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Auto Racing: Pulliam has eyes set on Martinsville Late Model victory
Morris gunning for first repeat title
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In this Sept. 25 photo, NASCAR Whelen All-American Late Model Series national champion Lee Pulliam takes a break during practice in preparation for today’s Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 Late Model race at Martinsville Speedway. (Bulletin photo by Chris Pride)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

By CHRIS PRIDE - Bulletin Sports Editor

Semora, N.C., native Lee Pulliam didn’t dominate his way to a NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national title this season, as his series-best 27 wins might indicate.

Raleigh, N.C., driver Deac McCaskill finished just 16 points behind, totaling 18 wins and 21 top-five finishes in 42 starts — five fewer than Pulliam. But should Pulliam become the first driver to win both the national title and the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 in the same season, those still impressive numbers may be more than validated.

He won the event two years ago and was runner-up last October.

The Super Bowl of Late Model Stock Car racing is set to commence at noon today as Martinsville Speedway plays host to the 45th running of the prestigious race. Ninety cars are entered, and four 20-lap qualifying heats and a 20-lap last-chance race will align the 42-car field for the feature race that goes green at approximately 3:30 this afternoon.

“It’s a lot of excitement, and you can only win one grandfather clock at one track. Martinsville is just a fun place to race,” Pulliam said. “You break hard, get a little bit of rubbing, and banging, it’s my style racing … winning the grandfather clock was one of the top priorities this season. There has never been another feeling like winning at Martinsville. I’ve won two national titles that have been ecstatic feelings, but nothing is more thrilling than to join the great people that have won here.”

Pulliam is coming off his most impressive season in the Whelen All-American Series with 27 wins in 47 starts, and became only the third driver in the series’ history to win consecutive titles, backing his title last season. More impressively, Pulliam finished with 40 top-5 finishes. He failed to make the top 10 in only three races.

One could argue Pulliam is on a serious mission this season, and anything short of a trip to Victory Lane today he said would be tough to deal with. He became only the fourth driver to score maximum points possible in the national rankings.

“It’s just a lot of hard work and I stay in the shop constantly. I’m looking to make my company better,” said Pulliam. “It’s been a real good year for us, have had a lot of business and I’m just real thankful for everybody. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there isn’t a lot of luck in winning this race. But it’s also a lot about timing, and last year I felt we had a good enough car to win last year and didn’t time it up right. We got a little mixed up on final laps. I thought I had the run to make a pass but it was a little too late.”

As for Morris, it’s been either him or Pulliam recently that have won the race, combining for the last three titles. Morris made a gutsy move on the outside of Turn 1 on a restart to pass Matt Bowling with 25 laps to go to win the race. He won the race in 2010 and 2000 joining Barry Beggarly as the only three-time winners of the event. Curtis Markham leads with four championships.

The savvy veteran driver held off Pulliam last year in a frantic finish. He is one of the other drivers to have repeat national titles to his name besides Pulliam — Larry Phillips the other. It’s also been almost 20 years since there has been a repeat champ at Martinsville.

“Yeah I guess that would be a feat, but just winning this race in itself is a pretty magical feat. So I’m just looking to be up front at some point grab control of the race,” Morris said. “Considering I’ll be racing against 16-year-olds and I’m one of the oldest in the sport, yeah I guess I’m kind of a grandfather. But when I get strapped in that car and the helmet goes on I feel like I’m 12 again. It brings me back and no loss of energy.”

Danville native, Timothy Peters, and NASCAR Camping World Trucks regular, is back in the field for the first time since 2010. With his schedule free on the trucks circuit the change in date this year in the Late Model race allowed Peters to run again, something he marked off on the calendar right away.

“I finally had a series of Late Model races I could do and this one was definitely on my schedule,” Peters said. “Big thanks to Barry Nelson and the Nelson family for all that they do to allow me to come out here and give me a shot to do this. I wish I could run every race here.

The format for today’s action is slightly different than last year. Heat races have been cut down by five laps to 20. The last chance race has also been cut from 50 to 20 laps, making it more of an emphasis on making the top eight in the qualifying heats. The feature race is then 50 laps more to round out the 300 laps.

“Obviously for me it’s better, because no matter where you start, the extra laps gives you just a little bit more time where you can be patient,” Morris said. “That’s always been the problem here, is never enough laps. You need to be patient against the best of the best or they’ll turn your nose in.”

Peters added that getting through the heat race can be tough not only because of cautions but also because of the lack of laps to make a move.

“The thing about the heat race is that it has a tendency to be caution filled. You can’t always worry about a long-run car to start because there are a lot of cautions. We look for a good 10-15 lap consistency.”


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