THE SECOND COMING
A Racing Renaissance: Nine years since his life-changing Late Model season, venerable 2005 NWAAS National Champion Peyton Sellers is back on the rise – JW Martin
Peyton Sellers can’t win for losing.
This season, the Motor Mile Speedway Bull & Bones Late Model division points leader has been second best. In eight starts, the Danville, Va., native has amassed a division-high five runner-up finishes. The consistency has equated to a 30-point advantage in the standings with two weekends of racing remaining in 2014. Yet, victory lane remains elusive.
He’s been close to capturing the checkered flag. Really close. Sellers has fallen at the finish line by intervals of 0.03 or less twice this season.
In the midnight hour of June 27th, Sellers and Late Model counterpart Tommy Lemons, Jr. authored Motor Mile Speedway’s first-ever electronically recorded tie. The track’s electronic scoring system recorded an unprecedented 0.00 interval at the checkers. Sellers was initially –and unofficially– declared the winner, based on the finishing order compiled by the ESS.
The celebration commenced. Victory lane photographs were taken. Afterward, Sellers’ no. 99 Chevrolet passed post-race technical inspection, suggesting the victory was secured. But five days later, following a comprehensive review, track officials overturned the decision and awarded the victory to Lemons.
One race later, Sellers was embroiled in another white-knuckle battle for the win. The riveting, side-by-side dash to the finish line on July 25th resulted in a 0.03 margin of victory in favor of Lee Pulliam. Sellers was relegated to second after leading a race-high 34 circuits.
“The competition right now at Motor Mile [Speedway] is as strong as it is anywhere,” Sellers says. “We do have points on our mind; last year, we were racing for wins, and I put the car in some bad spots a time or two. This year, I’m racing for points a little bit more.”
Sellers may not be winning on the track. But he’s on track to win it all. Aside from his first Motor Mile Speedway track championship, Sellers is on the cusp of a second South Boston Speedway crown and a NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series Virginia state title. The championship potential is characteristic of a driver with a proven track record of success.
In 2005, Sellers became the youngest driver ever to win the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national championship at age twenty-one. The watershed Late Model season vaulted Sellers into the national spotlight, and a contract with Richard Childress Racing followed, adding validity to ability. Over the next seven years, Sellers canvassed the country with various teams, competing against the sport’s biggest names on the sport’s biggest stages. To date, Sellers’ resume boasts 12 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, seven NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, and stints in the NASCAR K&N Series and the ARCA Racing Series.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about funding. If you can’t find the funding to go race, you come back home and do what you can afford to do. I was very blessed to have the opportunity to go do it, and stay there for a little while,” explains Sellers. “The last five or six years was a whirlwind. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change anything. Circumstances didn’t align for me to be at the right place at the right time to catch that break.
“I used to race thinking I had to win in order to move up and get a look. Now, I’m racing for the pure enjoyment of it,” continues Sellers. “In the last two years, we’ve really gotten serious about [Late Model racing.] And we’ve been able to win some races.”
Now, with over 30 NASCAR Late Model victories to their credit, the Sellers Racing juggernaut is reemerging. A two-win season in 2013 included a $10,000 payday in the prestigious Hampton Heat 200 at Langley Speedway, and the resurgence has continued. Five wins thus far in 2014 has elevated Sellers to sixth overall in the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national standings. Sellers enjoys a 21-point advantage in the NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series Virginia state standings, and his points lead at South Boston Speedway has swelled to 84 points.
Sellers appears poised to capture his first track championship at South Boston Speedway since his 2005 national championship season. Conversely, the track championship battle at Motor Mile Speedway is more of a quandary than the sizable 30-point interval implies.
Statistically, Sellers’ results this season are a near replica of his production the year prior. 2013 marked Sellers’ first full-time season at Motor Mile Speedway; dating back to 2004, Sellers had compiled just 17 total starts at the New River Valley speedplant.
His full-time debut produced ten top-five finishes, highlighted by his third-career win at Motor Mile Speedway on August 10th. A spirited duel for the track championship was decided on the final night of the season, with Pulliam eclipsing Sellers for the title by a mere 20 points.
Underlying the impressive performance are a few potentially ominous parallels to his latest full-time endeavor. As is the case this season, Sellers led the division in 2013 with five runner-up finishes. With eight top-fives already in 2014, Sellers is on pace to meet the categorical benchmark set in 2013. Moreover, Sellers relinquished command of the points lead following the fifth night of racing in 2013 after a 26-point swing in the standings. The team never recovered from the setback. And once again, he’s battling Pulliam—now a two-time defending NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion.
Entering the fifth event of the year on September 6th with more than double the points of a season ago, how does Sellers avoid a repeat of the outcome that befell the team in 2013?
“This year I think we have to dot the ‘I’s and cross the ‘T’s a little bit better. We can’t lose a championship as long as we’re running second and third every week. We’ve got to maintain those good performances,” says Sellers. “At the end of the day, I feel like we have to get our car better, compete for wins, and be smart.
“If we go out there and try to win the race, the points will fall in the right place. If we go out there trying to save a 30-point lead and be conservative, we’re gonna end up hurting ourselves,” Sellers explains.
Sellers is on the brink. He acknowledges the magnitude of his extraordinary 2014 season could in fact overshadow his spellbinding 2005 national championship campaign. Coupled with a Virginia state title, Sellers could become just the second Late Model driver in history to earn track championships at South Boston Speedway and Motor Mile Speedway in a single season.
Which brings Sellers back around to the start-finish line. Winning races will almost guarantee Sellers a track championship at Motor Mile Speedway in 2014. But just how imperative is it? In 2003, Jason Merriman snared the NASCAR Late Model track championship by eight markers over Richard Landreth without recording a single victory.
Sellers could become the first Late Model racer since Merriman to parlay a winless season into a championship. And according to Sellers, it wouldn’t blemish the significance of a track championship at Motor Mile Speedway.
“Not with the competition level like it is at Motor Mile Speedway right now,” Sellers states. “If you can win a title there with as many good cars as they have week in and week out, you’ve accomplished an exceptional feat, regardless if you win or not.
“In my eyes, I got a win one night. The record book just doesn’t show it, you know?” Sellers quips.
Overall, Sellers’ results at Motor Mile Speedway this season haven’t been indicative of performance. Or maybe they have…because despite the winless drought, Sellers is proving himself second to none.