Philip Morris came to South Boston Speedway looking for NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National points. He left with two wins, maximum points and bonus points from the second race of the night. Fans left with a race to the finish they’ll be talking about for some time to come.
The third time was the charm for South Boston Speedway as they finally got some great weather and was able to get cars on the track for the season opener that was originally scheduled for March 24th but was first snowed out and later rained out in early April. The weather on Saturday night was absolutely perfect as 23 Late Model Stock Cars made the trip to the Halifax County, VA speed plant.
Morris put his mount on the pole in qualifying ahead of defending track champion Peyton Sellers, CARS Tour points leader Bobby McCarty, Brandon Pierce and former NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National champion Matt Bowling. With Bowling, Sellers, and Morris, the top five boasted six national titles making it one of the most stacked fields of any race so far this season.
From the drop of the green flag in the first 100-lap race, Morris put his car out front and he wasn’t about to let anyone get by him. Behind him though there was plenty of movement. Closer to the front Bowling took third from McCarty early as Pierce slipped back from his fourth starting position behind them. Bruce Anderson had moved into the fifth position early but McCarty was about to get rolling.
Jason Barnes who qualified seventh had moved up to sixth early ahead of Pierce, Danny Willis Jr., Josh Oakley and Thomas Scott. McCarty was now on the move and back around Bowling for third. Throughout the race, there was movement all through the field as drivers jockeyed for positions every lap.
By lap 44 Mike Jones was off the pace and on pit road as his crew worked under the hood. Jones had been one of the fastest cars in practice but was held up by a slower car in qualifying and it was all downhill from there for the driver who just moved up to Late Models from Limiteds this season.
The caution waved and the field came back together for a reset on a lap 49 restart. The field continued to trade positions as the comers and goers moved up and back through the field. By lap 90 McCarty had unseated Sellers for second and would finish there behind Morris who charged unchallenged to the victory.
Sellers held on for third with Oakley and Pierce completing the top five finishers. Scott, Bowling, Barnes, Austin Thaxton and Willis were the top ten. In the second race, the top ten would be inverted putting Willis and Thaxton on the front row.
On the start of the second race Willis would grab the lead as Barnes, Bowling and Scott got three wide behind them for third. Bowling would take the spot and settled into third behind Thaxton. Josh Oakley would get into the wall and bring out the caution on lap seven. On the ensuing restart, Thaxton took the top spot with Willis slipping back quickly into the clutches of Sellers who had started in eighth but was now taking over the second position.
Sellers would move to the lead on lap 21 and McCarty quickly discarded Thaxton for second as Morris set his sights on Thaxton. He was fast to get around him and then got by McCarty for second before lap 27. The racing would turn single file with Morris trying to give chase to Sellers.
Sellers positioned his car about a half of a lane above Morris and was fending Morris off as McCarty had closed in on the two leaders. Lap 78 changed everything as Thomas Beane who was having a great run in the outside lane spun into the wall and then down in front of Pierce as the two collided.
For the restart, Sellers would take the outside as he’d been running above Morris and keeping him from getting a run for about 30 laps prior. On the restart, Sellers took off with Morris slipping back and having to fend off Thaxton for the position. Morris cleared him with 13 to go and worked to get back to Sellers bumper.
Morris would get to him and try to make a run but again his effort was stopped when Jason Barnes spun and brought out the caution with 10 laps to go. Sellers once again took the high line for the restart and once again got a great restart. Morris got side by side with Sellers for the spot and stayed there until Dusty Ellington spun and brought out the caution setting up a green, white, checkered finish.
Sellers once again took the high line as Morris went under him for the restart. Sellers was tough through the first lap and into turn one on the final lap Morris moved Sellers up the track and drove off to take the win. Sellers would finish second with McCarty third and Thaxton and Scott finishing fifth. A great finish for Thaxton who struggled in race one and another great finish for Scott, who finished sixth in race one.
While the race was coming to a climatic finish with Morris and Sellers battling for the win, Barnes car had come to rest coming to the green flag on the front straightaway just past the finish line. His fuel pump went out and while the race for the win was on, he sat there below them as the flagman waited for the call from the tower for a yellow that never came. It was an incredibly dangerous situation and Barnes was visibly upset when he emerged from his car after the completion of the race.
Meanwhile, on pit road McCarty had confronted Morris’ crew as he was upset about the games he thought that Morris and Sellers were playing on the restarts. It was a quickly extinguished exchange between McCarty and one of Morris’ crew members but McCarty went on to discuss it with officials as well.
The wait was over a month to finally get the 2018 season in at South Boston Speedway but it was worth it as the car counts, fan count, and the racing proved to be some of the best of the young season so far. South Boston is back in action next Saturday, May 12th with twins for the Late Model Stock Cars and twin races for the NASCAR K&N East Series.