Lee Pulliam was sporting the smile of a champion Saturday night.
And pretty soon, it will be the smile of the 2012 NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion.
Too early to anoint the Semora, NC native, you say? Maybe. But after the dominating display of driving showcased in the CMC Supply Twin 100s, it’s hard to imagine any local racer in America beating Pulliam now— even at their home track.
The wins were critical. Impressive. But perhaps most appropriately, Pulliam’s convincing sweep in the final twinbill of the season at Motor Mile Speedway can be summed up in two words: award-winning.
By virtue of his fifth consecutive win at the .416-mile oval, Pulliam boasts 17 victories this season at short tracks spanning North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. He is no longer racing his familiar foes at Motor Mile Speedway. Pulliam is now contending with drivers like Duane Howard, a dirt track racer in Bechtelsville, PA—the chief threat in the national championship race, according to Pulliam.
And Saturday night, from his Gatorade-soaked victory lane vantage point in the New River Valley, Pulliam is beating him, too.
…and by a growing margin.
“I knew how important [those wins] would be at the end of the year, when we go for this national deal. We’re leading it, but there are some dirt [track] guys that are coming on pretty hard. Every full-points win is big,” explained Pulliam.
“The first race was pivotal,” Pulliam continued. “And in the second race…we just hit it. We made some really good swings. Everybody on the team works extremely hard for me; there’s not a better group of guys out there.”
Price’s Body Shop pole award winner and current Bull & Bones Late Model points leader Josh Berry led much of the opener uncontested as four cautions littered the contest. Mandated to start sixth per the Two Wins in a Row Policy, Pulliam cautiously marched into contention, and in the final ten circuits, he launched a successful assault on Berry. The final lead change of the race occurred on lap 93, with Pulliam edging past Berry’s no. 88 en route to victory. Berry and Tommy Lemons, Jr. rounded out the podium, with finishes of second and third, respectively.
Hunter Devers and Frank Deiny, Jr. were early pace-setters in the nightcap. Again with a sixth-place handicap, Pulliam overcame the deficit to secure the top spot on lap 33. The pass marked the final lead change of the race.
The caution-free feature favored Pulliam, and in the next 67 circuits the driver of the no. 1 amassed a colossal full-straightaway advantage over his nearest competition.
The race was for second place. Mike Looney began the finale seventeenth after engine issues sidelined the no. 47 entry in the first feature. With the aid of fresher tires, Looney mounted a remarkable rally, vaulting to second in the final 25 laps of the race. But without a caution, Pulliam’s lead proved insurmountable.
Looney’s resurgence ended in an astonishing second place showing. Frank Deiny, Jr. claimed third.
With a little over a month of racing remaining before a national champion is crowned, the most crucial laps of the season lie ahead for Pulliam and team no. 1. And if past success is any indication, the lead Pulliam enjoys may be untouchable.
“Probably couldn’t have beat Lee, he’s just really hooked up.” Looney noted after the second feature. “We can’t hardly beat him on an equal footing…”
For a national title contender already beating the best, that’s something to smile about.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Matt Taylor netted the win in the 50-lap Collision Plus Limited Sportsman feature, and in doing so closed to within two points of leader Preston McGhee in the division standings. Chucky Williams made a triumphant return to victory lane in the New River Nissan MOD-4 heat, and Matt Gusler captured the checkers in just his second start of the season in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division.