Ten-win season places Pulliam on the verge of fourth Late Model track title – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam is pulling away.
The Semora, NC, standout is on the brink of a third consecutive O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division track championship following a decisive sweep of the ETHOS Technologies/New River Bank TWIN 75s presented by NASH FM 107.1.
Saturday night’s performance vaulted the no. 5 Kiker Motorsports team into double-digits in the win column; Pulliam now boasts 10 victories in 12 starts in 2015— in five full seasons of competition, it marks the third time Pulliam has visited victory lane on ten or more occasions. The championship implications surrounding the penultimate event added to the significance of the achievement.
Pulliam solidified his stranglehold on the division title in the aftermath of the twinbill; the colossal 84-point advantage in the standings is effectively insurmountable with just one event remaining. Although unofficial -the coronation will not occur until the checkered flag unfurls on September 12th- Pulliam appears poised to collect his fourth Late Model track title at Motor Mile Speedway.
“That’s awesome. Anytime you can win a track title at any track is special, much less here at Motor Mile [Speedway],” beamed Pulliam. “It’s tough up here… and it’s getting tougher. We’re working seven days a week in the shop just trying to stay ahead. It gets tougher each and every week.”
Pulliam bested the largest, most talent-laden Late Model contingent of the season; 24 entries thundered to the green flag in the opener. Pulliam started the first feature from the Price’s Body Shop pole after deadlocking atop the leaderboard with Tommy Lemons, Jr.— the pair of Motor Mile Speedway stalwarts posted identical 16.022 lap times in qualifications.
Lemons proved to be Pulliam’s chief threat in the first 75-lap heat. Three caution periods were brandished prior to the halfway point, enabling Lemons to apply repeated pressure to Pulliam’s lead machine on the restarts. Although briefly effective – Lemons led 12 laps in the contest– the no. 27 ultimately failed to maintain Pulliam’s torrid pace as the race matured.
Lemons trailed by 1.025 seconds at the finish, with Matt Bowling completing the podium.
“We weren’t bad, but we weren’t quite where we needed to be,” summarized Lemons. “We were just a little bit off, and that’s all it takes.”
Bowling would share similar sentiments following the nightcap.
In contrast to the first feature, the complexion of the finale was staggering as the 22-car field received the green flag. An eight-car inversion placed Lemons and Pulliam seventh and eighth, respectively, on the grid. At the outset, concern abounded among the top-tier teams.
“I used up so much tire racing Tommy Lemons in the first race, and I knew the car wasn’t right when we took the green— I knew I had hurt the tires,” explained Pulliam. “I was trying to take it as easy as I could, and make passes when they were smart, because I knew I didn’t have any extra.”
MMS mainstay Mike Looney surged to the point in the opening circuits, overtaking Quinn Houff for the top spot on lap two. Looney led the proceeding 25 laps uncontested. After easing through the field from his sixth place starting spot, Bowling eclipsed Looney for first on lap 28. Bowling’s tenure at the top of the scoreboard was fleeting; Pulliam assumed command of first on lap 34, becoming the fourth and final leader of the race.
The lone yellow flag of the second sprint unfurled on lap 65, staging a 10 lap dash to the checkers. Bowling couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, fading from Pulliam by a margin of .637 seconds at race’s end. Jake Crum finished third.
“It wasn’t a bad night,” Bowling acknowledged. “We got it better for the second race— that’s all you can do. All of my guys worked hard, and we made improvements all night long. We just need a little bit more to make it happen. We’ll get it figured out.”
In his first full-time campaign at the .416-mile oval, Bowling –currently second in the standings– still has an outside chance at the track championship with two races remaining. Precedent suggests it’s a mathematical possibility; during a late-season TWIN event in 2010, points leader Wayne Ramsey suffered a mammoth 88-point swing in the standings to eventual track champion Brandon Dean. With just two points awarded per position in each race, car counts will be paramount to Bowling’s championship hopes on September 12th.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
A staggering 4.175-second triumph in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division 50-lap sprint Saturday night restored Julia Landauer atop the division standings and rekindled aspirations of a track championship in her maiden season at Motor Mile Speedway.
By a minuscule 2-point margin, Landauer returned to the forefront of the division title race for the first time since June 13th, eclipsing former points leader Richard Caldwell, who posted a sixth-place outing in the contest.
Defending track champion Scott Lancaster placed second, with Karl Budzevski rounding out the podium.
Doodle Lang celebrated back-to-back victories in the New River Nissan MOD-4 division twinbill, an achievement that bolstered a burgeoning points lead in the standings. Lang has a slim six-point advantage over Chucky Williams entering the season finale on September 12th.
Williams notched a pair of runner-up showings in the double feature, with Dennis Holdren and Steve Cannaday, respectively, placing third.
Barry Gregory snapped a winless drought dating back to his 2012 championship campaign Saturday night, besting Doug Williams and Scooter Hollandsworth in a dominating return to prominence in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division.
Ricky Howell, Jr. took top honors in the UCAR division, assuming the division points lead in the race’s aftermath. Ryan Cox and Brandon Radford finished second and third, respectively.