A RACE OF RESILIENCE
NWAAS national champions orchestrate dramatic duel in Kesler Contracting 150 – JW Martin
After losing the lead lap early, Lee Pulliam rallied to lead the lap that mattered most.
The four-time Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track champion overcame a one-lap deficit to defeat Philip Morris in an epic heavyweight bout for the checkers in the Kesler Contracting 150.
It was a first for Pulliam, who celebrated his 58th-career Motor Mile Speedway Late Model triumph Saturday night.
“Just wild. Wild to come back from that…just a never-give-up attitude,” marveled Pulliam. “What a show.”
Pulliam and Morris topped the 14-car O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model field in qualifying, with Pulliam edging out Morris by two thousandths of a second to snare the Price’s Body Shop pole award. From start to finish in the 150-lap nightcap, parity reigned.
At the outset, however, it appeared Pulliam’s race was over before it had even begun. Ominously reminiscent of the June 25th contest, mechanical misfortune befell Pulliam on the first lap of competition. Morris’ no. 01 assumed command as Pulliam plummeted through the field; after three circuits, Pulliam looped the no. 5, necessitating the first caution of the race on lap four.
Pulliam surrendered a lap as the nightmare scenario unfolded.
“I told the guys to check all the plug wires… to check everything we could under the caution so we wouldn’t go another lap down. They didn’t find anything wrong; [they] just wiggled some plug wires. Apparently one of them was bad,” Pulliam explained.
The advent of competition cautions assured Pulliam an opportunity to reclaim the lead lap. As Morris constructed a mammoth advantage over the field during the ensuing green flag run, it became evident that, through the midway portion of the contest, the race wasn’t for first— it was the race to be the first car one lap down that proved paramount.
Pulliam remained trapped one lap down following the first competition caution on lap 50, with Stefan Parsons’ no. 98 receiving the free pass.
Pulliam secured the free pass position during the second green flag stint of the race, and began reeling in Morris’ lead machine when the second and final competition caution was imposed on lap 99. The third caution of the night placed Pulliam on the lead lap, changing the complexion of the contest. But the turning point of the race came in the aftermath of the fifth and final yellow on lap 122.
After pacing the race for a total of 117 circuits, Morris relinquished the point to Pulliam for the first time on lap 121. One lap later, the yellow flag unfurled for a multi-car collision exiting turn four. Annabeth Barnes-Crum’s no. 12 snapped sideways off the corner following contact from Ryan Repko’s no. 14. The pair careened toward the inside retaining wall, collecting the no. 94 of Dylan Murry as the crash transpired.
Barnes-Crum and Repko were battling for third at the time of contact. The incident warranted an extended red flag period— a development that had divergent repercussions for the lead duo.
For Morris, the intermission afforded time for the tires on the no. 01 to recover for the final 21-lap dash. Pulliam, meanwhile, feared the handling of the no. 5 would be adversely affected, precipitating an atypical decision on the restart.
“I knew I had to take the top,” Pulliam said. “I’ve never run the top line at Motor Mile Speedway— I’ve always been a bottom feeder. But my car just would not run [on the apron.]”
From the upper groove, Pulliam eclipsed Morris to reclaim the lead on the restart. The two NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champions staged a stellar side-by-side duel in the waning laps, with Pulliam content to concede the preferred line to his veteran counterpart in the corners. Relentless in his pursuit of Pulliam, Morris executed repeated pass attempts from the inside of the track in the turns, but Pulliam’s topside momentum on exit proved superior. Although never separated by more than a few feet, Morris failed to regain the lead in the closing circuits.
Morris made one last fleeting maneuver in turn three on the white flag lap, plunging to the apron in a final bid at the top spot. The frontrunners were two abreast exiting turn four, lunging for the line in a drag race that resulted in a .139 margin of victory in favor of Pulliam.
“He came from a lap down… I can’t remember when that ever happened here,” acknowledged Morris. “But it’s a shame. The car ran out front for so many laps… I should’ve been able to save tires and win this thing.
“All I can say is that the no. 01 car is coming… it’s getting better every week.”
Overshadowed by the spirited race for first was a resilient effort by the no. 98 of Parsons. Despite the forfeiture of a lap and a subsequent spin on lap 116, Parsons rebounded to place third in his second-ever start at Motor Mile Speedway.
“That was an interesting race…those last 20 laps were pretty eventful, to say the least. I’m just glad we could come out of here with a top three,” Parsons noted. “It’s something to build on.”
Kyle Dudley and Dennis Holdren rounded out the top five.
By virtue of the victory, Pulliam’s advantage over Morris in the Late Model track standings improved slightly; the leaders are separated by 34 points with nine races remaining.
Reflecting on the accomplishment, a sentimental Pulliam summed up the night’s on-track action.
“Racing [Morris] again…me and him have had so many battles for wins. It’s just cool to be back side-by-side with that guy. It’s pretty awesome”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Scott Lancaster led rag-to-rag from the pole to capture his second Collision Plus Limited Sportsman victory of the 2016 season. Uncontested from the outset, Lancaster bested Dylan Saul and Amber Balcaen to take top honors. By virtue of the victory, Lancaster has reassumed command of the points lead by four markers over Karl Budzevski.
Chucky Williams and Doodle Lang shared the spotlight in the 30-lap MOD-4 twinbill. Williams took the checkers in the opener over Lang and Rocky Yates. Lang netted the win in the nightcap, with Williams fending off Yates to complete the podium. The pair of track champions remain deadlocked in the standings after six races.
Photo Credits: Shane Green