BOUNTY-FULL NIGHT FOR BOWLING
Ridgeway, Va., racer severs streak in spirited showdown – JW Martin
He was a race late and a dollar short.
Lee Pulliam notched his seventh O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model victory of the season Friday night at Motor Mile Speedway, but the defending track champion’s first-place finish did not solidify him a place in the record books.
Instead, Ridgeway, Va., racer Matt Bowling pocketed a $1,200.00 bounty after severing Pulliam’s six-race winning streak.
They were gunning for greatness in the Kesler Contracting TWIN 75s presented by FOX 21/27. On the cusp of a record-setting seventh straight victory, Pulliam was aiming to break Philip Morris’ benchmark for consecutive victories in a single season. Pulliam’s counterparts were aiming to break his stranglehold on victory lane.
Fueled by the added incentive of an unprecedented $1200.00 bounty reward, a shootout ensued.
Bowling bested the 12-car contingent to claim the Price’s Body Shop Pole Award, only to surrender the top spot to Brandon Butler on the opening circuit. Bowling’s no. 83 shadowed Butler for the first 43 laps before reclaiming the point on lap 44. After starting sixth for the fifth consecutive race per the Two-Wins-in-a-Row Policy, Pulliam eclipsed Butler for second one circuit later on lap 45.
The remainder of the race showcased a stellar struggle for the lead. Having methodically marched into contention, Pulliam began his assault for first on lap 48, patiently positioning his no. 5 entry within inches of Bowling’s back bumper.
Appearing to have the superior machine, Pulliam gravitated to the bottom of the racetrack in the corners, mounting repeated maneuvers on Bowling’s no. 83 from the apron. With Pulliam unable to secure enough real estate to gain an advantage out of the turns, Bowling made a calculated decision to operate exclusively from the speedway’s outside groove. The purpose of the move was twofold: along with maximizing the output of the powerplant, Bowling was also escaping Pulliam’s direct line of fire.
“I had to keep my momentum up on the high side. I figured I would give him the bottom, and see how it worked out,” recalled Bowling. “He was definitely better; he could have passed me if I would’ve stayed on the bottom… he would have just moved me out of the way and got by me.”
Pulliam ratcheted up the pressure as the laps began to dwindle, but the fleeting attempts at a pass were to no avail. A brief surge exiting turn two allowed Pulliam to draw even with Bowling down the backstretch with two laps to go— the move marked the closest Pulliam would come to claiming first. For the first time in 2015, Pulliam failed to lead a lap at the .416-mile oval.
In a resilient last-lap drag race, Pulliam lunged for the stripe .19 seconds behind Bowling as the checkers unfurled.
Having amassed a resume that boasts wins in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown (2014) and Langley Speedway’s $10,000.00 Hampton Heat (2012), Bowling has established a reputation as a prolific Late Model ringer. When considering the magnitude of his third career win at Motor Mile Speedway, Bowling didn’t hesitate.
“That’s probably the hardest win I’ve ever had to earn. I told the guys before this race started that I wasn’t leaving any tire on this one; we’re gonna get it. And that’s what happened. We got the bounty,” exclaimed Bowling.
Butler rounded out the podium in the opener, with Blake Stallings and G.R. Waldrop placing fourth and fifth, respectively.
The nightcap became a redemption race for Pulliam. Eyeing payback for the bounty collected in the first feature, Pulliam quickly rallied from a fifth-place starting spot to the top of the leaderboard on lap 10. Pulliam paced the majority of the race uncontested, for the exception of two mid-race restarts that proved pivotal to the outcome of the 75-lap heat.
A caution on lap 35 and a subsequent yellow flag on lap 39 presented Bowling with a pair of opportunities to wrestle the lead away from Pulliam. Evoking lessons learned from the first feature, Pulliam opted to race from the outside lane on both restarts, yielding the preferred groove to Bowling. Pulliam successfully forestalled a pass, with Bowling unable to capitalize on the conventionally advantageous position.
“I knew I couldn’t give him the outside, or I would be second again,” explained Pulliam. “We fought hard in that first race. Me and him put on a classic battle; Matt is one of those guys that when you race with him, you feel comfortable, and you know you can just race hard.”
Pulliam coasted to the stripe by a colossal 1.8-second margin of victory over Bowling. Stallings placed third, with Craig Stallard and Waldrop rounding out the top five.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division standings remain unchanged in the twinbill’s aftermath, with Pulliam maintaining a 32-point advantage over Bowling in the points race with six contests remaining.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Ryan Repko escaped with his first-career victory in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division following a last-lap melee that engulfed nearly the entire field.
A late-race incident involving frontrunners Julia Landauer and Scott Lancaster staged a green-white-checkered dash for the win, with Dylan Saul and Repko leading the field to the restart. Exiting turn two on the white-flag circuit, Saul’s no. 18 snapped sideways underneath Repko, careening into the inside retaining wall on the back straightaway, subsequently ricocheting into the path of oncoming traffic. Carnage enveloped turn three, with the majority of the top ten becoming collected in the calamitous crash.
“I didn’t look in the rearview mirror. I don’t know what happened,” Repko explained. “It’s pretty awesome. We’ve come a long way; the car has always been there, it’s just that I’ve needed to get experience under my belt.”
Richard Caldwell placed second, with Jake Ruggles rounding out the podium.
Doodle Lang captured his second checkered flag of the season in the New River Nissan MOD-4 division, besting Chucky Williams and Drew Holdren.
Chad Conner scored an emotional victory in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division, taking top honors over Doug Williams and Scooter Hollandsworth.
Rodney Howell visited victory lane for the second time this season in UCAR competition, with Ricky Howell, Jr. and Ryan Cox placing second and third, respectively.