Lee Pulliam collects his eighth checkered flag of the season in twinbill nightcap – JW Martin
Saturday night, the shoe was on the other leadfoot.
In the opening BAIRD Drywall / Member One TWIN 75 presented by 94.9 Star Country, Troy, NC, native Tommy Lemons, Jr. served notice that Motor Mile Speedway O’Reilly Auto Parts Late Model points leader Lee Pulliam wasn’t the only driver capable of dominating.
From the pole, Lemons led 73 circuits uncontested en route to his ninth career win at the .416-mile oval.
“We’ve worked our butts off – all the guys at the shop – we’ve worked and worked to try to beat that no. 5 car. He had a little bad luck; he was a little off his game— but this no. 27 car was hooked up in that first race.”
It was an atypical outing for Pulliam; the two-time NASCAR WHELEN All-American Series national champion forwent the entire second practice session due to an engine change. Ironically, despite being unencumbered by the Two-Wins-In-A-Row Policy for the first time since the season opener on May 2nd, Pulliam only managed a sixth-place starting spot on the 16-car grid— a result, in part, of the lengthy mechanical procedure.
By contrast, Lemons proved to have the no. 27 in peak form. Having collected the Price’s Body Shop pole award, Lemons wrangled the lead away from outside pole-sitter Mike Looney after a brief tussle on lap two. A pair of early cautions aided Pulliam’s advancements, and by lap 40, the no. 5 Kiker Motorsports Chevrolet was in second place…and in contention.
Yet, as the laps began to dwindle, Pulliam failed to reduce the substantial interval constructed by Lemons. Pulliam remained stationed in second as the checkers unfurled, trailing Lemons by 1.34 seconds.
In convincing fashion, Lemons became the third different Late Model driver to visit victory lane in 2015. Looney rounded out the podium, but a subsequent disqualification in post-race technical inspection thwarted the impressive effort.
Juan Garcia was awarded third, with G.R. Waldrop and Kyle Dudley finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
Lemons’ victory in the first race was no fluke. But according to Pulliam, an ominous lap 23 caution in the latter feature was.
Due to an invert following the first 75-lap heat, the top two placeholders were relegated to eighth and ninth, respectively, at the outset of the nightcap. With Lemons in tow, Pulliam patiently navigated the slower traffic as the pair worked their way methodically through the top ten.
The opening circuits of the encore were awash in carnage. At the front of the field, pole-sitter Craig Stallard and Bryan Reedy had birthed a spirited struggle for the top spot. The see-saw battle between the duo became a three-car engagement on lap 16 with the addition of Quin Houff.
The battle for first reached a climax down the front straightaway, when a daring three-wide maneuver by Houff sparked an accordion collision entering turn one. Plunging to the apron of the track in the corner, Houff pushed up and into Reedy, who tangled with Stallard, triggering a tandem spin through the apex of turns one and two.
“The no. 42 and I were having a good battle— rubbing doors and having fun. I guess [Houff] got impatient behind us and didn’t want to wait,” Reedy remarked.
While the first yellow flag changed the complexion of the contest, the second caution period proved to have more profound race-altering ramifications.
From his seventh place starting spot, Looney had marched to fourth prior to the restart. For the next several circuits, Looney – appearing to have the superior machine- applied significant pressure to Garcia’s third-place entry in an attempt to initiate a pass. On lap 23, contact sparked a multi-car crash in the corner as the pair entered turn one two abreast.
“I felt like I’d been inside [of him for] several laps, and he was chopping me off. I expected that; he wasn’t really doing anything wrong. But the last time, I felt like I was in there far enough… far enough that I should’ve had the lane,” explained Looney. “By the time I could tell he didn’t know I was there, I put all the wheel and brake into it that I could, and aimed it for the apron.”
The contact sent Looney’s no. 87 into a lazy sideways slide towards the bottom of the track, careening helplessly into the path of Lemons. The damage incurred in the collision forced Lemons to pit road under the ensuing yellow flag. Looney was relegated to the garage.
Soldiering on despite the damage, Lemons managed to rebound into the top five with the aid of the finale’s final caution on lap 35. In a remarkable comeback, Lemons had willed the no. 27 into second by race’s end.
With his top competition handicapped, Pulliam coasted in the closing circuits, amassing a colossal 2.77-second margin of victory over Lemons. The rout was Pulliam’s eighth win in 10 races.
“I think we got a little bit lucky,” Pulliam acknowledged. “I hated to see [Lemons] get involved in that [crash]. If it hadn’t been for that, I believe it would’ve been a heckuva show. He was mighty strong tonight.”
G.R. Waldrop placed third, with Garcia and Dudley completing the top five.
The victory, coupled with a devastating night for Matt Bowling, has Pulliam on the brink of a fourth Motor Mile Speedway Late Model track championship. An expired engine on Bowling’s no. 83 early in the first feature equated to a 46-point shift in the standings; the gap from Pulliam to Bowling has swelled to 78 markers with four races remaining.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
In a dominating performance, Julia Landauer netted her third win of the season in Collision Plus Limited Sportsman competition, besting Ryan Repko and Karl Budzevski to claim top honors.
Doug Williams and Scooter Hollandsworth shared the spotlight in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock twinbill, splitting the pair of 30-lap features.
Doodle Lang captured his third win of the season in New River Nissan MOD-4 competition, defeating Chucky Williams and Steve Cannaday at the finish.
Ricky Howell, Jr. claimed his first win of the 2015 season in the UCAR class. Rodney Howell and W.J. Altizer completed the podium.