WHEN THE FAT LADY SINGS
It’s not over ‘till it’s over.
Just ask Josh Berry.
On a night when a Lee Pulliam victory seemed inevitable, a stunning sequence of events unfolded in favor of Berry, netting the Bull & Bones Late Model points leader his first win of the 2012 season.
“The race ain’t over until the checkers fly,” Berry said. “I was just hoping for some cautions there at the end to make it interesting.”
Recently reinstated after serving a four-month suspension, Pulliam made his 2012 debut at Motor Mile Speedway Saturday night. And after back-to-back wins at South Boston Speedway, the 2011 track titlist entered the Cintas/94.9 Star Country/Kesler Contracting & Property Management 150 the favorite.
Pulliam secured the top spot from Price’s Body Shop pole sitter Adam Long on lap 20, and proceeded to dominate the next 95 circuits of the event uncontested with Berry in pursuit.
“He started to get away, and I didn’t panic. The plan was to have something at the end if we needed it,” explained Berry. “It always seems like you need it.”
The plan came together. One lap after a late-race restart on lap 131, Pulliam’s machine snapped loose and slid up and into Berry’s No. 88 in turn four. As the lead duo scrambled to regain control, a chain-reaction crash unfolded further back in the top ten, collecting Derrick Lancaster and Mike Looney, among others.
“Lee took the No. 88 up the hill and caused everybody to go wild,” Looney recalled afterward. “Evidently there were two cars on the outside of me when we got up on the straightaway. I don’t know how it could have been avoided. It’s the end of the race. Everybody’s going for it. It’s a racing incident.”
Lancaster was at the epicenter of the maylay.
“It seemed like I was a ping-pong ball all night,” Lancaster said. “When the No.1 ran the No. 88 up, the No. 88 came down and knocked me right into Mike. It was like there were four lanes, and it all closed up. What do you do? That’s racing.”
Both drivers entered the night in the top five in the standings.
The crash triggered the sixth and final caution period of the race, and warranted a red flag. It would also stage a final 12-lap dash to the checkers.
And the drama was building. Pulliam was nursing a failing right front tire prior to the yellow. The tire issue manifested as the field came to the restart, and when the green flag fell, so did Pulliam. As the No. 1 began to plummet through the pack, Berry assumed the lead.
But the race was still far from over. Frank Deiny, Jr. had rallied from an eleventh place starting spot, and despite an underperforming race car, Deiny was suddenly in position to win. As the laps began to wane, Deiny rapidly erased Berry’s advantage. By the time the white flag unfurled, Deiny had consumed Berry’s rear-view mirror. The margin of victory at the checkers was a miniscule .26- seconds.
The second-place effort marked Deiny’s best performance in what has become a discouraging start the season. But the veteran has remained optimistic, and Deiny’s colorful humor permeated his post-race interview.
“As long as Lee Pulliam keeps racing, we’ll keep getting better,” said Deiny with his patented wry smile. “Me and Philip Morris have always had a big rivalry, you know. And I can’t stand Lee Pulliam so bad that I’ve got a Philip Morris T-shirt on under my suit.”
Kelly Kingery’s No. 57 finished a stout third in just his second outing of the season.
For Pulliam, an eighth place result was an unsatisfactory end to a commanding performance.
“Just bad luck. It [stinks] when you have a car that good and you don’t get the ‘W’. But that’s why they call it racing,” Pulliam said. “The last two weeks have been awesome… just being back behind the wheel. Just bummed out right now, but we’ll get ‘em.”
Berry’s JR Motorsports entry has been the most consistent car on the track this season; three third place finishes preceded his breakthrough performance Saturday night. It marks the second career victory for Berry, who visited victory lane for the first time on April 30, 2011. His latest win adds to a burgeoning points lead; Berry has a 28-point cushion over Looney after four races.
IN OTHER DIVISIONS
COLLISION PLUS Limited Sportsman
He was the best of the bunch.
Saturday night was a coming-out party for Garrett Bunch, who shed weeks of bad luck by capturing back-to-back victories in the in the Collision Plus Limited Sportsman twinbill.
After posting his first career victory in the opener uncontested, Bunch fended off a hard-charging Preston McGhee and later forestalled the advancements of Travis Hurt to take top honors in the finale and complete the sweep.
“That was a lot of fun,” Bunch said. “Winning two here after coming in winless with all the bad luck we’ve had—we qualified on the pole, won the first one, and drew No.1 for the second race. So luck is back on our side, and hopefully we can keep it up.”
McGhee and Hurt trailed Bunch at the finish of race No. 1. Hurt and Matt Taylor rounded out the top three in the nightcap.
Scott Lancaster maintained his spot atop the division standings, albeit by a slim margin of two points over McGhee five races into the season.
CARPET FACTORY OUTLET Street Stock
Only one yellow slowed the pace of the race as Barry Gregory coasted to his second victory of the season in the Carpet Factory Outlet Street Stock division.
Gregory’s No. 9 has outshined the competition this season, and Saturday night the No. 9 team routed the seven-car field. Gregory led rag-to-rag from the pole, besting Dr. Sheryl Carls and Scooter Hollandsworth at the finish.
By virtue of the victory, Gregory has tied three-time track titlist Brent Bell for supremacy in the division standings after three races.
Doug Lawrence snared the 25-lap UCAR heat Saturday night after a climactic battle with Patrick Janney for the top spot midway through the contest.
After sparring with Lawrence for the lead, Janney would incur underbody misfortune that forced him to the garage only a few circuits from the finish.
Rodney Howell and Keith Rowland finished second and third, respectively.