THE BRIDESMAID NO MORE
Morris severs streaks, notches ninety-seventh career MMS win in Pepsi 150 – JW Martin
Lee Pulliam was on a four-race winning streak. Philip Morris was on a six-race runner-up slump.
Saturday night, the trends came to an end.
Second best since his first O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model win of the season on June 25th, Morris constructed a convincing return to victory lane in the Pepsi 150.
“I had confidence coming out of last week’s race. I was counting the days, because I knew we had a race car that could win,” Morris explained. “I wanted to prove it.”
On a mission from the outset, Morris staged a vintage driving exhibition before a field of 19 Late Models. The Ruckersville, Va., veteran seized the Price’s Body Shop pole award and proceeded to dominate the 150-lap nightcap while a carousel of top challengers gave chase.
After starting alongside Morris, Ryan Repko surrendered second place to Chad Finchum on the initial circuit of the contest. With two victories in four prior starts, Finchum entered the feature a pre-race favorite in his first race since June 11th.
Finchum pursued Morris through the first competition caution of the evening on lap 40. Morris had amassed a one-second-plus advantage over the field during the first green flag stint, and began duplicating the distance over the second green flag run as Finchum became embroiled in a battle for the runner-up spot with Pulliam.
After starting sixth per the “Two Wins in a Row” policy, Pulliam eclipsed Finchum on lap 61 after a brief side-by-side tussle for the position. The second competition caution on lap 86 precipitated multiple visits to pit road for service on Finchum’s no. 19; Finchum rebounded for a top-five finish.
Pulliam failed to capitalize on the newfound track position on the ensuing restart, but the third caution of the race on lap 94 presented the Late Model points leader with one final opportunity at the top spot.
Two laps after the restart, Jonathan Findley tangled with Repko while sparring for third. The contact sent Repko’s no. 14 into a lazy, slow-developing slide down the turn four banking, incurring slight cosmetic damage after a brush with Mike Darne’s no. 21 as the incident unfolded.
Findley shouldered the blame for the contact.
“I got into the no. 14 there— that was my bad. It was just a racing incident, in my opinion,” Findley acknowledged.
The lap 100 restart ushered in the best battle of the race. After edging Morris to lead a trio of circuits, Pulliam appeared poised to wrangle away the top spot from the bottom groove of the track. Intense, close-quarter racing for first climaxed in turn three on lap 105 when Morris instigated contact with Pulliam in an aggressive bid to forestall a pass.
“I crossed him over and he pinched me off a little entering the corner. We hit, and both of us did a heckuva job saving it,” Pulliam explained.
The scrap allowed Findley’s no. 41 to join the fray for first, and Morris dashed out to a two-car-length lead as Pulliam staved off a fleeting duel with Findley for second place.
In the waning circuits, Pulliam settled into second, fading from Morris by a margin of 3.147 seconds at the checkers.
“We just weren’t very good tonight,” Pulliam admitted. “I gave him all I had on the restarts; it made for some fun side-by-side racing. He was able to pull away— he just had too much.”
Findley posted a career-best third-place finish in his fourth attempt at Motor Mile Speedway. Finchum and Repko rounded out the top five.
Morris dented Pulliam’s lead in the track standings by virtue of Saturday night’s victory; Morris faces a 38-point deficit with three races remaining. The win extends an impressive span of races for Morris, who hasn’t finished worse than second in eight consecutive starts.
For Morris, severing the string of runner-up finishes in victory lane was satisfying.
“Being the bridesmaid so many times… I remember that from back in the day— that’s how I came up,” Morris explained. “But our guys never lost heart.”
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
Scott Lancaster survived a persistent late-race challenge from Amber Balcaen to tally his third consecutive win in Collision Plus Limited Sportsman competition. Balcaen, who led a race-high 25 laps, placed second. Karl Budzevski completed the podium.
Chucky Williams topped the MOD-4 division Saturday night, besting Doodle Lang and Cory Dunn for top honors.
Scooter Hollandsworth captured the checkers in the 30-lap Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division feature over Casey Cupp and Doug Williams. Williams’ advantage in the division standings has evaporated; by virtue of the win, Hollandsworth is within two points of Williams entering the final race of the season.
Photo Credits: Shane Green