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Pulliam makes it three-for-four

Caution flags, or the lack thereof, have often played key roles in the outcome of races.

Such was the case in Saturday’s Easter Bunny NASCAR Late Model 150 at South Boston Speedway.

Reigning NASCAR Whelen All American Series National Champion Lee Pulliam was good on long runs, and with no cautions to slow his pace over the last 73 laps of Saturday’s 150-lap event, Pulliam got exactly what he wanted.

After an exciting battle with 2011 NASCAR Whelen All American Series National Champion Philip Morris that waged off and on for the better part of 30 laps at and just past the midway point of the race, Pulliam pulled away to score a 2.702-second win over Morris.

The win was Pulliam’s third in four starts at South Boston Speedway this season and was his fifth victory in the month of March. 

“I think it’s going to be tough to have a year like we had last year,” Pulliam said referring to his nine wins in 11 starts at South Boston Speedway last season with runner-up finishes in the two races he didn’t win.

“It’s getting tougher and tougher, but we’re going to try to keep this streak alive.”

Two cautions near the middle of the race, one on lap 58 for grease on the track and another on lap 72 after Bruce Anderson accidentally got into Austin Thaxton’s car and turned Thaxton’s car in the second turn set up a battle between the two national champions.

The pair swapped the lead four times over the course of 29 laps, with Pulliam getting the advantage for good on the 98th lap. With no cautions the rest of the way, Pulliam gradually pulled away from Morris to seal the win.

“You never know what is going to happen with caution periods,” Pulliam pointed out, “but I knew I had to get back in front of him (Morris) eventually. I don’t panic in the car. There was a lot of racing left at that point. I knew I had a good car and could do it. I just had to be smart and pick and choose my battles.”

Morris said the only thing that was going to make a difference in the race was how caution flags flew. The two caution periods near and just after the middle part of the race came about 50 laps too soon, he said.

“I think we had the car to beat on the short runs,” Morris pointed out.

“A caution that would have created a green-white-checker finish or one with five (laps) to go was what I needed. It’s good to be faster there, but today, the long run paid off.”

Morris said after Pulliam started pulling away, he didn’t try to press the issue because he still had hopes there would a caution flag late in the race.

“I wasn’t going to try to do anything to slip my tires,” Morris said.

“I felt like he (Pulliam) was better on the long runs, and it would be better for me to keep my tires cool. If I got a caution, I wanted to have cooler tires.”

South Boston’s Bruce Anderson had his best outing since the 2011 season with his third-place finish in a new car fielded by the Patrick Henry Community College motorsports program.

“This a real special day for us,” Anderson remarked.

“I’m real excited about the way we ran. I drove with everything I had. We’ve still got a ways to go, and we need to get the car better, but with this new car and new team, to run third gives us a little momentum.”

The only down part to Anderson’s day was his accidental run-in with Thaxton while the pair battled for third place.

“I raced real hard around a lot of people today,” Anderson pointed out.

“I probably raced too hard with Austin. I got into him. I didn’t hit him that hard but, at the end of the day, I did get into him and spun him around. That dampens my mood because Austin is a good friend of mine and I really hate that it happened. If that hadn’t happened, I’d really be all smiles, but I’m not happy about that.”

C.E. Falk of Virginia Beach raced from his 14th-place starting spot to finish fourth. He took the spot away from fifth-place finisher Dustin Storm of Huntingtown, Md. with nine laps to go.

Bobby McCarty of Summerfield, N.C., finished sixth with Ronald Hill of Rougemont, N.C., Matt McCall of Denver, N.C., Thaxton of Cluster Springs, and last year’s South Boston Speedway track champion Matt Bowling of Ridgeway rounding out the top ten finishers.

Pulliam averaged 64.736 mph in the 150-lap race that was slowed by two cautions that consumed 16 laps and one red flag.