- Last Updated on 08:27 AM 08/20/12
- BY Joe Chandler
Nobody could have written a better script for race fans attending Saturday night’s NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division twinbill at South Boston Speedway.
They had Lee Pulliam, a young driver leading the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national points chase and bidding for his first national title, facing veteran Philip Morris, the four-time and defending NASCAR national champion and South Boston Speedway champion, going head-to-head in a pair of 75-lap races.
It was the first on-track meeting between the pair since the dramatic ending of last October’s season finale at South Boston Speedway. Saturday night was Morris’ first night of racing this season with his own car following a pre-season split with car owner Jim Dean.
Pulliam swept the twinbill, swelling his season win total to 20 victories and improving his South Boston Speedway record to nine wins in 11 starts. But, before Pulliam could pocket the sweep, he had to survive a bumper-tapping battle with Morris midway through the second race.
“It was how you want to write the book,” Pulliam said.
“Philip drove his heart out. He and I have had so many battles. Most of the time I came out on the losing end, including here last October. It feels good to be on top at South Boston with him here.”
Morris finished second in both races, not a bad first night for his first outing of the season. But, for Morris, who made a big habit of winning races at South Boston Speedway last season, it wasn’t quite good enough.
“I guess I should be happy we got as close as we did,” he remarked.
“It’s hard to come back to South Boston Speedway after having had such an awesome year last year and finish second. Winning might have been a lofty goal, but every time I come, it’s going to be the same one.”
Starting third in the first race, Pulliam sped past Morris to take second place on lap 40 and then took the lead from pole winner Jeb Burton a lap later. With no caution flags after that point, Pulliam pulled away from the field to post his first win of the night.
Morris, who started fifth, got past Burton to take second place on lap 53, but was unable to mount a serious threat to Pulliam. He trailed Pulliam by 4.551 seconds at the end, with Peyton Sellers of Danville, Austin Thaxton of South Boston and Burton rounding out the top five finishers.
Starting fifth in the nightcap as a result of an inverted start, Pulliam rallied to gain second place from Thaxton on lap 23 and set sail after Morris for the top spot. Pulliam muscled his way past Morris on lap 32 to grab the lead, and Morris muscled Pulliam back before Pulliam could clear the defending South Boston Speedway champion.
Once in front, Pulliam gradually inched away from Morris and sped across the finish line with a 1.218-second advantage. Thaxton finished third, with Sellers and South Boston Speedway points leader, Matt Bowling of Ridgeway, rounding out the top five finishers.
“When I got into him a little bit coming off of turn two, I knew he was going to return the favor,” Pulliam said.
“We just swapped paint back and forth and swapped the lead. I kept digging hard on the outside because I knew if I could ever clear him and get a little space I would be okay. I finally got that space I needed.”
Morris said he was struggling with a loose-handling car.
“I really wanted the back end up under me a little more where I could drive away and save tires,” Morris pointed out.
“When he (Pulliam) caught me, I realized it was going to be a matter of holding on. The car was really loose, and he got into me, and that really made it loose. I got on the inside and worked him up a little bit.”
A late caution would have helped, Morris said.
“We always get a late-race caution,” Morris noted, “and I backed it down a lot expecting it both races and never did get it. On the long runs, it (the car) was just too loose.”