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Oakley, Pulliam earn first wins

Two veteran racers looking to improve the start of their respective seasons, Josh Oakley and Lee Pulliam, split Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen Late Model Twin 75’s at South Boston Speedway.

Both drivers had to survive a two-lap green flag sprint to the finish that pushed both of the races into extra laps to claim their wins.

In both races, former South Boston Speedway NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division Champion Matt Bowling had the misfortune of being the odd man out.

In the opening 75-lap race, Bowling was leading Oakley and had taken the white flag for the final lap, only to have his run to the checkered flag interrupted by a mishap that resulted in the caution flag being thrown. That mishap set up a two-lap green-flag dash to the finish.

The pair lined up on the front row for the restart and, on the final lap, Oakley moved Bowling out of the inside groove and muscled past him to take the lead and the race win.

“Thank The Lord the last caution came out and I got another chance,” Oakley said with a sigh of relief after collecting his first win of the season at the .4-mile oval.

“I’m just very happy to be here.’
Oakley explained he simply did what he had to do at the end to win the race.

“He (Bowling) had been brake checking me because my car was really good through the center of the corners,” Oakley explained.

“He knew that’s where my strong point was, and he was killing that for me. On the last lap, to win the race you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I didn’t slow down for him. He brake-checked me and I did a little bump and run there. I did what I had to do. If I was doing the same thing to him, I’d expect the same thing in return.”

Bowling said he held no hard feelings against Oakley.

“He just moved me,” Bowling said.

“That’s racing for a win. I’d have done the same thing. I’m not mad at him. He did what he had to do. The shoe will be on the other foot eventually.”

Bowling was more upset with race officials for not declaring the race over when the caution flew after he had taken the white flag as the race leader. Had that been the case, he would have been in Victory Lane - not Oakley.

 “We had one taken away from us,” Bowling remarked.

“In every kind of racing there is, you take the white flag and the race is over with. I don’t get how they figure that.”

Track chief NASCAR steward Alan Moore said that under South Boston Speedway rules, if the race leader has not taken the checkered flag, the race is not over and a green-white-checker finish ensues.

South Boston’s Bruce Anderson finished third, with former NASCAR national champion Peyton Sellers of Danville and Bobby McCarty of Summerfield, N.C. finishing rounding out the top five finishers.

The race saw the lead swap hands five times among three different drivers. Twenty-eight cars started the race.

Pulliam, the two-time defending NASCAR Whelen All American Series national champion and last year’s South Boston Speedway champion, started 23rd in the 24-car field in the nightcap.

A carburetor issue sent him to the sidelines in the first race, but he made up for that misfortune in the second 75-lap race.

Tommy Lemons Jr. started on the pole and battled Sellers and Bowling through the first 40 laps. Bowling took over second place on lap 43, and Pulliam took the second spot from Bowling a lap later.

Pulliam and Lemons battled each other hard for the top spot. After several laps of side-by-side racing, Pulliam took the lead on lap 66. Right after that, Lemons fell victim to a flat tire and had to stop to have his crew change the tire.

Bowling then stepped up to challenge Pulliam. And, as was the case in the previous race, a mishap on the white-flag lap, set up a final restart and a two-lap green-flag sprint to the finish.

This time, it was Bowling that tried to move the race leader out of the groove. It didn’t work. Pulliam hung on to win the race, and Bowling slipped back to a fifth-place finish.

“It was a really good day for our team, and I’m really to be able to pull this off,” Pulliam remarked.

“He (Bowling) gave me a heck of a shot there getting into (turn) three, but I expected that. I got down on the brake pedal real good, and he ended up screwing himself up when he did it.”

Josh Berry found an opening in the jumble that occurred behind Pulliam in the fourth turn on the final lap and finished second, with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitor Erik Jones finishing third, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East competitor Kaz Grala finishing fourth and Bowling finishing fifth. Anderson, who spun out early in the race, rallied from the rear of the field to finish seventh.

Berry, who had started last in the field, said he was surprised to finish second with the scramble at the end of the race.

“I got into Erik Jones and Erik got into the guy in front of him (Bowling) and turned him sideways,” Berry said.

“I just went as low as I could without clipping the wall, and came out on the other side in front of him. It was definitely a surprise for it to end like that.”

Bowling said he took a calculated risk.

“We gave it all we had,” Bowling said.

“I could have let him (Pulliam) go and finished second, but I had to go for the win. I got into the back of him and tried to move him, and the guys behind me got into me as well and got me loose. It didn’t work out, but it was worth a shot anyway.” 

Oakley averaged 28.907 mph in winning the first race that was slowed by seven caution periods. Pulliam averaged 38.709 mph in the nightcap, which was punctuated by six caution periods.