By Patrick Reynolds
Lee Pulliam took the checkered flag in the Martinsville DuPont Credit Union 300 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. The showcase race for NASCARâ€™s Late Model Stock Car division featured a controversial finish and several damaged race cars- details that have become commonplace in the annual Martinsville event.
The traditional scheduled completion caution flag waved with ten laps to go. Defended by some and despised by others, the 10-laps-to-go-yellow-flag-rule clearly affected the outcome of the race.
Peyton Sellers led the way when the yellow flag waved at the 190-lap mark. Mike Darne was second, with NASCAR Camping Word Truck Series regular Timothy Peters was third. Pulliam, and Dillon Bassett ran fourth and fifth.
Under the caution period, Petersâ€™ car stopped on track and then was pushed to the garage area with a mechanical problem.
The field was shown the green flag on lap 193 and Bassettâ€™s car was slow to accelerate causing a chain reaction pileup into turns one and two. The cars driven by Myatt Snider, Eddie Johnson, Kres Van Dyke, William Byron, and Michael McGuire suffered damage and caused the race to be red flagged for track cleanup.
Sellers and Pulliam made up the front row for the restart with two laps to go. Second starting Pulliam got a big jump on leader Sellers and the officials let the restart stand.
Pulliam opened up a few car length lead as the field took the white flag. Sam Yarbrough made contact with second running Sellers, causing Sellers to spin and was hit hard by 2014 Whelen All-American Series National Champion Anthony Anders. Josh Berry was also involved driving for Dale Earnhardt Jrâ€™s Late Model team.
The checkered and yellow flags waved together with Pulliam winning the $25,000 first place prize. Yarborough, Tommy Lemons Jr., B.J. Mackey and Darne rounded out the top-five.
Winner Pulliam minced no words about the final restart.
â€œThe 99 car (Sellers) was playing games big time,â€ said Pulliam. â€œIâ€™d seen he did it the restart before that and just bottled up the field. Heâ€™s done that a lot. Iâ€™ve raced him over the years and he plays games on restarts a lot. I waited until I got to the (restart) line. When I hit that line, I went.â€
â€œI knew heâ€™d probably try to pull something like that and try to get us in trouble but I knew I was in my spot when I gassed it up,â€ Pulliam said.
Third finishing Lemons shared Pulliamâ€™s view about the final waving of the green flag.
â€œI think there is little games trying to be played right there, trying to get an advantage. He (Sellers) almost started but he didnâ€™t. I guess Lee thought it was his attempt to start so he took off and heâ€™s down there in Victory Lane. I canâ€™t fault him. Thatâ€™s just part of it,â€ Lemons said.
Runner up Yarbrough was asked about his role in the last-lap crash.
â€œComing down (into) turn one, two laps to go, I took it three wide, I thought I had position there,â€ Yarbrough said. â€œWe saw what happened and (I) come out the other side (in) pretty good shape there.â€
â€œIâ€™m a clean driver. Iâ€™ll run you clean, Iâ€™ll run you hard, Iâ€™ll give you room. Iâ€™ve given room to people all day long, especially hanging on the outside there. I had a chance there. I got a run off of four, ducked down low, had a corner on him, and we saw what happened. I think itâ€™s just a racing deal there, just fortunate enough to come out the good side of it,â€ Yarbrough said.
â€¢ Three 25-lap heat races were won by Lemons, Matt Bowling, and Kaz Grala. The Last Chance Race was won by Stacy Puryear.
â€¢ Sellers and Pulliam locked in their front row starting positions through Saturday qualifying times.
â€¢ Caution laps counted in every race on the day.
â€¢ Grala was very fast, led many laps, and won the $2000 halfway leader bonus. After restarting ninth through a halfway break, blind draw inversion, he worked his way back into the top-five before he suddenly dropped back and nearly spun around lap 160. He went to pit road for several laps, returned briefly to the race, then finally retired from the event.
â€¢ Sellers was checked and released at the infield care center after the hard crash. He did not address the media after the event.
â€¢ Anders was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.
â€¢ OPINION- While this race is a major event for NASCARâ€™s Late Model Stock Car class, the professionalism of the race was reduced with far too many gimmicks. Halfway breaks, inversions, and a scheduled 10-lap-to-go caution and restart felt like manufactured excitement. If a straight forward auto race was presented, I feel the showâ€™s quality would increase highly. Late Models as a class often provide good racing and Martinsville Speedway is a competitive racetrack.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT onwww.racersreunionradio.com