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Auto Racing: Bowling no longer newcomer at Martinsville
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Matt Bowling leans against his car during heat qualifying Saturday for today’s Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 Late Model Stock Car race at Martinsville Speedway. (Bulletin photo by Chris Pride)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

By CHRIS PRIDE - Bulletin Sports Editor

There are no more surprises this time around for Matt Bowling.

He’s been down this road before at Martinsville Speedway. After all, he led 51 laps in last year’s Late Model Series Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300.

And after waiting nearly a year to get a crack at redemption, Bowling hopes to lead the lap that matters most: the last one.

Bowling will get his chance in today’s Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300, widely regarded as the Daytona 500 of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Late Model Series. He finished seventh in last year’s race after a power steering issue dropped him from the lead inside the final 25 laps.

Bowling took the lead on the inverted restart at the halfway point before running into trouble. The loss also cost the sophomore driver that season a Late Model Triple Crown victory.

“I lost sleep over that — we lost a race over a little power steering fit. Wish we could’ve come back the next week and redeemed ourselves,” Bowling said. “I feel way more comfortable and know what I need moreso now than I did four years ago (during his first time in this race). I was coming in here praying I was going to make the race. Now I’m going for the win. You still have to make the race, which can’t be taken away.”

Last season’s South Boston Speedway points champion, the Ridgeway native turned his focus this season to becoming more rounded with tracks and gunning for a Martinsville checkered flag. He heads into today’s race sixth in the state and 34th nationally, running four tracks.

In 27 starts, he has one win, eight top-5 and 20 top-10 finishes for a total of 557 points. His victory came at Motor Mile Speedway in Fairlawn on June 1 as he passed national champion Lee Pulliam inside the final five laps in the Michael Huffman Memorial Twin 125’s.

Earlier this season, Bowling went from last (29th) to sixth in the UNOH Battle at the Beach in Daytona, Fla. He won twice in 29 starts in 2012, with 19 top-5 finishes and 27 top-10 places. That year he also finished fourth in the state and ranked 16th nationally.

He has a new car and the same engine as last year, which looked strong for most of the race. Handling has been his main focus and valued the practice time last week to make adjustments to what he might see today.

“The car was awfully good last year, but we thought we could be a little bit better, and this car seems to be turning better. We just need to get hooked up off the corners,” Bowling said. “We’re pretty stable and David Triplett, my crew chief, is looking after me and is doing a good job with that. It feels good going in here because he knows how to get his way around here too and has sat on the pole before.”

Bowling left Peyton Sellers Racing prior to last year’s race.

Knowing he’ll need to be able to make up tenths of a second at times throughout the race, a different strategy is involved with a 200-lap feature race, instead of the 150 laps last October. The heat races were cut down to 20 laps Saturday afternoon and no new sets of tires were given prior to green flag today.

He’ll lean on his knowledge and trust in his crew chief to make the right decisions inside the last 25 laps today.

“You might want to ride a little more in the heat race, because you have to use that same set of tires at the first segment of the race,” Bowling said. “So you might want to look after them a little bit more. Last year I think we got a new set after the heat race and could go all out for the first 25 laps.”


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