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Pulliam takes big step in national title chase

Lee Pulliam took a big step toward the NASCAR Whelen All American Series national championship Saturday night by topping Deac McCaskill, his chief rival for the national title, and 23 other drivers in a sweep of the Gazette-Virginian Late Model Twin 75’s at South Boston Speedway.

The pair of wins ran the Semora N.C. resident’s win total at South Boston Speedway to 13 on the season and pushed his winning streak at South Boston Speedway to eight wins in a row. His season victory total now stands at 20.

On Friday night, Pulliam split a twin-race event with McCaskill at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, giving him wins in three of the weekend’s four NASCAR Whelen All American Series Late Model Stock Car Division races.

“This was tremendous,” Pulliam said of his sweep of Saturday night’s pair of 75-lap Late Model Stock Car Division races at South Boston Speedway.

“At the end of the year, this night could be big.”

While McCaskill lost ground to Pulliam in the national championship chase with his pair of second-place finishes in Saturday night’s twinbill at South Boston Speedway, he seemed pleased with his effort.

“I knew it was going to be hard (to beat Pulliam),” McCaskill pointed out.

“I didn’t want to give up on it. I wanted to come here and race, and I’m glad I did. With two second-place finishes I’m still gaining points. I lost some points to him (Pulliam) but I hopefully gained some on the guys behind me.”

Pulliam entered the weekend with a slim eight-point lead over McCaskill in the national championship chase. Not only did he enhance his national points lead, he thwarted the contingent of drivers that came to South Boston Speedway Saturday night chasing a $1,000 bounty track officials had put up for any driver that could beat the track points leader in the first 75-lap race.

What stood out was the fact Pulliam beat McCaskill and the other competitors convincingly.

Pulliam scored a flag-to-flag win in the opening race, pulling away from McCaskill and defending South Boston Speedway track champion Matt Bowling of Ridgeway in a 23-lap dash to the finish that followed the last of the race’s two caution periods to get the win. His margin of victory over McCaskill was 1.851 seconds.

Austin Thaxton of Cluster Springs finished fourth and Josh Oakley of Rougemont, N.C. rounded out the top five finishers in the 24-car field.

Pulliam had to start seventh in the second race after a drawing to determine how many cars would be inverted for the start of the second race. He didn’t stay there long.

The South Boston Speedway points leader took the lead from Oakley on lap 17 and quickly opened up a comfortable lead. A late caution flag closed up the field, giving Bowling, McCaskill and Thaxton a possible shot at the win in a 10-lap sprint to the finish.

Pulliam got a good restart and bolted away from his challengers as McCaskill grabbed second place from Bowling with eight laps to go, leaving Bowling in a tight battle with Thaxton and Myatt Snider of Charlotte, N.C.

McCaskill trailed Pulliam by 1.858 second at the finish, with Thaxton taking third, Snider finishing fourth and Bowling rounding out the top five finishers.

For both Pulliam and McCaskill, their accomplishments in Saturday night’s Gazette-Virginian Late Model Twin 75’s showcased championship-caliber efforts.

Pulliam and his team arrived at his shop from Motor Mile Speedway at 5:30 a.m. and performed a full day’s worth of work to repair his car from damage it sustained in the action at Motor Mile Speedway. In fact, Pulliam and his team didn’t arrive at South Boston Speedway until minutes before the afternoon’s first practice session was to start.

“We had a ton of work to do on the car after it got damaged heavily at Motor Mile Friday night,” Pulliam noted.

“To get it back as well as we got it says a lot about the team. It was an awesome racecar. It was flawless.” 

McCaskill and his team pulled over at a truck stop on Interstate 81 in the wee hours of Saturday morning, unloaded the car and worked several hours to prepare it for the South Boston race before getting back on the road and continuing their drive to South Boston Speedway.

“We just guessed at some setup stuff we learned at Motor Mile,” McCaskill explained.

“I unloaded and we were fast in practice, qualified really well and had a pretty good car in the race. It was an awesome weekend.”