PULLIAM SWEEPS SEASON OPENER
Saul snares first-career LS win in spectacular last-lap sprint to the checkers – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam arrived at Motor Mile Speedway with a gorilla on his back. He left with a pair of victories under his belt.
It’s been an atypical start to racing season for the defending NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion. Despite seven Late Model starts among three different racetracks, victory lane remained elusive.
The winless drought came to an end Saturday afternoon with a convincing sweep of the Shively Electric TWIN 75’s.
“We’ve had some fast race cars, but we’ve had a gorilla on our back. Nothing but bad luck.” Pulliam said of the slow start to the 2016 season. “This is awesome for the whole team. We’ve been ready to get up here… this is like home for us.”
Pulliam’s resurgence began with a rag-to-rag rout in the opener, besting prolific Motor Mile Speedway ringer C.E. Falk for the win by .954 seconds. Ryan Repko, in his O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model division debut, completed the caution-free feature third.
The talent-laden 11-car field saved the fireworks for the finale. Overcoming a six-car invert following the first feature, Pulliam eclipsed Brandon Butler for the top spot on lap 35. The second lead change of the race proved to be the pass for the win, but the action was just beginning.
As the laps began to wane, the battle for the runner-up spot was intensifying. Following an inauspicious seventh-place effort in the first race, Philip Morris emerged as a formidable threat in the nightcap. The seven-time Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track champion rocketed through the field, and swiftly converged on Butler’s no. 02 following the halfway point. Close-quarter racing climaxed in turn one on lap 62, when contact from Morris sent Butler careening up the turn one banking, brandishing the second caution of the contest.
Butler was relegated to the garage; Morris was penalized to the rear of the field for rough driving.
“I had a few words with Philip afterwards, and he’s right— he was looking under me. But if you look at the tape, I feel like I was at least a car length up the racetrack. He’s way too good a driver to drive people like that,” explained Butler. “I have a lot of respect for Philip; he’s a great race car driver. He’s been a good friend of mine, and we’ll still be friendly…. but he won’t catch as many breaks from me anymore.”
The yellow flag converged the field, precipitating the third caution of the night one lap after the restart. A promising run for Repko in the latter feature came to a premature end after tangling with Derrick Lancaster on the backstretch. The two drivers were wrestling for position inside the top five at the time of contact.
The restart staged a 10-lap dash to the checkers, and white-knuckle racing ensued. Pulliam re-established command of first as the top five became embroiled in a battle for second best. Falk, fading from Pulliam, became engulfed by the hard-charging machines of Morris and Lancaster. In the final frenzied laps, Falk backslid to fourth as Morris and Lancaster orchestrated a spirited duel for second place. Lancaster prevailed at the checkers, capturing a career-best podium finish after starting the race in eleventh place.
“Racing with those two guys… I knew I couldn’t give an inch. I had to take every inch I could -plus a little bit- to beat them,” Lancaster said of the runner-up showing. “I can’t wait to come back next week. If we get all the bugs worked out and qualify up front…I want a shot at the no. 5.”
Lancaster wasn’t the only driver left pining for a second chance at Pulliam. Morris contemplated the potential outcome of a green-white-checkered finish—an opportunity that failed to materialize.
“He would’ve had to pass me, because I was going to take the lead,” Morris mused. “I think the fans would’ve got a really good show, but it’s to-be-continued, because we’re coming back next week.”
Motor Mile Speedway’s season resumes next Saturday, April 23rd.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Dylan Saul celebrated his first-career win in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman division Saturday afternoon after a thrilling last-lap pass on 2014 track champion Scott Lancaster. The last-moment move was the culmination of a hard-fought battle that raged throughout the second half of the race.
Lancaster placed second, with Karl Budzevski completing the podium.
Doodle Lang began the 2016 MOD-4 season where he ended the 2015 season— in victory lane. Lang, the defending track titlist, out-paced Chucky Williams and newcomer Joshua Gobble for the win.
Photo Credit: Joe Mills