- Last Updated on 03:26 PM 10/18/12
- BY Joe Chandler
There has not been a repeat winner in the Virginia is For Racing Lovers 300 NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division race at Martinsville Speedway.
NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion Lee Pulliam of Semora, N.C. is hoping to break that trend this weekend.
Pulliam, who won 22 of his 36 starts this season enroute to winning the national championship, won the $25,000 first prize in last year’s 200-lap feature race after a fender-banging last-lap battle with Matt McCall and is one of the favorites entering Sunday’s event at the half-mile oval.
“It would be icing on the cake,” Pulliam said of a win at Martinsville Speedway.
“It would be really neat to pull it off. That’s what we’re there for. We’re not going there to run second. We’re going there to win the race.
“I think it’s going to be a hard-fought battle,” he added.
“Everybody is working extremely hard to get their cars as good as possible. It’s definitely going to be a great show for the fans.”
Martinsville Speedway officials have changed the format for this weekend’s Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 300, going to an all-heat-race format to determine the 42-car starting field for Sunday’s 150-lap feature race.
Starting Sunday at noon, there will be four 25-lap heat races, with the top eight finishers in each race advancing into the 150-lap feature race. After that, there will be a 50-lap Last Chance Race, with the top 10 finishers in that race advancing into the feature race, which will have a 42-car starting field.
Drivers will have a day of practice on Saturday. Speeds from the final hour of practice from 4 p.m. until 5 p.m. will be used to set the starting fields for each of Sunday’s four 25-lap qualifying heat races.
Another new switch has been put on the competitors for the 150-lap feature race, which is expected to start at around 3 p.m. Sunday. Teams will not be allowed to change tires during halfway break of the race, which will come at or near the 75-lap mark.
That new twist, Pulliam said, will fall into his favor.
“The longer races have always been our strong point,” Pulliam noted.
“I think it (not being able to change tires at the halfway break) is going to hurt a lot of these guys who are used to new rubber that can go real fast for 75 laps. Those guys are used to getting crutches when you can put new tires on at halfway.
“Our car seems to not fall off as badly as a lot of other cars,” added Pulliam.
“I look forward to it. I think I can be pretty smart behind the wheel and save those tires.”
With the race placing an emphasis on tire management, Pulliam says he doesn’t feel that it would be good strategy for a driver to try to lead the whole race.
“I just don’t think that’s the thing to do,” he noted.
“I think you want to be somewhere from third to sixth place most of the race, somewhere in that area where you can be comfortable and not have challenges in front or behind you.”
Pulliam is confident about his prospects for this weekend’s race. He had a good outing in the recent open testing session at Martinsville Speedway, but is working to find just a little bit more from his car.
“We did really well (at the test), but I thought it needed just an extra little tweak to make it a phenomenal race car,” Pulliam pointed out.
“Right now, I think we have a top-two or top-three race car, but we’re trying to get that extra little bit to separate us from the rest of the pack.”
Pulliam said regardless of the outcome, fans will be treated to a lot of excitement in Sunday’s event.
“Everybody is waiting to see what’s going to happen, what’s going to take place,” he said.
“It’s going to be who puts himself in the right position to make the right move at the end of the race. It’s going to get interesting. I don’t know whether it will be best to be leading the last lap or running second. You’ve just to have a lot of luck. All of the cards have got to fall into place.”
As part of Sunday’s event at Martinsville Speedway, the winner of the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown will be determined.
South Boston Speedway, Martinsville Speedway and Langley Speedway got together this season to create the Virginia Late Model Triple Crown series which carries a $5,000 prize for the winner. The second-place finisher will claim $3,000 while third will pay $1,500.
The season-opening Danville Toyota 300 at South Boston Speedway, the Langley Heat 200 on July 28 and the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 comprise the triple crown series.
Points are awarded to drivers in each event based on their finish. Norfolk’s C.E. Falk leads the Triple Crown chase headed into the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 with 83 points. He won the first leg of the Triple Crown at South Boston and was second in the Triple Crown event at Langley, his home track. South Boston Speedway champion Matt Bowling is only four points behind Falk with 79 points, His efforts included a win at Langley and a fourth-place finish at South Boston Speedway.