) and Coffey (2002, 2007) have captured Rite Aid 200 more than once.

"Now that we have won the Rite Aid 200, there is a lot less pressure when coming to Syracuse for me than in the past," said Coffey, a 37-year-old from Caledonia. "If you have never won at Syracuse before, the whole next year after each race you have a lot of questions like, 'Do we have a good enough car?' 'good enough crew?' and 'Am I a good enough driver to get the job done there?'

"Once you've broken through with a win in this race, it takes all those questions away because now you know the answers."

In last year's race, Coffey found himself sitting second behind Matt Sheppard as the race approached the lap 150 mark.

He was pacing himself, trying to make sure that he had enough fuel left to finish and have enough speed and horsepower to move to the front. He had plenty of each and went on to a convincing win. He passed Sheppard on lap 154 and then held off Tim Fuller.

"When I was running third I wasn't sure how much fuel I had left," recalled Coffey. "I don't think anybody knew. We had last pitted on lap 84 and we had never tried to go that far at Syracuse before. We did have some yellows to help us out because we burn less fuel at caution speed.

"At some point I just decided to go for it and try to get the lead. I would rather have done that than be too conservative and get passed by others late in the race and then find out I had enough fuel left."

His car made it to Victory Lane but ran out of fuel en route to the tech area.

The win was quite different from Coffey's first Rite Aid 200 triumph in 2002. In that race, Coffey advanced from 11th to first in the waning laps without passing a single car.

Hearn, Bud Christmann, Danny Johnson, Decker, Fuller, Sheppard, Alan Johnson and Kenny Tremont all had fuel issues, helping Coffey's drive toward the lead. Coffey's march to the front was complete when he grabbed the lead from Tremont, who ran out of fuel on the backstretch just a half-lap from the checkered flag.

"I remember we pitted for fuel around lap 118 and as we were coming back on the track, that huge accident happened on the backstretch but we were far enough back to avoid it," said Coffey. "Under the caution flag we found out that I and Gary Tomkins were the last cars on the lead lap.

"So having nothing to lose, we both pitted again for fuel before the race went back to green. I think we took less fuel than Gary because we came out ahead of him. As the race moved along we kept moving toward the front.

"I think we probably only had a 10th- or 11th-place car that day but our fuel strategy worked out. I think because last year we won with a more dominating car in convincing fashion it sort of validated both wins."

Coffey and his wife, Jillian, also are enjoying the birth of their son Kasey, born April 23.

Coffey was expected to run his Late Model on Wednesday evening in Fayetteville, N.C., and planned on arriving in Syracuse at about 5 a.m. today on a chartered flight. He is expected to participate in pole position qualifying today at 2:30 p.m.

"That's OK," said Coffey of his Sweeteners Plus Bicknell entry. "Historically our Modified is never a threat to win the pole but seems to do much better over the long haul of the race."

Coffey also plans to run at Syracuse in the 358 Modified 150, Saturday at 2 p.m.

Friday at Syracuse, the DIRT Modifieds will run in triple 20-lap qualifying races at noon along with a pair of 20-lappers for the 358 Modifieds. Also Saturday, the DIRT.Car Sportsman 30 runs at 4 p.m. Sunday the DIRT Modified Last Chance Race is at 11:15 a.m., followed by the Pro Stock 25 at noon. The Rite Aid 200 gets the green at 2:15 p.m.

For asphalt fans, Wyoming County International Speedway hosts its annual Fall Shootout at 4 Saturday afternoon.

This is the final SpeedWeek page of the season. The Buffalo News will continue to cover national auto racing events through the end of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.


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