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Drivers test Martinsville for Late Model race
Late Model crews work to cover their cars during a light shower at practice Wednesday for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 race on Oct. 6 at Martinsville Speedway. (Bulletin photo by Mark Thompson)
Thursday, September 26, 2013
By MARK THOMPSON - Bulletin Sports Editor
It was Christmas morning for Lee Pulliam on Wednesday — testing day for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300.
Pulliam, the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion, was part of one of the largest field of cars in recent history testing at Martinsville Speedway for the prestigious Late Model race on Oct. 6.
“This is definitely the favorite time of the year for me,” Pulliam said. “This is probably my most favorite day because we try a lot of stuff and have been thinking about a lot of stuff over the last couple of months. I’m really amped up about next week. It’s a lot of excitement. You can only win a grandfather clock at one track.”
Eighty-seven cars practiced at Martinsville Speedway on an overcast Wednesday. Showers halted practice some in the afternoon, but most of the experienced drivers at the 0.526-mile track figured out what they needed to by the lunch break at noon.
“I was race-ready at 10 o’clock (and) didn’t want to touch anything on the car just because we came with the setup we had last time,” said 2012 race winner Philip Morris, who has won the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 a record three times. “We tweaked on it a little bit and I really liked it. Typically we usually dial ourselves out the other way, and right now, I’m putting bread crumbs (down) so anything we change, I’m going right back to what we had.”
Pulliam was consistently clocked as the fastest in the field Wednesday, according to a release from the Speedway.
That should come as no surprise after he turned in his second monster season for his second consecutive national championship.
This year, Pulliam won 27 races in 47 starts with 44 top-10s and 40 top-5s. He scored the maximum number of points possible in the national rankings — only the fourth time that has ever happened.
And he’s running the same car he won the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 with two years ago and grabbed second place in last year.
Some drivers take practice differently from others, and it usually hinges on the comfort and experience with the track.
“It’s typical of Martinsville, you’re going to have one or two guys that are pretty quick but are within arms reach of getting there, and then you have a really large majority that are in the same time frame,” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Timothy Peters said.
The Danville native will enter the race this year. Last year he watched from the infield and helped a few young drivers, including Ridgeway native Matt Bowling.
Bowling led 51 laps of the feature race last year before a power steering issue with 24 laps remaining dropped him out of the lead.
Bowling, 19, said the way he lost the lead has gnawed at him all year.
He has a brand new car for the race and is using the same engine that was new at last year’s race — and he liked that engine quite a bit.
“It’s pretty fast,” Bowling said. “It’s got potential. We’ve just got to figure it out.”
That’s what practice was for on Wednesday.
Qualifying for the Virginia is for Racing Lovers 300 isn’t the same as NASCAR’s top three series do it.
The drivers will be seeded into four qualifying heat races during group qualifying sessions. The heat races were 25 laps. This year, they’re 20. The feature race has also been extended from 150 laps to 200 laps.
The four heat races, including the drivers qualifying in the last-chance after them, will set the lineup for the feature race.
Making it into a top position in those heat races and ultimately making it out of the heat races to avoid the last-chance race is what all the drivers want.
It makes tuning the cars right Wednesday more important.
“Every year the track is going to be a little different,” Bowling said. “If you have a different race car, it’s big. You need to come here and adjust for it. You’re probably going to come back race day, and it could be a little different too, but you’ve got to be close.”